When 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?”