When anti-Semites strike, we must all be Jewish

Today’s dreadful attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue reminds us once again of just how fragile life is, and how easily it can be robbed by those who don’t recognize how precious it is. More to the point it reminds us of an ancient sickness that still haunts us today — the sickness of anti-Semitism. I’ve written about this several times over the years, including in this column originally published in the Kalispell Daily Inter Lake on Aug. 13, 2006. It is more personal than many of my columns, but it points out that we must all take responsibility when our fellow human beings kill in the name of religion. 

Easy labels and hard answers

Someone called the office the other day to ask if I was Jewish.

Presumably the call came in response to my column the week before in which I had argued that Israel, like any other country, has the right — indeed the moral imperative — to defend itself from attack.

But it wasn’t the conflict between Jews and Arabs that I thought of when I heard about this call, but the conflict between Jews and Christians.

It has always seemed odd to me that some Christians cannot accept the religion that birthed them with gratitude and acceptance, but rather view the tradition that gave us not only Jesus, but also Abraham, Moses, Solomon and St. Paul as somehow a mistake of history that should be stamped out.

What’s that all about?

Well, I suppose — to keep it simple — it is all about labels.

It is about us and them. If we are right, then they are wrong, and if they are wrong they should admit it, and if they won’t admit it we should beat them up until they do.

Oh wait, that sounds just like schoolboys, doesn’t it?

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But when you come right down to it, isn’t world politics just a great big version of the schoolyard, with its cliques and gangs and loners and peacekeepers and diplomats and fighters?

And maybe that’s why this recent phone call reminded me of an incident that occurred when I was in seventh-grade back in James A. Farley Junior High School in Stony Point, N.Y.

It happened in the middle of one of those games like dodge ball that are devised by gym teachers to ensure that bigger kids get to pound littler kids without hurting them too much. Suffice it to say, I was one of those little kids, so my main goal in P.E. was to stay out of the way. I can’t remember the circumstances of this particular day too well except that we were in the gym, with all those usual gym noises of kids grunting and sneakers squeaking and coaches yelling and balls bouncing and whistles whistling.

Somewhere in the middle of all that chaos, I did what I invariably did when playing in a sports contest of any kind — I screwed up. If it was baseball, I would drop the pop-up fly. If it was football I would miss the tackle. If it was shirts versus skins, I was the kid no one wanted.

But someone always wound up with me on their side, and thus had a grudge against me, thanks to the rule that “everyone must participate” no matter how much that puts them at risk of humiliation, embarrassment or just plain misery.

Like I say, I don’t remember what I did that particular day, but it caught the attention of two of the “big kids” on my team and they came over to have a word with me, sort of gentlemen to gentleman. They tried to convince me I was a sorry excuse for a human being and I tried to convince them they had the wrong guy. It was that kind of schoolboy talk.

But then it came to the inevitable question — “Are you Jewish?” — and you have to imagine this said with a sneer and a snarl, as an accusation, not as an inquiry.

I suppose I should tell you I was blessed with a rather large nose at birth, and that it was enhanced at the age of 7 when Bobbie Klementowski hit me square between the eyes with a half-full beer can from about 20 paces while we were inspecting a construction site near his house. I should tell you also that I have a dark and swarthy complexion common to those whose ancestry is somewhere in the Mediterranean region. So it was not the first time I had heard the question.

Of course, as regular readers of this column know, I am not Jewish, but rather full-blooded Italian, born Catholic, raised Methodist, and smart enough to know that there was nothing Christian about either intimidation or bigotry. So I could have just said, “No,” and been done with the whole thing. You see, if I wasn’t Jewish, we really didn’t have anything to argue about, did we? I mean, there was no disagreement about whether I was any good at sports. Everyone knew I wasn’t.

Instead, it was that underlying problem, that “Jewish problem” as Hitler called it, which was causing all the trouble. These kids didn’t really care that I couldn’t throw a dodge ball any better than a softball; they just didn’t like me because they thought I was Jewish.

