Editor’s note: From time to time, we will reprint sermons by our local clergy, as a follow up to our previous series “From the Pulpit.” The following sermon was shared with the Temple Israel Congregation on Friday, Feb. 5.
This has been a troubling week for Jews in America.
Nationally, we’ve been hearing all week about that congresswoman from Georgia who’s spouted all kinds of wild conspiracy theories, including one that the Jews started the California wildfires with a space laser.
One person saying something like this is scary enough, but what is truly terrifying is the reluctance of so many of her colleagues in Congress to speak out against it, and the willingness of countless other people to blow it off as no big deal.
And here in Omaha, of course, we’ve been reading about the incident at Westside Middle School, where one of the teachers posted a quote on the wall from Hitler in a way that suggested he was someone whose words should inspire consideration or even admiration.
It seems the teacher’s intentions were not malicious or antisemitic, but what’s so troubling about it is that we’re at a point in our society where some well-meaning educator is not attuned to the obvious problems of using a Hitler quote as a quote of the day.
Have we come to a point where some people think that, yeah, Hitler was a bad guy, but he said some smart things?
I guess I’m asking: is our society losing the revulsion, the abhorrence, of the unique evil of Nazism and the perennial cancer of antisemitism?
I’ve been reading about the situation of Jews in Germany in the late 19th century, as part of my dissertation research. …
60-plus years before Hitler came to power. Before Hitler was even born.
The Jews of Germany were emancipated in 1869 – meaning they were given full citizenship and the same rights as any German – but this was not uncontroversial.
In fact, the Jews became a lightening rod in German politics, on the right and on the left.
Some said the only way for the Jews to truly be Germans worthy of citizenship was for them to abandon all distinctive Jewish identity and assimilate fully into the German Volk (or, nation).
Others said no, the Jews can never be fully German because they are not of us – they are not of our blood, our soil; they are a foreign tribe from a foreign land, and they’ll never have a place here.
Makes me think back to that infamous rally in Charlottesville a few years ago, where the neo-Nazi marchers were chanting, “Blood and soil! Jews will not replace us!”
It feels to me like the ground has shifted in American culture in recent years.
Sure, there have always been kooky people saying kooky, antisemitic things – but it feels different right now.
—There was Charlottesville. And the synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh and Poway, California.
—There was that congresswoman who said the government is supporting Israel because the Jews are “all about the Benjamins, baby” – or something like that.
—And there was the president at the time accusing Jews who voted for the other party of being disloyal to America.
—There were the neo-Nazi flags on display during the Capitol siege on January 6, and the rioter in the “Camp Auschwitz” t-shirt.
—And now a U.S. congresswoman spouting antisemitism provokes a partisan split rather than unanimous condemnation…
—And a well-meaning local teacher naively quotes Hitler to inspire kids to study history.
The ground seems to have shifted in America.
At one point we might have called these isolated events, but now it’s a tapestry of events.
And it is troubling.
Learn from history, indeed.
I’m not saying this is Germany in the 1860s. The Jewish people have never been freer or more accepted in any society in history than we are in America.
But the Jewish experience of that time and place has something to teach us.
Here’s a quote worth lifting up. It’s a warning from the prophet Jeremiah:
“My people have eyes, but they see not; my people have ears, but they hear not.”
Let us not be like those people. Let us be aware.
Beginning next week, we will be highlighting the work of the ADL in our ETidings and other online platforms.
I encourage you to read their reports about what’s going on in America right now, and talk to your friends about it, and your children and grandchildren.
Let it not be said of us someday that we blew it off, or that we were unaware.
Adonai oz l’amo yitein; Adonai y’varekh et amo va-shalom.
God, please give your people strength; and please God, bless your people with peace.