The Auschwitz Next Door

When I perform my standup routines, one of the staples of my comedy is my joke set that talks about how ludicrous anti-Semitism is. For me, it’s important to do with the growing Jewish hatred in the world, and I feel like I crafted some good pieces.

After one of my early shows, the comedian that came after me, seeing the popularity of these jokes, decided to capitalize on it with an old joke of his.

“So Macklemore supposedly dressed as a Jew for a concert,” he said. “But I don’t think he did. His shoes weren’t stained with the blood of Palestinian children.”

The entire audience hissed in horror. He had crossed the line. It was one of the few times I can recall in my comedy life that I was through and through offended (and I have heard some awful things). But as he pulled back and continued with a bunch of vulgar sex jokes, I had to sit back and wonder about the hatred towards my people. I was trying to dismantle anti-Semitism with jokes, but it’s like trying to take a brick out of the Great Wall of China and hoping that it will topple.

Today is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. More than 70 years prior, anti-Semitism reached its modern peak, where there was a plan throughout Europe to exterminate my people. The rest of the world turned away, not allowing the Jews there to escape and to flee the destruction at the hands of the Nazis.

This happened in my grandparents’ generation. It’s not as far away as we think it is; it feels sometimes as if it lives next door to me. There are people still alive who were in the camps. And with the atrocities documented for the entire world to see, you’d think that we’d be over this anti-Semitism monster by now. But centuries of blood libel, (which, ironically and probably unknowingly, that comedian was using as a supposed punchline for a joke) is a hard habit to break. And in moments like those, I can’t help but to think, in the face of the world today, about how close Auschwitz is.

Anti-Semitism has gone from the concept of killing Jesus to blood libel, then eventually into the modern world, where religion wasn’t as much of a factor and it became a form of racism during the Holocaust. As money became the faith of choice for many, it was easy to blame Jews due to centuries in money lending. Some Christians in the Victorian era considered money “dirty,” but this stigma didn’t matter to Jews. The same went for theater, cinema and journalism, as these were considered to be low-grade professions. When media became a currency in the modern world, Jews were blamed there too. And after centuries of hate, it was easy.

When General Dwight D. Eisenhower found the camps back in 1945, he ordered his troops to get everything they saw on film. He said that if he didn’t, people would deny that this ever happened in the modern era. And even though there is plenty of evidence, people still pretend like it never existed. Luckily, this is not as popular of a concept in the Western world as it is in other parts.

In college, someone tried to argue with me that Jews aren’t a minority. Yet we are less than one percent of the human population. The only thing is that we fortunate that we can blend in. Our attempts to join the modern world aren’t blatant, but they’re there. Many of us in the United States aren’t that religious. Girls try to hide the Jewishness of their looks through nose jobs and hair straighteners. The guys get inked, date non-Jewish girls and obsess over bacon. They’re not blatant, but they’re there.

This actually isn’t dissimilar from what happened before the Nazis took over in Germany, where many Jews over centuries blended into secular life. And it wasn’t like the next day it was time to kill Jews. It happened slowly and became indoctrinated until it was a normal part of life for those living under the Third Reich.

The most amazing thing that I have ever seen about hate is how it transforms just to keep living on and feeding off of ignorance. Even with racism against blacks and Latinos, it has transformed from skin color into “welfare culture” and “immigration reform.” It’s much easier to go after these things and still be liked than to use ethnic slurs, but it is a slippery slope.

Today, anti-Semitism has a new face that is considered to be more acceptable by the mainstream world. It’s one that the comedian that night was trying to use to his advantage: It’s the fact that, for the first time in modern history, Jews now have a country to call our own. And it’s easy to say you have Jewish friends, but then yell about “those Jews over there.” Even Martin Luther King, Jr. could see it.

When I had to hear at a bar, “I know you’re a Jew, but what kind of Jew are you?” it’s easy to see it anti-Semitism play out as a concept even when it’s not supposed to. Hate becomes insidious; out-and-out racism is not accepted anymore, but political disagreement certainly is, and is used as an excuse for bad behavior across the board.

The other day, I ran into a French woman that I see regularly when I walk through Abbott Kinney. She’s Jewish, and when she mentioned Charlie Hebdo, her small body began to shake. Her family is still in Paris and shops regularly at the kosher market where four people (Jews, which the media was so hesitant to report) were killed by the terrorists.

“I’m going,” she said. “I’m leaving the United States.”

“Where are you going?” I asked her.

“Eretz Yisrael. My family’s going too. Moving to Tel Aviv with my son. It’s not safe in France anymore. And I don’t know if America’s next.”

I felt her fear in recent months, with attacks even in Los Angeles against Jews. No matter how hard we hide, the stories keep coming up. Argentina, Eastern Europe, New York. And there are certain countries in the Middle East that Jews aren’t even allowed to step in.

And yet… there is hope. Unlike in the days of Auschwitz, there is a place to go if the world turns on us. I will not espouse that Israel is a perfect country. On the contrary, I went there and can tell you there are enough civil issues in the country to make you forget about “The Other Problem.” (That’s the nicest way I can say it without getting crazy, and for the record, I do believe in a two-state solution.) But in times of desperation and hate, it exists. Beyond any shadow of reason, it lives. When the Nazis came for my people, it didn’t, and as a result six million of us, along with five million others ranging from gays and lesbians to political prisoners, were slaughtered.

When the call of hatred is knocking on your door, so easy to succumb to, what do you choose to fight with? Anger is the easiest weapon, but it can destroy more than it can save. I choose humor, words, songs, food, but above everything, I choose love to destroy the ignorance that permeates this world, no matter how futile it seems, and to prevent Auschwitz from ever returning for my people.

Choose your weapon. But make sure you can live with the consequences.


Posted on January 27, 2015, in The present and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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