In the past, I had probably always just told the bullies, “No, I’m not Jewish,” and moved the argument back to my weak arm or my not having any right to live because they owned the block.

But this time was different.

Somehow I realized it was time to stand up to the bullies, time to stand up for what I believed in, what I had been taught. No sense telling them the story of the woman at the well when Jesus brought a Samaritan woman to salvation even though the Jews hated the Samaritans. No sense telling them what Jesus told her: “Salvation is of the Jews.” No sense telling them about the Roman centurion who recognized the authority of the Jewish messiah and humbly implored him for help in saving the life of his servant. No sense in telling them about the words of Paul in Galatians when he said: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

They certainly wouldn’t understand those words, and at the age of 13, I probably didn’t either, but instinctively I knew it would not be right to deny that I was Jewish. It would make it seem that these two bullies were somehow justified, that there was indeed something wrong with being Jewish.

So God put the right words in my mouth, and I braced myself to be decked:

“What if I am Jewish!” I yelled at the bigger, tougher of the two kids. “What are you going to do about it?”

“Damn Jew,” was all he could say, as he towered over me and gave me a weak shove.

“What are you going to do about it?” I yelled again, and it turned out he wasn’t going to do anything about it. What could he do about it? I didn’t even have to remind him that Jesus was a Jew. He and his friend just evaporated, leaving me in the middle of the gymnasium as mad as I have ever been, and yet somehow calm as well. Calm with the knowledge that I had not turned my back on the six million dead Jews in Europe, that I had stood my ground against evil for one brief moment, and that anyone anywhere could make a difference if he did what was right.

But people still ask the same question, people still focus on how we are all different instead of how we are all the same, and the schoolyard bullies grow up to run the world and try to push around anyone foolish enough to stand still and take it.

And when every Jewish boy and girl in the world hears that question when they are growing up, spoken as an insult, “Are you Jewish?” don’t be surprised when they answer proudly: “What are you going to do about it?”

The question for the rest of us is a harder one: What are we going to do about ourselves?

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4 Replies to “When anti-Semites strike, we must all be Jewish”

  1. As always, a great commentary and with current events unfolding as we watch, a timely article. Passed this on to all my friends on Facebook and to a lot of ex-Kalispell folks, who’ve become part of the “adventure” called America, but still miss the much slower pace that we are losing rapidly.

  2. I have some very good Jewish friends. As a Judaean Christian I see there is a lot we can learn from them and I find them to be wonderful people.

  3. Dear Mr. Miele, I have the same physical makeup as you, plus of Italian ethnicity and raised Catholic and often thought to be Jewish but, at 72, I have never experienced the outright orneriness of school yard bullies, so you are heroic in my book for confronting and calling out bullies. Fascism is going on in this country, I guess as it always has, but it depends on who calls it out first. Young people don’t understand it. Media misreport it. Angry Hollywood celebs accuse others of their own transgressions with fascism, and antifa thugs thinks because they were given a name, which should mean they are against intimidation and scare tactics, that they are innocent when using these hateful tactics which result in what they want: fear, loss of property, the end of law and order. Someone with a lot of money gave antifa its name. Follow the money. I actually thought that antisemitism and racism, issues of the forties, fifties, and sixties, were resolved and were thought to be behind us, a thing of our past. We are enlightened, educated, smart people. But I saw it come back with a vengeance from 2008 to 2016. Is there a common thread here with what you said in your column? The “Us against them” mentality? I really thought we educated ourselves out of those prejudices until someone wanted to be reelected and thought to gouge a wound that was healing very nicely. We have politicians to thank for opening many wounds just so they can have a grievance to be reelected on. Sincerely, Joe Morrisco, Bedminster, NJ 07931 (just for the weekend)

  4. I rarely say, “the fact is…” Or “you can take it to the bank…” Or other clichés like “as an expert, I will tell you…” or “I know for a fact…” but the number of people I hear say these things who are in the media and with whom I disagree seems to grow every day. And they are not correct, but say their lies with such conviction that they are able to convince the less educated.

