By Harriet P. Gross
“We are living in a strange world at a strange time.” The author of that quote? Me! I’m quoting myself from a column I wrote somewhere between 1970 and 1980 — the decade before I came to Dallas.
What was its subject then? I don’t remember, and it would take far too long to search for something from that era before computerized filing. But I suspect it was from 1976, our nation’s Bicentennial Year, when the United States did itself proud by opposing a U.N. resolution attempting to declare Israel a racist country.
That comes back to me now because once again the U.S. has taken a stand in favor of Israel, on the question of who may serve on the International Criminal Court. But this small recent victory pales in the face of what’s going on in France. And there’s also this: one day last week, while I was listening to my car radio, I heard that the U.S. government had just thwarted a planned attack against our Washington Capitol. This is indeed a strange world at a very strange time — now for America, and more especially for Jews.
When I was a young student in the aftermath of World War II, a few Jewish orphans were resettled with families in our heavily Jewish neighborhood. I can’t help thinking of two of them now: Renee and Edith, the redheaded sisters from France.
One of those girls was older than I, the other younger, so I never had classes with either. But to me, and probably also to most of my fellow students for whom war was little but a distant non-reality, they were strangely exotic. Oh, how wrong we were! But I remember them now, as I also remember something much more recent, yet it too is from long before today…
“The Monster Among Us” was produced by our own local filmmakers Cynthia and Allen Mondell, who said at the time of its initial screening that their new offering examined “this wave of anti-Semitism against European Jews and their institutions, mainly from the point of view of those who have directly experienced the violence or live every day with the threat.” That quote is from back in March 2008! The film’s most memorable image: an elderly couple telling how young French Jews were not as averse to leaving as older ones like themselves, but even they had suitcases under their beds, packed and ready to go.
Yet another French Jew was quoted just a few days ago: “I’m leaving for Israel,” he said. “I am not going to wait here to be killed.”
Is that monster here among us, as well? I wonder what our response would be if some American magazine in the spirit of France’s satiric Charlie Hebdo had made its kind of sport about Jews. I think the Anti-Defamation League would have issued some strong statements of displeasure, and our local Jewish Community Relations Council would have called a meeting with supportive representatives of various other faith groups who together might draft a letter of opposition for publication in the Dallas Morning News. We would certainly not have killed anyone in retaliation. But I also wonder: Would anyone have paid any real attention to our statements, our meetings, our letters to the editor?
There’s no denying that outright murder of staffers in a magazine office grabbed the public’s attention, more so than that magazine’s cartoons ever did. There’s no doubt that the outright murder of innocent pre-Shabbat shoppers in a Paris kosher market claimed the attention of that city’s and its country’s Jews, who’ve already been flocking to Israel in ever-increasing numbers over the past several years, to the point that French Jewry is today her primary source of olim.
Does any of this ring any bells for us, here in the presumed safety of the United States? We certainly are living in a strange world at a strange time…