I Grew Up In The Shadow Of The Holocaust

It’s National Holocaust Remembrance Day. According to Donald Trump, “Jews” are a “nationality”. That’s not the first time a country’s leader has started down that road… Historically, it never ends well for Jews.

I was born in 1959, 14 years after the Nazi concentration camps were liberated.  In my brain, those camps never went away.

I grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s in a Jewish suburb of Baltimore. Pikesville was so predominantly Jewish that “clever people” called it “Kikesville” instead. My public high school was so predominantly Jewish that even the non-Jewish kids took the Jewish holidays off — cos they knew NOTHING was happening in school those days.

You might think growing up in a place so culturally Jewish would shield one from the Holocaust’s awfulness. You might think such an awful memory — so close in our rear view mirror — would have made my community so horrified that they couldn’t bear to discuss it.

We went completely in the other direction. I wouldn’t say we “embraced” the Holocaust so much as we “owned it”. As my community tends to do, we made it a teachable moment. From a young age, I was told about this tragedy and shown images that burned into my mind forever. I don’t regret that for a second. I needed to remember these lessons – forever.

I have always been grateful to Hebrew school for making me the atheist I am today — and for giving me a stone, cold accurate view of the world — and my place in it because of my tribe.

There’s a famous photo of a group of Jews being rounded up in the Warsaw Ghetto by the occupying Nazis –

From the first time I saw the photo, I became that boy in the lower right. I bet a lot of Jews my age did.  We saw and felt that boy’s terror, his helplessness.  His confusion: how can they be doing this to you just because you were born Jewish?  You’ve done nothing wrong to anyone on the planet – yet the planet wants you dead. 

“Never Again” became as integral a part of my “religious education” as chanting the ‘Shema’.  The past hurt.  That was not going to be our future. 

In our guts, my community has always known this was lurking somewhere in the American Character. You can’t cram peoples’ heads with that much bullshit and expect the bullshit not to screw them up. Bullshit always screws people up – cos it’s bullshit. When you cram a nonsense, hateful mythology into peoples’ heads that actually runs counter to your religion’s core message (and its core messenger) — don’t be surprised when the nonsense becomes the message.

It sucks being despised because of a total fiction. It sucks worse being killed over it.

I Grew Up In The Shadow Of The Holocaust

According to Donald Trump, “Jews” are a “nationality”. That’s not the first time a country’s leader has started down that road…

I was born in 1959, 14 years after the Nazi concentration camps were liberated.  In my brain, those camps never went away.

I grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s in a Jewish suburb of Baltimore. Pikesville was so predominantly Jewish that “clever people” called it “Kikesville” instead. My public high school was so predominantly Jewish that even the non-Jewish kids took the Jewish holidays off — cos they knew NOTHING was happening in school those days.

You might think growing up in a place so culturally Jewish would shield one from the Holocaust’s awfulness. You might think such an awful memory — so close in our rear view mirror — would have made my community so horrified that they couldn’t bear to discuss it.

We went completely in the other direction. I wouldn’t say we “embraced” the Holocaust so much as we “owned it”. As my community tends to do, we made it a teachable moment. From a young age, I was told about this tragedy and shown images that burned into my mind forever. I don’t regret that for a second. I needed to remember these lessons – forever.

I have always been grateful to Hebrew school for making me the atheist I am today — and for giving me a stone, cold accurate view of the world — and my place in it because of my tribe.

There’s a famous photo of a group of Jews being rounded up in the Warsaw Ghetto by the occupying Nazis –

From the first time I saw the photo, I became that boy in the lower right. I bet a lot of Jews my age did.  We saw and felt that boy’s terror, his helplessness.  His confusion: how can they be doing this to you just because you were born Jewish?  You’ve done nothing wrong to anyone on the planet – yet the planet wants you dead. 

“Never Again” became as integral a part of my “religious education” as chanting the ‘Shema’.  The past hurt.  That was not going to be our future. 

In our guts, my community has always known this was lurking somewhere in the American Character. You can’t cram peoples’ heads with that much bullshit and expect the bullshit not to screw them up. Bullshit always screws people up – cos it’s bullshit. When you cram a nonsense, hateful mythology into peoples’ heads that actually runs counter to your religion’s core message (and its core messenger) — don’t be surprised when the nonsense becomes the message.

It sucks being despised because of a total fiction. It sucks worse being killed over it.

What You Laugh At (And Who With) Defines You

The new SNL season premiered last night — and aside from Kanye West’s strange performances (culminating in his MAGA-hat-wearing finale number) was, start to finish, terrific.  Here in my house, we laughed a lot.

We were laughing, in part, cathartically.  We needed to laugh as a way to release the incredible tension.  But the laughter wasn’t completely therapeutic.    It was angry, too.  There were notes of righteous indignation and bitterness — because we live in a time when the Truth is being flat out ignored.

We live during a soft coup d’etat. During Cyber War while a hostile foreign power dominates us because one of our two political parties has been completely compromised by them.

There’s a lot to be angry and bitter about. And one way we ‘deal’ with that is through laughter.  It’s a coping mechanism.  But laughter also is a way that a culture defines itself, its boundaries, its quirks, its contradictions and idiosyncrasies.  We laugh at our hypocrisy and sanctimony.  We laugh, in a way, to self-critique.

Well, some of us do.

Others laugh as a way to belittle.  Their laughter doesn’t ever sound joyful or delighted.  It always has dark, threatening notes to it.

Perhaps it’s because of what exactly those people are laughing at.  For one thing — it’s never themselves that they’re laughing at.  That’s a tell.

People incapable of laughing at themselves are people without an actual sense of humor.  Not all laughter is caused by things that are funny.

If you think about last night’s SNL — and why it was so funny to so many people — it’s because it was aiming squarely at things we all know are TRUE.  It’s the way they attacked the Truth that made us all laugh.  TRUTH lies at the core of comedy.

(Often) painful Truth.

But a person laughing at, say, another person’s physical disability or handicap — isn’t laughing so much at a ‘truth’ as at the person with the disability or handicap; they’re not laughing at how unfair the universe is, they’re laughing at the fact that this person has this problem — and they don’t.  They’re laughing AT ‘the other’ — a person ‘unlike’ them for whatever reason.

When a group of people — with no sense of humor — begin laughing at ‘the other’ you get mobs.  You get fascists.  You get Nazi Germany.  You get white supremacists.  You get Donald Trump.

Want to know who’s who & what’s what in America today?  Look at who was laughing at SNL last night.  Who was laughing with it.

And who wasn’t laughing at all…

Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump Holds Election Night Event In New York City
NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 08: People cheer as voting results for Iowa come in at Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s election night event at the New York Hilton Midtown on November 8, 2016 in New York City. Americans today will choose between Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as they go to the polls to vote for the next president of the United States. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)