In his 1944 book Anti-Semite and Jew French Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that we should “never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves," he concludes, "for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words.”
In a recent tweet I can’t fully quote here, Rabbi and author Danya Ruttenberg declared that since she believes words have power she tries to choose hers carefully. So far her blunt message to the president has garnered two hundred and eighty-five thousand likes. And while I may share her sentiment, on some level I have to wonder where all this hate is leading.
As of now, many Jews can “pass” as part of the majority paradigm in Western society. By passing I mean if not asked about religion, nobody may know that a Jew is a Jew. Last names can be (and have been) changed; sacred garments shed; and cultural ties severed.
At the same time, the connectivity of our times allow dizzying amounts of information to be collected and stored on any one individual. And so it’s highly likely that a point will come where passing is no longer an option, because services like Facebook may already possess algorithms that could “out” anyone, anytime, anywhere for having Jewish ancestry.
I was lucky enough to come from a family that immigrated to the US at the turn of the 20th Century. They faced persecution because they were Jews, but they weren’t exterminated like so many of those who stayed in Europe for just a few more decades. Yet my own identity has been shaped by the horrors of the Holocaust – as has the Jewish psyche in general.
So it doesn’t surprise me that Quentin Tarantino’s two thousand and nine film portrayal of a special operations military unit of Jewish Nazi hunters during World War II includes violence ranging from wielding a baseball bat to scalping Nazi soldiers.
And there may be near Biblical satisfaction in striking down one’s enemy with great vengeance and furious anger. But if that’s where we’re heading, society as we know it will surely not survive.