“Where isn’t there Anti-Semitism?” I can still see the woman’s face from Vilna’s Museum for Tolerance. While she let me know this was a common question by Americans, I still felt both naive and foolish for asking. After all, I’d attended conferences on Hate Crimes (http://http://www.adl.org/osce) the last few years and knew there were more New York City hate crimes against Jews, a city with a vibrant and very visble yet integrated Jewish population, than any other group. It happened again. Friday night. In my very Jewish Brooklyn neighborhood.
For more info check out: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/13/anti-semitic-vandalism-jewish-brooklyn-midwood_n_1091491.html)
Throughout my journey I asked people what they thought caused the hatred leading to the hate crime of all hate crimes: the Holocaust. Chie, from Japan (Berlin) felt it was lonelines. Sue (Boston) threw out greed. Ben, an Aussie from London (Krakow) identified insecurity. In Vilna, jealousy was indirectly as Jewish fathers taught their sons to read and write vs. farm – Jews were not allowed to own land. Lisa, the young German woman I talked to my last night in Berlin said there was no anti-Semitism in Germany (or at least in Bavaria). She said the Holocaust was taught in every grade, and, Jews are welcomed ‘here’. Of course there was no synagogue and no Jews in her town. She had never met a Jew. There was only a Jewish cemetary.
Hatred is complicated. Humans are complicated. Yet when I look at the shared reasons for hate, these internal feelings and emotions say more about the perpetrators than the victims. To me, this sheds a dark light on our human nature and the need to project our fears by ensuring that WE are not on the bottom of the food chain. In NYC, police are running DNA tests on the 27 beer cans found at the scene of the 3 burnt cars and swastika and KKK graffitied benches. In one report, alcohol was identified ‘as the fuel’. I would argue the fuel and the match were loneliness, insecurity and jealousy. Unfortunately there is not yet a CSI test to identify these reasons even after DNA has identitied the empty hateful souls owning these emotions – and fingerprints.
Biserka Krsnik from the Palmovica Synagogue in Zagreb told me that even now at summer camp, Serb kids will taunt Croats. She was quick to say that the kids had to learn this from somewhere, pointing to the parents. The Brooklyn criminals may or may not have attended camp, but they too must have learned to express their emotions through hatred somewhere. We can teach about others, we can teach about tolerance, but I wonder if it’s even more important to teach kids to value and respect their own identity.
Andrea Medgyesi (http://www.jewishvisitorsservice.com) in Budapest felt it was important to teach (Jewish) kids to ‘be who you are. Be proud. Not more, not less’, as a way to connect with their Jewish identity. In Zagreb, Borut Invanusa (http://www.Bet-israel.com) shared that in comparison, Judaism wasn’t better than others but he was happy with it, happy with the philosphy of life he began to learn about in his 20’s. It all still seems to come back to identity and being happy with that identity. A strong identity leads to connections and security as I heard this last month. A security that must lead to peace inside and out, right? Is teaching and learning about identity enough? Is it a good start? My journey for years was on the road to teach communication styles, one of the foundations for identity. I thought this was a good start. Now that we can connect people by placing a small metal object in the palm of the hand, surely we can solidify that connection through words and undertanding, without , right? What do you think?
As a note: my blog header, ‘Never Again’ is from my last days in Berlin. I never thought it would be homecoming sentiment. My blog title is the welcoming quote (by Primo Levi, Italian chemist and writer and Auschwitz Holocaust survivor) at the entrance of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Berlin, Germany. Sadly, also very timely.)
Next Monday I’ll post a summary of what I’ve learned through conversation on my journey.