Photo Credit: Harvey Rachlin
Harvey Rachlin

I am Jewish, and I know you hate me for that reason.

Can we talk about this in a rational way?

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We have never met. I have never done anything to harm you. You probably wouldn’t even know I’m Jewish if you were to see me on the street (assuming my yarmulke was covered by a hat), so I feel like you are hating a stereotype, and stereotypes are not real people.

Maybe you hate me because you were taught that Jews are greedy.

Or maybe you hate me because you were taught that Jews are dirty or have horns on their heads.

Or maybe you hate me because you were taught that Jews are dishonest or drink the blood of Christian children.

I can assure you – the very fact that I still have to do so, in this day and age, is disconcerting, to say the least – that these and many other disparagements like them are utterly false.

You can argue that stereotypes are rooted in truth, but more often than not what some people hold to be “truth” can very quickly become distorted in the service of nefarious ends. Stereotypes, which can endure for hundreds or even thousands of years, are nothing more than spurious old tales or pernicious lies.

These tales and lies can grow out of the all-too-human human fear of the unfamiliar, and something as simple as one individual’s distaste for another can take on a life of its own as the individual harboring the distaste talks about it to a friend, and the friend tells an acquaintance, and the acquaintance mentions it to a family member, and on and on. Before you know it, a dangerous and even lethal stereotype is created.

Unfortunately, we Jews know from history what lies can do. As Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, put it, “If you repeat a lie a thousand times it becomes the truth.”

Now let’s look at the facts. I am a human being, just like you. But I am also part of a people, just like you are part of a people. The people from which I am descended goes back thousands of years and has suffered endlessly at the hands of anti-Semites.

Can you empathize even the slightest with our plight? Do you have no compassion at all for a people that has been stigmatized, quarantined, tortured, slaughtered, decimated?

I would like to think you do because we are all part of the human family and I have faith in the human family. But by singling out a group of people for opprobrium and worse, you reveal a mind that somewhere along the way was poisoned by any of a myriad of factors –propaganda, low self-esteem, jealousy, fear, narrow-mindedness, a need to find a scapegoat, etc.

And yet, I repeat my belief that as a member of our human family you have an underlying spirit of goodness in you. No doubt you exhibit that goodness in your personal relationships and in many other settings and circumstances. You weren’t born with hatred in your heart. Young children generally don’t trouble themselves over the differences among people and they tend to make friends with peers of every background.

I may be wrong, and heaven knows how many of my religious forebears had the same idealistic notion only to meet a harrowing demise, but as a Jew I’m an optimist at heart – it’s the only way my people have been able to endure, survive, and ultimately thrive, outliving our enemies and contributing so much to the world.

Maybe you condemn me because you condemn the state of Israel. Israel is not perfect – no nation is – but I defend it with every fiber of my being not just because it is the Jewish homeland but also because I fervently believe its actions are for the most part necessary, warranted, and fair. You can disagree, and that is your prerogative, but instead of channeling your anger into hate, wouldn’t it be better to engage in civil discourse, to make a sincere attempt at understanding why Israel sometimes needs to adopt policies you find difficult to accept?

Hating is such a waste of time and energy, and I am sure you could put yours to better use. Besides, whatever depraved ideas you may have about the eventual disappearance of Jews from the world, do you really think we will ever be eliminated?

We know from recent history that not even the mass extermination of the Holocaust succeeded in making the world judenrein. To the contrary: a mere three years after the defeat of the Nazis, the Jews rose from the ashes of Auschwitz and Treblinka and, in the face of an indifferent world and Arab armies bent on finishing Hitler’s job, reestablished the first sovereign Jewish state in two thousand years.

There is a divine element to the survival of the Jews through millennia of unquenchable hate and unspeakable persecution. So it is destined for failure and futility, this business of anti-Semitism, and really, the sooner you wake up to that the better it will be for all of us.

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Harvey Rachlin, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is an award-winning author of thirteen books including “Lucy’s Bones, Sacred Stones, and Einstein’s Brain,” which was adapted for the long-running History Channel series “History’s Lost and Found.” He is also a lecturer at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York.