In my lifetime, I have seen and experienced a great deal of hatred and violence — some of it because I was born into deep discord and some of it because I, as a social justice warrior, put myself in the middle of it. Yet, the massacre at Tree of Life building, a few blocks from my home, rocked me to my core. The murder of the frail and vulnerable, many of whom I had known since early childhood, as they, in their safe place, celebrated Shabbat and community, knocked me down and pinned me to the ground.
Two months after the Oct. 27, 2018 shooting, I took my adult sons to Berlin and Krakow, driven to squeeze myself deeper into the world of the crimes that hatred allows human beings to perpetrate on one another. I had been to Dachau and to Terezin, but never to the heart of the beast, Auschwitz-Birkenau. There, I bore witness to the cattle cars and the train tracks, the gas chambers and the ovens, the selection platforms and the medical experiment barracks, the vastness. But nothing gutted me more than the piles of children’s shoes. How do you slaughter the tiny beings who occupied those shoes?
A few weeks after returning to Pittsburgh, I felt driven to go beyond hatred of Jews. So, we again traveled and spent five days, including MLK weekend in Alabama, including Selma, Montgomery, Birmingham and Tuskegee. I had been to plantations and slave markets in South Carolina, but never to the heart of Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement. I saw the lynching trees and the hoses, the torches, the white robes and the prison cells. I walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and imagined what it would be like to sing and pray and lock arms while being beaten and trampled, only because I wanted the right to vote….and was Black. But nothing affected me more than the hatred and violence directed toward children and toward adults while their children watched. How do you spit on a little girl as she, with hope and innocence, walks into school — as she walks with more dignity than those five times her age?
A question that gnawed at me throughout our journeys in Poland and Alabama was how can so many people behave in such incomprehensible ways. How can masses of “normal” people perpetrate and/or look the other way from the infliction of the worst torture on people who had done nothing to them? How can people tear children from their mother’s arms, murder them, whip them, experiment on them, subjugate them, rape them, torture them, beat them, starve them, own and sell them like a piece of furniture? What made so many humans capable of monstrous, satanic inhumanity?
The only “explanation” I can find is the precursor of years of systematic propaganda and indoctrination. The Jews were sub-human, society-destroying vermin who were responsible for every problem in post-World War I Europe. To save the good people of Europe, the Jews had to go. To give the pure children a chance at life, the blood-suckers needed to be eliminated.
The African slaves were inferior. Bringing them, in chains, to America was doing them a favor. They were uncivilized animals and putting a roof over their heads and introducing them to Christianity was saving their lives and their souls. Not only was enslaving and subjugating human beings going to propel the new nation’s economy, it was service to God.
Dehumanization is the fuel of atrocity. Making people seem deserving of righteous punishment is the oil of every machine of persecution in the history of humankind. Seeing the innocent as those who have wronged you is the magic of cruelty. The most successful barbarity makes the perpetrator the saint.
I believe that dehumanization is absolute, not able to be described in relative terms. I don’t believe that we can say one is more dehumanized than another. But, the dehumanization of children, in their innocence and purity, strikes me as most heinous.
Watching people righteously tear down posters of missing Israeli children, laughing while drawing big noses and fangs on pictures of the charred bodies of babies, legitimizing and butwhatabouting the decapitation of toddlers, justifying forcing children to watch the violation and torture of their siblings, parents and grandparents, leads me to just one conclusion: Jews have again been scapegoated and dehumanized to the point that the torture and murder of Jewish children has become legitimate and just.
The passionate protestors are no worse than the icy silent. The ones who chase Jewish children and elderly down the street and the ones who refuse to call a Jewish friend or try to learn more about what is happening are one and the same. At best, they are too afraid of the horde of Jew-haters panting at their back. At worst, they are calmly and coolly, even condescendingly and all-knowingly, propelling the fury and the maniacal throngs. The quiet ones are often the ones who gaslight and manipulate by insisting that criticism of Israel is not antisemitism. Is it OK with you if we think we see antisemitism when we see people marching with the Nazi flag and signs that proclaim the need to clean up the world by getting rid of the Jews? What about when they scream, “Murder the Jews?”
We, my beloved Jewish community, have once again found ourselves within reach of the blood-thirsty wolf of hate and blame. Of so much loathing that the torture of our infants is legitimized, not to mention the gang rape of our beautiful young peace activists and burning alive of our elderly protectors of stories and traditions. Once again, we are victims of indescribable horror, perpetrated by Hamas and celebrated by university administrations, faculty and staff. The crimes against us are carried out by terrorist groups and ignored or excused by Western nonprofits whose existence is to give voice to the vulnerable. The good people, the ones who dedicate their lives to fighting injustice have been brainwashed by the propaganda and have yet again succumbed to the dehumanization of the other, required to commit atrocity. It seems that the inability to resist the need to demonize others is fundamental of the human condition.
To non-Jews who have reached out to your Jewish friends (and family), we are so grateful. You are the righteous ones who will always be on the correct side of history. You, coming in every denomination, status and affiliation are the courageous and just. You have resisted the desire to hush your own fears by scapegoating and distorting. Thank you and may God bless you. PJC
Cheryl Moore is a Squirrel Hill-based mother, women’s health nurse, activist and Zionist.