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WORLD FOCUS: Facing the other side of the coin

June 7, 2019
By FRANK SHATZ , Lake Placid News

(Editor's note: Frank Shatz, a Holocaust survivor. In his remarks at the packed Colonial Williamsburg's Hennage Auditorium, he told the audience that during his 60 years of American citizenship, he never encountered anti-Semitism and found the vast majority of Americans to be decent people who treated him with kindness and accepted him as an equal. Shatz, who lived for 55 years in Lake Placid before moving to Williamsburg, Virginia, said his experience of what America is, was shaped here.)

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In a recent Saturday issue, The Virginia Gazette reported on the talk of Dr. Phyllis Leffler, professor emeritus of the University of Virginia, an expert in public history, oral history and the Jewish history of Charlottesville, at an event - "Jews in Virginia: Living New Lives, Facing Old Fears" - presented by Temple Beth El, in collaboration with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

The talk at the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg Hennage Auditorium, attracted more than 200 people who listened with rapt attention to Leffler's lecture. It was based on solid research and historical facts.

She stated that Jews in Virginia and Charlottesville have been both insiders and outsiders to mainstream culture in America. There were times when they were fully integrated into civic, political and cultural life in the Commonwealth and times when they felt less welcomed.

She noted that hate crimes in the United States had seen a dramatic rise in recent years. Half of race-related hate crimes in 2017 were committed against African-Americans, while 58% of hate crimes motivated by anti-religious bias were committed against Jews.

Leffler, highlighted the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in August 2017 that led to violence, anarchy in the streets and the death of a counter-protester.

"The rally reflected a national resurgence of white supremacy and the glorification of Nazi ideology, specifically targeting Jews and reifying hate speech and violence," Leffler said in an interview with the Gazette.

"We are living in an era which has unleashed a permission to hate. There is a long strain of anti-Semitism in Western history that lives under the surface, ready to erupt when given legitimacy. The current condition in the United States - economic conditions of groups of people who do not see opportunity, the growing socio-economic divide in this country have given rise to this."

She finished her talk by urging people to be vigilant and stand up to those who would erode "our cherished civil society."

I asked to make a few remarks. I told the audience that I am a Holocaust survivor, thus extra sensitive to signs of anti-Semitism. But, since arriving in the U.S., 60 years ago, as a refugee from Communist Czechoslovakia, I have personally never encountered anti-Semitism. I found the vast majority of Americans to be decent people who treated me with kindness and accepted me as an equal.

I don't suffer from Pollyannaism. I am aware that there are extremist groups in our country whose currency is bigotry, hatred and violence. But they are, as they have been during most of American history, fringe elements kept in check by laws and institutions based on the U.S. Constitution.

I said I agree with Leffler that the right response to the resurgence of the glorification of Nazi ideology and hate speech is to call it out, loudly and clearly. That we should never fear to respond to despicable ideas and acts.

I said that during my 60 years of American citizenship, I found, like she did, that there are so many concerned and well-meaning non-Jews who want to be good neighbors and want to be supportive. I am echoing her call, "We must not be afraid to educate and tell our story."

To my surprise, I also found that there is a factor in the support of the American public of Jewish causes that is seldom mentioned. Namely, the awareness of the contributions that immigrant Jews, such as Albert Einstein, Henry Kissinger, Admiral Rickover, and many others have made to this country.

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(Shatz is the author of "Reports from a Distant Place," the compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at Amazon.com.)

 
 

 

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