And I don’t mean Corona.
With all the corona talk, and understandably so, the uptick in antisemitism has been largely ignored, even though it seems to be as infectious as COVID-19.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, whenever there is hardship, often the Jews get blamed. Certainly, this is so during health pandemics. While we don’t often talk about the Spanish Flu in about 1918, or the polio summers in the 1950s, the black death (black plague or more scientifically, the bubonic plague) was indeed a pandemic that most folks with even a cursory education in history will recall.
What we must also recall is that during this time a HUGE backlash against Jewish communities occurred. Jews were called the origin of the disease and the ones who unleased it on society. Some said it was a curse of sorts—any excuse to espouse hate and point a finger.
The reality is the Jewish culture has a unique and very effective set of hygiene standards that includes (among many things) how to keep the kitchen clean, how to wash up, handle food, etc. Because of these directives (God didn’t and doesn’t impose hygiene rules on people just to make them jump through hoops; every single one had a specific purpose to keep people healthy in a fallen, failed, diseased infested world—particularly before refrigeration, disinfectant, etc.). This is arguably one major factor in how and why Jewish communities in Europe were spared the nearly 1/3 death rate of the bubonic plague.
My overly simplified historical review about this history is to reveal that Jewish customs, derived from God-given rules, kept their communities healthier than the rest—and so they were somehow vilified because they didn’t suffer the death rates that the gentiles did. Never mind that nobody said, “Hey, what do they do to keep healthy while we all get sick—and can you let that rat in the kitchen know we are out of breadcrumbs on the floor?”
Today, we blame those bigoted people back in history for a lack of science and knowledge as a reason for their hate. If that is so, then what do we blame it on now when we have science helping us track and identify this disease and many credible scientific theories and discussions are available to anyone with an internet connection and a browser?
All levity aside, the danger of finger pointing then and now is no laughing matter and I want to report on a few hot spots in the uptick of antisemitism since the corona crisis started:
Let us look at some hot spots not for the COVID-19 infections, but for the infection of Antisemitism—of hate:
- Proclaiming Justice to the Nations’ YouTube video released in early April documents specific incidents in New York and New Jersey.
- First example, John S Pasola, fire Marshall for Lakewood, New Jersey, a civil service employee, thus, paid by the tax payer, posted on his social medica in March that Jews are “trash” “dirty ones” and that the Ultra-Orthodox community in Lakewood should be “turned into a hole in the ground.” This Jewish community makes up about 70% of Lakewood’s population.
I hope none of them must call 911 regarding an issue that requires a response from the fire department.
- Rabbi Avi Schnall, the director of the New Jersey office of Agudath Israel of America has publicly stated that the city council of Lakewood has requested Pasola’s dismissal.
- Rabbi Schnall noted that not only does he distrust Pasola’s ability to faithfully deliver services to the Jewish community, but that in times of crisis throughout history Jews are scapegoated—so he is not surprised.
- New Jersey Governor Murphy also noted on social media that while some specific incidences in Lakewood violated social distancing and gathering mandates (as also noted in just about every community), it is no reason to condemn an entire community.
- Moreover, Schnell noted that the Jewish community in Lakewood by and large is going beyond the required mandates in terms safe practices.
- As of April 9, I can find no record of an answer to the request by many to have Pasola fired.
- March 29 an arrest was made of New Jersey resident Anthony Lodespoto after he posted overt threats on social media March 28. He posted he was traveling to Lakewood with a baseball bat to assault the community members for violating social distancing orders.
Correct me if I am wrong, but a baseball bat is less than 6 feet long.
- The area prosecutor released the statement that Lodespoto’s excuse of a pandemic and public crisis to promote his hate and propagate fear is “unconscionable.” He will be charged with making a terrorist threat during an emergency.
- In Rockland County New Jersey a Jewish man had an appointment at a Toyota dealership for car service. The dealership was lawfully open and taking in cars from other patrons. Yet, the attendant told the Jewish man they were closed and to leave–all while other patrons were dropping theirs and milling about. This is all recorded on video and the attendant simply told him that social distancing meant he could not drop the car off and they were closed. And when the Jewish man asked why others were being serviced, the attendant walked away. A local district attorney did make a statement that no person can be denied services based on any form of discrimination during the current crisis.
- The Times of Israel, “Germany Warns of Spike in Antisemitism Linked to Virus”
One circulating conspiracy theory in Germany is that the virus is a failed bioweapon created by the Israelis.
“There are direct links between the current spread of the coronavirus and that of anti-Semitism,” Felix Klein a German Official said in Berlin at the launch of a new government research project into the issue of antisemitism. “In recent weeks, right-wing radicals have increasingly tried to leverage the coronavirus crisis for their own ends.” Klein also said antisemitism was its own infectious virus.
Antisemitism was already on the rise in Germany with a 20% increase in incidents between 2018 and 2019. About $12 Euros were designated for educational research at universities for 2021-2025 as the German government is seeking tangible solutions on how to combat it. This corona virus crisis has certainly not aided in any way in the process of even finding a solution, let alone combatting it in the here and now.
- The Art Community
I cannot NOT mention the latest artwork unveiled within the Catholic community. You can read about this on multiple outlets, but StandWithUs.org has a great overview of the situation and an excellently written letter to the Vatican you can sign and send along electronically.
- Giovanni Gasparro, a prominent and popular Catholic artist is know for his portrayal of catholic doctrine. But, right before Passover, in the midst of a pandemic under which Italy was greatly suffering, Gasparro highlighted painful, historical, hateful things done by or in the name of the Church. Gasparro unveiled, “The Martyrdom of St. Simon of Trento in Accordance with Jewish Ritual Murder.” The painting depicts a group of Jewish men, and a single Jewish woman, engaged in the barbaric torture of a Christian child.
This art is typical stereotype depicting Jews with hooked noses, sinister smiles, and in the process of draining a Christian of blood.
- The image measures 7 by 5 feet, referencing a blood libel that led to the execution of several Jews in 1475 as well as numerous anti-Semitic murders. Its legend grew around the disappearance and death of a Christian boy in Trento named Somonino.
- Why chose this topic? And choose it to propagate these hateful notions?
The church renounced its antisemitic roots in 1965; and in that spirit, should condemn this painting, regardless of the history the artist has with the Church.
While certainly there is freedom of expression (at least in the US it is a legal protection) it doesn’t mean the community, global or local, cannot rise and freely express its own disgust and rejection of the art. And, that is exactly what the Catholic church should do because its silence is condoning.
As we end Passover and reflect on the past weekend Christians celebrated Easter, I hope all are staying well and healthy and connecting with God and family in new ways. Our Easter and Passover celebrations may not have been as social and filled with follow congregants and extended family as it usually is, but it doesn’t mean we have to disconnect. Physical distancing is not the same as social distancing…we have in this modern age wonderful ways to connect—telephone, video chat, email, many many more ways. Technology can never substitute fully for the intimacy of brotherly and sisterly hugs and kisses from dear friends and extended family, or the excitement of traveling to get to loved ones after a long absence. But how much more will we relish those moments when we are able to move about once again?
Shavua Tov, blessings!