    The lies are believed by young people (I hate the word millennial when any ‘young person’ will do). For these same young people, “jeans” are a fashion statement and never called dungarees (for many reasons). For young people, it is cool to be in a “group” or “in-crowd,” or socially accepted by the cool kids. Therefore, most of these young people who have never studied history as many young people of even one generation before them have studied it, cannot, do not, and will not understand what Stalin’s socialist movement was, what Lenin and Marx represented, how Stalin killed millions of people in the name of “the people,” and therefore think “Social Media” is the same thing as socialism. These young people are clueless to the real definition of communism and socialism. So they embrace socialism because they are “cool” and want to be known as social. It is as simple as that. It is not about ideology. It is about their lack of understanding.

    Then we have the word Fascism thrown around by people who would be defined as “textbook fascists.” The very people crying fascism are the ones who bully anyone who differs from them, yell over them, intimidate them. Does that describe conservatives or Republicans or does it describe the liberal, progressive, socialist arm of the Democrat party? One person yelled at Nancy Pelosi as she entered a restaurant. Sorry. I have a sense of what democrats do and it smelled like a “set up” by a person who paid someone to yell at Pelosi and then claim to be a republican because it doesn’t fit the profile of a conservative or a republican. Smell test. Didn’t pass. Like Jane Fonda comparing Trump to Hitler. Once again, she does not understand the meaning of the word Fascism and it shouldn’t be thrown around. She is a beautiful woman, but a very strange one. Just because she has a good insight on Hitler’s motives, maybe because she dated him, does not mean she has a lick of sense. She wants to either try to be young again, promote a movie or personal appearance, spread sunshine, or just wants to appear smart. I thought she was a born again Christian? That goodness and kindness didn’t last long. President Trump merely requested that when reporting the news, the media report without bias, and report the good things that the administration is doing and has done along with whatever criticisms they have. Pretty simple, even for Hanoi Jane. No she will never escape pictures of her drug induced real self.

    Fonda’s quote (almost as revolting as her brother Peter’s a few months ago) “If you’ve read anything about the rise and fall of the Third Reich and Adolph Hitler, you will see the parallels. Attacking the media is the first step in the move toward fascism.” I wonder about the media. What is fake news for some, like stories in the ‘Inquirer’ years ago about “space aliens landing in cities near you,” is real to others. Would our media consider the news published by Pravda as fake news when we know it was intended to suppress the voices of political dissenters? It was and is propaganda. When a news outlet like MSNBC or CNN or NBC, CBS come out full throttle against any and all of the values in my personal value system, I am more apt to think of such outlets as propaganda machines. I am only one of the 62 or 63 million people who voted for President Trump. The people on the stations I call propaganda outlets want to change my value system, success through strong family values, hard work, education and commitment, to their value system which includes getting whatever you can from the government because life hasn’t been fair to them. I think it’s called “victimhood.” I can honestly call these news outlets propaganda stations. I’m sure they feel the same way about the Federalist, the Washington Examiner, Fox News. But these three media outlets have the same world view that I have. The same moral outlook. They are not holier than thou because we know we are not perfect but we are willing to pursue something akin to the real story about things. We won’t burn down universities or burn cars on the street because they have a liberal speaker. Did Conservatives loot stores after breaking plate glass windows with anything they could find or weapons they brought when they travel on busses “someone with money” reserved for them. These cowards dress in black, cover their faces and are paid to spread fear and chaos. I hope someone is following the money. Did conservatives hold a March in Washington because the first socialist president was inaugurated in 2009? Conservatives did not set cars, buildings, democratic headquarters on fire. I wish I could say the same of the fascist group antifa. (Young people never had Latin either so when their fascist brethren are out creating chaos and looting in the name of political freedom, they think the “anti” part of Antifa means, ” My Auntie Fa is going out to wreak havoc tonight.”

    They are a sad, but highly destructive group of fascists. And they don’t even know that they are the very things they protest against.


    Joe Morrisco
    Washington, DC 20003
    Bedminster, NJ 07931

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