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Fighting Antisemitism : We can't win this battle without  friends

01/11/2020 11:50:20 PM


Daniel Mariaschin

One common thread that has emerged from my recollections of personal experiences with antisemitism is that there are good people who stand up for what is right.

As we are experiencing antisemitism at levels we had hoped were a plague of the past, I have thought back to my earliest recollection of antisemitism in the United States: Hearing my mother talking about the Holocaust, not even 10 years after the great tragedy that befell European Jewry. As I look back, I see that was something that preyed on her mind for the rest of her life. She had lost family members in the round-ups and mass shootings in Lithuania, and I know not being able to bring them over to the United States before the abyss of barbarity that befell them troubled her greatly.

One common thread that has emerged from my recollections of personal experiences with antisemitism is that there are good people who stand up for what is right. It was true back then and it needs to be true today.

My mother would also talk about the American antisemites that prospered in the years leading up to our entry into World War II, like Father Coughlin and Gerald L.K. Smith. In our bookcase at home was a copy of Under Cover by John Roy Carlson, who had infiltrated pro-Nazi and far right organizations like the German American Bund, the Gray Shirts, American Patriots and others over a four-year period.

Carlson – a pen name for Arthur Derounian, an Armenian immigrant brought to the United States in the 1920s – dove deep into an underworld populated by antisemites and Nazi sympathizers who attracted a following throughout the country.

My mother often referenced the book, and I would take it off the shelf from time to time, open it randomly, and read about one or another of the organizations profiled by Derounian. As a teenager, I wrote a letter to the ADL office in Boston (we lived in New Hampshire) referencing the book and expressing my concern about antisemitism that I sensed was out there, but really had few details about.

Growing up in small-town New England had many benefits, but as Jews we were the tiniest minority. There were about 25 Jewish families in a 25-mile radius of where we lived. In my town there were just four families, and for a time, I was the only Jewish student in the school district. I occasionally experienced some antisemitism from some schoolmates on the playground or in the hallways right through middle school. This usually came in the form of taunts; two of the most frequently used were “nose” – an allusion to the stereotype of Jews having long noses, or what I would call the fake sneeze: “a-Jew!”

But those who engaged in this form of bullying were very few in number. Looking back, I have no doubt that these crude expressions of hatred were passed down in their families, all by people who had actually never encountered Jews before. It hurt to be on the receiving end of these taunts, and if it were not for parents who bolstered my Jewishness and prepared me for this kind of rattling experience, it would have been even more unsettling. Adding balm to the verbal attacks on the playground was the support I received from teachers, and especially my non-Jewish friends and their parents.

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Sat, July 20 2024 14 Tammuz 5784