When my daughter and I visited the Jewish cemetery in Gross Gerau, Germany, where my father’s family is buried, we were shown where to look for my grandfather’s stone by the German cemetery keeper. He proudly told us that most of the gravestones had been repaired by his Christian community. An act of redemption.
We thanked him again and again, and then stood in front of my grandfather’s tombstone, reciting Kaddish, the Hebrew prayer for the dead. I wondered if Elias May could sense my presence.
The cemetery, like so many throughout Germany, was vandalized on November 9, 1938, the same night that 200 synagogues were burned, many Jews were murdered, and thousands of Jewish owned stores were destroyed and their windows shattered. That was Kristallnacht, the night of shattered glass.
That night marked the beginning of Hitler’s campaign to exterminate the Jews.
I did not think that anything like that could ever happen here. But in recent weeks, cemeteries in Philadelphia and St. Louis were vandalized, and 110 Jewish institutions received 140 bomb threats. The response from members of Muslim community sent a message that bigotry cannot flourish here. A Muslim activist—Tarek El-Messidi—raised funds to repair the damage, both to the cemeteries and to our belief that people are basically good.
Still, a tremor of fear has hit many Jewish community centers and synagogues, most experiencing visible anti-Semitism in this country for the first time. How can this happen?
Jews are not alone in becoming targets of hatred. Two Indian immigrant engineers were shot, one killed and the other wounded In a Kansas hate crime.
The President condemned these actions, but one statement does not cleanse the body politic. Neither it is helpful when President Trump calls all undocumented Mexican immigrants “bad hombres.” Or when his close advisor is Steve Bannon, former head of Breitbart News, infamous for its promotion of anti-Semitism. In the course of the 2016 campaign, political correctness was mocked and incorrectness was cheered, whether it is aimed at women, the disability community, or the Muslim community. It is time to draw a bright line between “correct” behavior and dangerous incorrect behavior and punish the perpetrators for hate crimes.
My Jewish grandfather’s tomb stone fell in Germany in 1938 and years, later, was restored by a Christian. Every tombstone that is destroyed in America, must be restored by each one of us.