For as long as I've been blogging (which I began doing in early 2015), I always get the most page views if I write about Rush. But while the title of this post comes from their song "Freewill," the post itself is not really about their music; and that might mean some of you won't read it. However, I'm hoping you will, and I can even promise a Geddy Lee mention-- although this time, it won't be about which Rush tunes I like best. Rather, the topic is about something Geddy and I have in common: we're both Jewish, and we're both living in a time when antisemitism is on the rise.
Of course, I am well aware that our current era is nowhere nearly as bad as what Geddy's mom lived through: Manya (later Mary) was a Polish Holocaust survivor, who eventually settled in Canada. As for my relatives, many of them came to the US in an earlier era-- 1905-1910, when Russian Jews were enduring brutal persecution. But knowing how bad things were for Jews in previous times doesn't make what we're seeing in this one any easier to accept.
I've spoken before about how when I was growing up, casual antisemitism was still part of the popular culture. Even people who considered themselves good Christians would make antisemitic remarks now and then, expressing common stereotypes about "the Jews," as if we were all alike. Supposedly, we were all greedy, or rich, or cheap, or clannish; and of course, we couldn't be trusted. Individual Jews were okay, but they were consider the exception (a colleague actually told me once that I wasn't like all those other Jews... she seemed to think she was giving me a compliment).
But even when things improved for American Jews, and overt antisemitism declined, I never believed it was entirely gone. I always knew that in certain corners of the world, the haters still existed. However, at that time, they were isolated, able to perhaps buy time on a local cable-access channel and not much else. But then, along came the internet and social media; and suddenly, the haters had new ways to congregate and reinforce each other's beliefs; and that is exactly what they have done.
Certain politicians didn't help, nor did certain talk show hosts. And sad to say, neither did some otherwise kind and compassionate people who saw no problem with re-tweeting a meme with anti-Jewish content, as long as its political message was one they liked. For example, Jewish philanthropist George Soros (himself a Holocaust survivor) has become the favorite whipping post of many conservatives. I have no problem with people who disagree with the organizations or candidates to whom he donates. I have a big problem with people who speak of him as some diabolical puppet-master trying to control the world with his money (blatantly and demonstrably false, but a common antisemitic stereotype); or who accuse Mr. Soros, along with other people who are Jewish, of being sinister and malevolent figures who must be stopped.
There are internet websites that relentlessly spread hateful myths about Mr. Soros (some even use Jewish symbols, like the star of David, juxtaposed with dollar signs). These sites have multiplied, and they have some loyal fans, who believe what they're reading on them-- Cesar Sayoc, the guy who sent him a pipe bomb last week, was convinced George Soros deserved to die; and only the fact that the bomb didn't explode prevented a tragedy from occurring. Robert Bowers, the guy who murdered 11 innocent Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue, also believed Mr. Soros and other Jews were dangerous, since they were allegedly bringing illegal immigrants into the US as part of the much-maligned "caravan." Again, this is a complete lie, but on anti-Jewish websites and chat rooms, it's widely believed, and it contributed to the deaths of 11 people whose only "crime" was being Jewish.
There was a reason why I titled this post "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice." Some people will choose to ignore what I've written; or think that anti-Jewish political rhetoric is just something to laugh at; or say that George Soros deserves all the hate being rained down upon him by certain politicians. Those are certainly choices, but not the ones I'd agree with. Whatever your religion, whatever your politics, nothing will improve in our society until more of us say "no" to prejudice, and speak out when we encounter it, even if someone from "our side" is expressing it.
While I've used George Soros as an example, he is not the only one being subjected to anti-Jewish rhetoric. I find it painful to see how many people world-wide are espousing these views (some more subtle, but some right out in the open). History has already shown us where those kinds of attitudes can lead. I dread to think of a world where what Geddy's mom and my ancestors endured becomes the new normal. I don't want a world where intolerance is okay, as long as "our side" benefits politically. But right now, that seems like the direction we are heading. I hope I'm wrong. I hope more people will decide to work together to create a more tolerant society. In memory of those who were murdered in Pittsburgh, I pray we'll decide to do it soon.