MEMBERS ONLY: Being a Jew in the Age of Trump

by Justin Rosario

On Wednesday,  Donald Trump ordered a weekly list to be published of “crimes” committed by undocumented immigrants. On Friday, he blocked Muslims fleeing from war and persecution while giving Christians preference from the same countries.

On Saturday, I ordered two badges with the word “JUDE” stitched into the middle of a yellow Star of David. When they arrive, I will be stitching them to my two winter coats. We’ve seen this movie before and I’m just skipping to the end.

Let’s rewind a bit. My mother was Jewish and my father is Puerto Rican. The end result of this odd combination (odd for the early 70s, at least) was a generically white baby. People have thought I was Irish, Italian, German, etc. (but almost never Jewish). I just have one of those faces. So I got to grow up “white” despite not actually being “white.” That means I’ve never experienced real antisemitism or anti-Latino racism directed specifically at me. I was called a “dirty Jew” once by a pissed off customer but, frankly, I was more amazed he guessed I was Jewish than I was insulted.

I was not raised in a religious household and I thought of my two years in Hebrew school as more of a cultural experience as opposed to learning a religion. Beyond that, I’ve never given being Jewish much thought. I’m not proud of being Jewish (or Puerto Rican for that matter) and I’m certainly not ashamed of it, I just am. And growing up in Brooklyn, with New York City having the second largest population of Jews in the world next to Tel Aviv, there simply wasn’t much anti-Jew speech going on. Being Jewish was just normal.

But just because I didn’t give being Jewish much thought didn’t mean I didn’t pay attention to our history of being hated and exterminated. I was quite aware of the Holocaust even though my grandmother didn’t speak about it. I was aware of the history of Pogroms in Eastern Europe and Russia, something else we didn’t talk about even though my grandparents immigrated from Russia. I was also aware, through movies, that antisemitism is quite popular in the United States, particularly in the South.

Right now, the right pretends to love Jews in order to use Israel as a cudgel against liberals. But I’m old enough to remember the regular conservative complaints about “Jew York,” “Jewywood” and “The Jew-controlled media.” The American right, especially in the South, still despises us. I didn’t care because fuck those guys, I lived in the North. I was safe in New York and perfectly camouflaged by my lack of distinguishing ethnic features. I got to go about my life and not think about my heritage as something anyone would care about; a variation of white privilege if you will.

But now I have to think about it. With the election of white nationalism to the White House, my heritage suddenly matters. If there’s one thing I learned from my casual acquaintance with Jewish history, it’s this: Sooner or later, they always come for us. I’m Jewish and so are my children. By daughter Anastasia has blue eyes and she’s only 1/4 Jewish but that won’t matter. The Nazis carted away people who didn’t even think of themselves as Jews because of their ancestry. When the Trump administration is done with the Muslims, the Mexicans, the Chinese and whoever else they deem a “danger” to the country, history is crystal clear on this point: The will come for the Jews.

It’s easy to dismiss all this as hyperventilating hyperbole. This is the United States! We just don’t do things like that! But to think that belies a profound ignorance of history. We put hundreds of thousands of American citizens into concentration camps because they were Japanese. When the KKK was rampaging through the South, lynching black people and burning entire black communities to the ground, the federal government stood by and did nothing. We fought the Civil War because half of the country couldn’t tolerate the idea of treating blacks as human beings.

It may feel like I’m beating the point to death but it’s important to understand just how deep racism runs in America’s DNA. The Holocaust is the natural conclusion of the Eugenics movement, the belief that there some “races” are genetically superior to others. But the Nazis did not invent eugenics. America did. We literally created the template that led to the mass murder of millions of innocent people for being the “wrong” race. 

So, to paraphrase The Newsroom’s Will McAvoy, when you say “It can’t happen here! America doesn’t do things like that!”, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. Trump’s little Nazi followers have been dreaming of a race war for decades. Their bible is “The Turner Diaries,” a book that depicts the glorious triumph of the white man over Those People, ending with the extinction Jews, blacks, Asians and Latinos. And one of their leaders, Steve Bannon, is currently pulling Trump’s strings.

It is indisputable that America has a long and vile history of racism and racial violence. Accusing me of employing a slippery slope argument only works if we’re not already on a slope we’ve been on before, sliding at high speed towards a well-known and well-understood destination. If Trump is allowed to ignore the Constitution now, he will continue to violate it, each time going just a little bit further; every step getting just a little bit easier for the public to swallow.

Will Trump get away with it? Maybe, maybe not. The massive protests and resistance suggest that America 2017 is not Germany 1932:

But Trump has brought white nationalism into our discourse and there’s a vast right wing media operation hard at work normalizing Trump’s dangerous behavior and rhetoric.

Like most of you, even though I spent my life learning to hate Nazis and their collaborators, it was always an abstract hate. I never thought I would have to deal with that kind of evil. But now it’s my turn to decide if I will resist or bow my head and look away. It’s my turn to stand and be counted.

There’s a WWI cartoon I saw once that always stuck with me. It was a father sitting with his children with a pensive look on his face as his daughter asks, “Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?”

When my children go to college and read about what happened between 2017 and 2021. I want to be able to look them in the eye and say I stood against fascism. 

When I look in the mirror, I want to be able to say that when they came for my Muslim neighbors, I spoke out even though I was not a Muslim.

When I die, I want people at my funeral to know that I fought white nationalism and never backed down in fear.

And when people on the street ask me why I’m wearing a yellow Star of David with the word “JUDE” stitched into it, I’m going to tell them that any country that bans Muslims will eventually ban me and I am not afraid. Fuck fear.

Here I am, motherfuckers. Come and get me.