By Mel Eichelbaum
In the article, “Anti-Semitism Did Not End with the Second World War,” published in the November of 2020 issue of The Jewish Veteran, National Vice Commander Nelson Mellitz wrote of his concerns about the increased tide of antisemitism. He cited the American Jewish Committee (AJC) “State of Antisemitism in America” report, which indicated 88% of American Jews felt that anti-Semitism remained a significant problem; whereas there existed a disturbing lack of awareness among the general public about the severity of antisemitism, with 21% stating that they had never heard of the term, nor did they know what it meant. Mellitz continued by stating that anti-Semitism is a present and growing threat. He urged JWV members to take an active role in educating the public about it, to identify incidents of it when it happens, and to take positive steps to stop it.
Clearly, I was aware of the continued existence of this sickening hatred bubbling beneath the surface in Texas, but I honestly thought that things had improved since the early 1950s when my family and I first moved to the Lone Star State. But in 2015 and 2016 it seemed like things began to change. That was the last year when my wife and I taught Religious School at Temple Beth-El. During our lesson covering Yom HaShoah, I asked how many of the students had experienced some form of anti-Semitism. I was surprised when over two-thirds of the class raised their hands. These were second graders who went to good schools, and yet at this young age a significant number had faced this evil experience.
I reached out to my contacts at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). In the Spring of 2015, my wife and I had taken a civil rights trip through the South. This was the 50th anniversary of the march led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from Selma to Montgomery. While in Montgomery, we visited the SPLC Civil Rights Museum and we were treated to a tour of their office headquarters. There we met our Docent, Esther Labovitz, were introduced to Joseph Levin, Jr., Co-Founder of the SPLC, and spoke with many of its dedicated workers. While I knew the organization was involved in fighting hatred and pursuing equal justice, I was pleased to learn that they had a whole section dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism.
Between 2015 and 2020, SPLC reported an exponential increase of incidents inspired by hate groups. These not only included the Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis, but also a whole host of White Nationalist and White Supremacist groups having a distinct anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and of course, an anti-Semitic agenda. Texas ranked third in the nation, showing a marked increase in the growth of hate incidents, right behind the states of California and Florida. Add in potent relative newcomers, such as the Boogaloo Bois, Oath Keepers, and Proud Boys, and this resulting mixture of hate groups had become more emboldened and energetic in acting out their hatred. The Anti-Defamation League in their 2020 report confirmed these findings, indicating that the Jewish Community experienced the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents since tracking began back in 1979. The Director of the FBI has characterized these hate groups as a “national threat priority,” and that not only has this become a threat to American democracy, but also, the danger is on-going and unrelenting.
I suppose his words came to fruition, when I along with many others witnessed the storming, invasion, and ransacking of our Capitol by a riotous mob in an attempt to delay or stop the peaceful transition of power as a result of the election. Five people died, 140 were injured, and damages were estimated at $1.5 million. The mob contained many members from a variety of these hate groups, some of whom came from Texas.
But before this crescendo event, the warning signs were there. Between 2016 and 2020 in San Antonio, Texas, two synagogues, Agudas Achim and Rodfei Shalom were vandalized, Jewish graves at the Ft. Sam Houston cemetery were desecrated, and Neo-Nazi hate and recruitment propaganda was widely distributed in three suburban neighborhoods.
This increase in anti-Semitism was not limited to San Antonio. In August of 2018, at a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, a group carrying torches and weapons marched in front of a synagogue shouting, “Jews will not replace us.” On October 27, 2018, a white supremacist walked into the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania carried out a mass shooting which left 11 dead and others injured. On August 3, 2019, a white supremacist entered a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing 23 Mexican-Americans and injuring many others.
He specifically targeted Mexican-Americans because of a belief and fear that immigration was destroying the White Race and culture. What did this event have to do with anti-Semitism? Investigation into his internet communications indicated a common white supremacist radicalization, and it was clear that he was motivated by the Christchurch shooter, who had targeted and slaughtered Muslims. All these killers had been indoctrinated with the same poisonous white supremacist, anti-immigrant insidious mythology, and they all had an intense hatred toward non-whites and non-Christians, be they Muslims or Jews. As pointed out by Mellitz in his article, the connection is that hate and anti-Semitism harms not just the Jewish people but all people everywhere.
What can we do to fight this evil? First, we can support the groups actively involved in fighting anti-Semitism, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Anti-Defamation League. Second, we can become involved in our city’s Jewish Community Relations Council, Holocaust Museum, or other organizations that can spread the word and help educate the public. Third, we need to speak up politically. Sometimes major advancements can be achieved even against the greatest of odds.
Several years ago, four San Antonio women set out to accomplish what most considered to be impossible in the State of Texas. Lisa Barry was an elementary school teacher who included Holocaust studies in her students’ lessons as a way to counter hate and bullying. She got together with Sharon Scharff Greenwald, Varda Ratner, and Ginny Wind, who are members of the San Antonio Chapter of the National Council of Jewish Woman (NCJW). The four of them lobbied to make Holocaust education mandatory in all Texas public schools. After a lot of hard work and their untiring efforts, SB 1828, which established Holocaust Remembrance Week in Texas public schools became law in 2019. Holocaust museums in Texas are actively working with teachers throughout the state and the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission in helping to create the educational material for this designated week. It is imperative that we teach this history, for as espoused in the epigraph from Santayana quoted in William Shirer’s “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it.
Volume 75. Number 3. 2021