There is the question of scale. Far more important is the difference in response. We shouldn’t take it for granted.
Despite the fact that the massacre of Jews in Pittsburgh has destabilized the Jewish community through the US, shocking us to our core and spurring an inevitable reevaluation of our place in this country, the inclusion of Kristallnacht and Pittsburgh in the same sentence is, on one level, absurd.
Kristallnacht, the massive Nazi attack on Jews, Jewish businesses and synagogues throughout all of Germany 80 years ago on the evening of Nov. 9-10, 1938, was vastly, qualitatively, different from the murder of 11 Jews in Pittsburgh. In a way, though, that is irrelevant. The attack in Pittsburgh comes against the background of an American free society that, unlike Europe, has no history of pogroms, Inquisitions and the endlessly ugly and lethal forms of state- or church-sponsored anti-Semitism. America is different. Pittsburgh has made us sit up and ask: How different?
Permit us to answer: Very different, in fact qualitatively different, in this decisive realm: the response of elected officials and government police forces.
What was particularly damning about Kristallnacht and all of the other major persecutions and expulsions in Europe that preceded Kristallnacht was their backing by, or even their implementation by, the state or the church or both.
Not so in the aftermath of Pittsburgh.
The President of the US said this in the aftermath of the Pittsburgh murders:
“All of America is in mourning over the mass murder of Jewish Americans at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. We pray for those who perished and their loved ones, and our hearts go out to the brave police officers who sustained serious injuries . . . This evil anti-Semitic attack is an assault on humanity. It will take all of us working together to extract the poison of anti-Semitism from our world. We must unite to conquer hate.”
“Events in Pittsburgh are far more devastating than originally thought. Spoke with Mayor and Governor to inform them that the Federal Government has been, and will be, with them all the way. . . . ”
At the funeral of one of the victims in Pittsburgh, the governor of Pennsylvania attended.
At the vigil in Colorado, the governor of Colorado attended.
Police chiefs around the nation stood in solidarity with their Jewish communities, pledging to protect them — not to mention the Pittsburgh police, which did their best to protect their Jewish citizens.
What was the number of solidarity vigils around the country that were attended by American public officials and police? The number is so large that even in this age of instant electronic communication we doubt that any news agency can count them all.
These solidarity gatherings represent the type of political pluralism, the nature of political freedom and the genuine human solidarity that American Jews have come to take for granted from American government officials.
We shouldn’t take it for granted.
For most of our history in the Diaspora, it wasn’t this way.
Certainly not in Europe, every single one of whose countries in one century or another damned and harmed its Jews.
It certainly wasn’t this way in Hitler’s accursed Germany or in the accursed countries throughout Europe — Lithuania, Poland, Holland, France, Hungary, Austria and others — in which he found willing collaborators, not just among the populace but in the government.
But now, instead of collaborators with killers of Jews, we have, in the aftermath of Pittsburgh: Muslims raised (as of this writing) $224,000 to cover funeral costs. Buddhists, evangelical Christians, Sikhs and so many other colors on the religious rainbow stood, acted or donated in solidary with the Jewish community after Pittsburgh.
Here is the pivotal difference between Kristallnacht and Pittsburgh, and why it is imperative to put them both in the same sentence — to highlight the radical difference between them.
It is imperative at a time like this to summon perspective and proportion. The president of the US is a terrible role model in many respects, while also a man with both markedly successful and unsuccessful policies; but neither his person nor his policies should overshadow what he, as a head of state —against a 2,000-year record of European state-sponsored anti-Semitism — said about a Jewish community under unprecedented attack.To those who assailed Trump after the Pittsburgh murders, would they have preferred that Trump not say what he did say about evil anti-Semitism and about conquering hate? Some Jews asked Trump not to come to Pittsburgh. To us, historical perspective on Trump and Pittsburgh was provided by Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, the rabbi of Tree of Life Congregation, when he said: “The president of the United States is always welcome. I’m a citizen, he’s my president. He is certainly welcome.”
Trump was welcomed because he, like presidents before him, have put the instruments of government to work to defend its Jewish citizens.
We shouldn’t take it for granted.
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