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Beyond a Place of Wrath and Tears


Why persist in the belief that "ordinary" people could not possibly sanction, let alone partake in wholesale human slaughter? The historical record, from ancient times to the present, amply testifies to the ease with which people can extinguish the lives of others, and even take joy in their deaths.

― Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, "Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust"





This week, the Jewish Community Center Safety Committee in New Paltz invited the Chief of Police to talk about the potential for antisemitic incidents at the synagogue. "What kind of situation would lead to stationing police at the Synagogue and Community Center?" the email invitation to the congregation asked. Though I am not a member of this congregation, I receive their emails, and this one gave me pause. Soon after the antisemitic terrorist attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018 in which eleven people were killed and six wounded, I received a phone call from a woman who lives and works in New Paltz. She knew I was a journalist and wanted to show me an antisemitic screed she had found in the wastepaper basket at the Town Hall. I asked if she had taken it to the police; she had not. Afraid to lose her job, she asked if I would "report" it. By this she meant report it in the local newspaper I write for occasionally. Instead, I made an appointment to see Chief Lucchesi and asked a member of the Jewish Community Center to come with me


The Chief was both knowledgeable and reassuring. He assigned a detective who determined that the screed had been faxed from an unknown location and was not local in origin. Soon after this visit the perpetrator of the Pittsburgh shootings was caught.


For most of my life, I have been spared the fear and rage that my Israeli cousins and Palestinian friends experience every day. Indeed, I always told my refugee parents that I was thankful they had landed in America rather than on a sliver of contested Biblical land inhabited by deranged warring societies. Edward Said, The Palestinian American academic, called the efforts  to "fix" the Israel/Palestine "problem" akin to "shaking peanuts in a jar," one peace "accord" after another broken by intractable hatreds.   


We are now witnessing a horrific, pulverizing, uncivilized war in the Middle East, instigated by Hamas, perpetrated by Hamas and its handlers, but continued with little respite by a vengeful, dangerous right wing Israeli government that has broken every international humanitarian law ever codified—in  its own "settlements," in the West Bank where there has been detention without trial for decades, and now in Gaza. It should be no surprise to any Jew in the American diaspora that some of the uptick in antisemitism—on social media, on the streets, and on the college campuses—is  a reaction to this war. As I write, it has only worsened, despite the release of hostages.


Years ago, I was asked by a German magazine to interview Daniel Goldhagen, a Harvard professor, who had just published Hitler's Willing Executioners; Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust which I have quoted above. Reading this quote again today, it seems more applicable to the Israeli government than to contemporary Germans who have worked ceaselessly to confront their history, and atone for it. So here's my prayer for this holiday season:  May the next Israeli and Palestinian generation feel secure enough to do the same. May the children of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank survive this war and live in peace. May they not dishonor their souls with hatred.



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