Still, we ask: Why?

January 14, 2015

why-persecute-jewishWhen I first learned as a child about the Nazi atrocities against the Jewish people, I turned to my father.

” I don’t understand,” I said. “Why exactly were Jews treated this way? Why persecute Jewish people?”

He shook his head. He had no answer.

I often say I grew up in a town populated equally by Jews and by those of Italian descent. But when I look back now, I see that wasn’t true. Our town wasn’t that way but our lives were. That was the ethnic breakdown of my parents’ friends. Of the people that we saw day in and day out.  As  you might expect, there were more similarities than differences between our two cultures.

I didn’t see Jews as different or as chosen or as anything, really, other than people.  Friends. Colleagues.  Why would anyone see them as different?

And so it was terrifically confusing as a child to hear about their execution at the hands of Nazis.

It’s still confusing, really.

“So, tell me again why you think Jews have been so persecuted?” I ask the people around me.

Some say it’s because they are Sephardic. Or too successful. Or claim to be “chosen.” They might bring up Palestine. Israeli atrocities.

But none of this makes any sense to me.

So again, I did some research.  Anti-Semitism is a unique hatred. Persecution of Jews has been going on such a long time–maybe longer than any other persecution.  It seems to be universal–it goes on worldwide and it’s particularly noxious.

And like me, most people are confused about why. Why Jews?

For the first time since World War II, synagogues in Paris closed for the safety of their people.  This time, it’s not the Nazis, but terrorists who pose the threat.

I might be confused, but this much I know: the attack on the Paris kosher market, on the Jewish faith, is a placeholder. Because these Islamic terrorists are attacking all who don’t believe as they do.

When I first saw separate drinking fountains for whites and blacks in the south, I asked my father, “Why?”

He shook his head.

When I first learned that southerners set dogs against civil rights protesters, again, I asked, “Why?”

And again, no answers.

I’ve been around a long time now and have had many different life experiences. The world has changed drastically in my life time and so I have I.

I’m not big on revenge. I’m a pacifist. I don’t believe in killing. I don’t believe that one kind of person is better than another. Or that one religion is superior to another.

That’s not how I see the world.

But I’ve seen a lot in my lifetime.

And yet, when these things happen I feel like a child, an innocent child, who can only ask, “Why?”





17 comments on “Still, we ask: Why?
  1. puneet kumar says:

    You have asked a universal question WHY? In fact every person is asking and try to find its answer. I think It is in the DNA of a human. We fight and kill for no reason. Killing in name of religion is as old as the religion itself. But question comes where is the God? No wonder God is dead only our faith in God is alive.

  2. Joy says:

    Like you, I keep asking. And though I’ve been called naive for doing so, I really wouldn’t have it any other way. I would rather keep asking than simply turn into someone who just accepts these atrocities, these injustices, and various prejudices that we still witness. And hoping and believing these can change will continue for me, though again considered naive. *sigh*

  3. Donna says:

    in 6th grade I read exodus, and did the same thing, only I wasn’t nice. I demanded to know from my mother how she could have allowed that to occur. I went on to read every Leon Uris novel thus becoming a “Jew by proxy” my parents stopped me from joining a kibbutz. I would have been great…your first commenter said it is in our DNA to ask why, she is right. Most hatred is passed down and until someone breaks the the chain it remains. You have done your part, you haven’t hated or passed on any hatred.

  4. I read, recently, that about 100 years after Christianity was developed, it was deemed ‘non-Christian’ to loan any form of currency (loans from a Christian). Thus, society ASKED the Jews to become the money lenders to get around the point and they took up the call because they weren’t allowed to own property and this was a way to make an income. So, they weren’t allowed to own property, became the ‘banks’ instead, and were hated by the very people that asked them to do it. WTH? I’m as confused as you as to why they have historically been the World’s whipping boy.

  5. As a Jewish person I can tell you that it’s a scary time to be Jewish. As the leader of the French Jewish community said on the news the other night about WW II: “The optimists went to Auschwitz, the pessimists to New York.” I don’t have a good feeling about what’s going on.

  6. Tammy says:

    Such a good question. I’m sure there is an answer out there somewhere. I’d love to know it. People believe it is hate. It’s not. It’s fear. There are so many kinds of fear. Fear that Jews will come to power, be better, smarter, more influential and controlling. The same fears the Hispanic community has with regards to the black community. Or the black community towards the Asian community, blah, blah, blah. But fear and hate is passed down. I watch Israeli news and see the Palestinian children all of 8 years old being taught that Jews are vermin. I have no words. And my hope is dwindling as well.

  7. The only answer I come up with to why is that it is true, Jews have been persecuted and hated pretty much since the beginning of time. They were slaves for centuries. The hatred the middle east has for them has been inbred for thousands of years. For Muslim’s, hating Jews is like breathing, it just is.
    The only chance for change that I see is with the women and the way they teach their children.
    I love the stories of women from Israel sneaking Palestinian women and their children into their beach homes on the border so the children can play together and the women can enjoy some peace, a vacation from fear.
    The Irish finally stopped killing each other after centuries, if only the middle east would follow that example.

  8. Diane says:

    I’m with you. People hurting people based on . . . well . . . anything. Why?!
    It keeps me awake at night.

  9. joan says:

    As I watched Selma recently I kept saying that I just don’t understand how any group of people can so hate another group of people!! I just don’t get it!! But then I say..(and I’d say the same to you) I’m glad I don’t understand!! That means it’s not me or people like me!! So bless us…
    On the other hand many ask, If God is so good, why do such awful things happen? Well, maybe because PEOPLE are not so good!? So we need good and better people to work on good changes… But I do suffer seeing/watching/knowing about people being humiliated/persecuted/discriminated against or any bigotry ….. Maybe it’s due to being Jewish??
    So be proud of not understanding why, but keep asking and probing!!

  10. joan says:

    just to see comments

  11. Helene Cohen Bludman says:

    As a Jewish person who grew up in an anti-Semitic area, violence against my people is nothing new and I experienced it personally throughout my childhood. However, the upsurge in France is particularly terrifying. The one heartening thing I saw was the French president’s avowal to stamp out anti-Semitism. But actions speak louder than words and he will have to move mountains to make that happen, it is sad to think of Jews fleeing from their homeland in order to find a safe haven.

  12. Why indeed. People try to make sense of life and often a thing in life has no sense behind it. But that doesn’t stop us, nope. We make up stuff to explain things. The worst of these things is “the other.” If we could only be we. “Imagine all the people living life as one,” say a wise man.

  13. I grew up in a purely Baptist community with a couple of Catholics thrown in and I have still always wondered, why? I remember reading Anne Frank and I was devastated for weeks but I didn’t know any Jewish people. I still asked, why? I don’t understand all of this hatred and filth and violence and everyday it just seems to be escalating. Now that I have grown up I have quite a few Jewish friends and especially now, I ask why?

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