No other side
We are drawn to dichotomies. Our brains appreciate it when there are two clearly opposing and irreconcilable sides to an issue.
In fact, we fetishize famous feuds: Hamilton and Burr, Hatfields and McCoys, Seinfeld and Newman.
When the two sides of a clash are clear it is easy for us to assess who we should root for and with which side’s values we most closely align.
Because of this, when something goes wrong people look for someone to blame. For a scapegoat.
Throughout history the Jew has been that readily available ‘other’. As the late Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks so clearly articulated it:
“So in the 19th century, Jews were hated because they were communist and because they were capitalist. They were hated because they were rich and because they were poor. They were hated because they kept to themselves, and they were hated because they infiltrated everything and got everywhere. They were hated because on the one hand, Voltaire saw them as a people rooted in a superstitious, ancient faith. They were hated because the communists thought they were rootless cosmopolitans who believed nothing.” Jonathan Sacks, May 8th, 2010
As moderns, with all of the world’s information in our pockets, we’d like to think that the above form of irrational hatred is over. We say to ourselves, we know the facts, and we can clearly illustrate to you that your perspective is misinformed.
Then something like this happens…
In October of 2021, Gina Peddy, a Texas school district’s executive director of curriculum and instruction, instructed the teachers that if they have a book about the Holocaust in their classroom “that you have one that has an opposing (view), that has other perspectives.”
When Peddy was pushed by a teacher to explain how one can have an “opposing view” of the Holocaust, Peddy responded: “Believe me.That’s come up.”
In 2004, a documentary called Paperclips swept through the Jewish community. It told the story of middle school teachers in rural Whitwell, Tennessee, who recognized a responsibility that they had to educate their students on the atrocities of the Holocaust. In order to illustrate the magnitude of loss of life (most people in Whitwell likely haven’t met a Jew, let alone a survivor), the teachers instructed the students to collect 6 million paper clips, reflecting the 6 million lives lost.
As a High School student at the time, this movie felt like a breakthrough. If that school is learning about the Holocaust, then surely everybody is. Right?
The original Paperclip students are now in their late-30s. That means that the parents in the Carroll Texas school district are their contemporaries. They are the other students who should’ve been collecting paperclips too — but alas, they are now raising kids in an environment where it’s important to provide literature on the “opposing view” of the Holocaust.
One of the single greatest atrocities in human history has happened within living memory, and it is still not enough to make an impact.
We are in 2021 with all of the information in the world in our pockets and Jews still get pegged as the other. To paraphrase Elie Wiesel, the only thing the Holocaust taught us is that it can happen.
So if you were to ask me what is the one thing you can do to be an ally in the face of Antisemitism? I would tell you this:
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that there is an other side of Antisemitism. Perhaps it is clearer if we say it this way, either someone hates Jews or they don’t. There is no nuance, there is nothing else to understand.