Between May 7-14, more than 17,000 tweets used some variation of the phrase “Hitler was right,” and the American Jewish community was, once more, reminded that, even in America, there are some who will always see us as strangers.
While social media filled with tropes reminiscent of the scapegoating campaigns of the Czars and Nazis, Jewish Americans who wore yarmulkes or symbols of their faith were attacked, in broad daylight, on the streets of New York and Los Angeles, and synagogues were vandalized. We must not be silent in the face of such vitriol and violence. My great-grandparents came to this country from Ukraine, fleeing the state-endorsed brutality of the pogroms. The pogroms began in earnest after Jews were blamed for the assassination of Czar Alexander II and resulted in the murder of at least 150,000 Jews living in the Pale of Settlement.
Upon arriving in the United States, my great-grandparents became small business owners, running a garment factory in Greater Boston. They found a country that welcomed them for who they were, rather than in spite of it. My great-grandfather was so grateful to his adopted nation that he answered the call to serve in the first World War, in defense of democracy. When my great-grandfather returned from serving overseas, he and his wife continued to build their small business. My grandfather was born into a poor family – but one that was upwardly mobile and proud of their place, as Jews, in their new country.
At 17, my grandfather’s patriotism during the darkest days of World War II inspired him to enlist in the Marine Corps. At a time when Jews faced the horrors of the Holocaust, and the Marines were losing the fight in the South Pacific, the U.S. Marines sent a poor Jewish kid to college. His recruiting officer identified him as a promising student, and sent him to Purdue University, where he received bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering and physics. This opportunity would launch a career as a renowned orthopedic surgeon.
As a child, I was inspired by the bravery of my great-grandparents, who left the only country they knew for the promise of opportunity and religious freedom in the United States, and the patriotism of my grandfather and great-grandfather that led them to volunteer to serve the country that allowed them to live openly and celebrate every aspect of their identity. When it came time for me to choose my path after college, I honored my Jewish heritage and my family’s tradition by commissioning into the Marines.
Now in Congress, I recently supported a letter, led by Representatives [Ted] Deutch, [Brian] Fitzpatrick, and [Grace] Meng, which urges President Biden to swiftly implement the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act and other steps to remain vigilant against the pernicious threat of antisemitism. The letter asks that President Biden and his administration develop an interagency strategy to protect American Jewry and nominate an Ambassador at Large to lead the State Department’s Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. I hope that these steps, paired with more direct interventions, such as the educational programming and increased Nonprofit Security Grant Program funding requested in the letter, will allow the United States to weed out antisemitism wherever it occurs.
Our present leadership must help ensure that the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre, the murders at Chabad of Poway, and the recent scourge of violent attacks against Jews do not mark a sustained resurgence of antisemitism in the United States. The Haftorah teaches that we must “seek the welfare of the city to which [G-d] has exiled [us] and pray to him on its behalf, for in its prosperity [we] shall prosper.” The United States has been a land of opportunity and prosperity for so many people, and it falls on us to practice Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, to ensure that the United States maintains its promise as a land of opportunity and freedom for future generations.
Newton Democrat Jake Auchincloss is the representative of the state’s 4th Congressional District.