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Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Should Old Antagonists Be Forgot...

[I’ve written about this in the past, but it has been increasingly on my mind lately as a read the news.]

New Year’s is a time to ponder, compare and contrast… it is a time to take stock of the situation, and to try to discern trends.  One inescapable trend is that anti-Semites are feeling less inhibited and restrained in expressing their Jew-hatred in voice and deed.

I know we Israelis tend to sound preachy and condescending to our coreligionists in the diaspora when we point to antisemitism as a contributing factors to our decision to move/remain here in Israel.   But then again, I suppose any uncomfortable truth sounds a bit preachy when one is on the receiving end.

Of all life's moments that flash through my mind on New Year’s eve, there is one that is so sour and negative that it cancels out virtually all the wonderful and positive nostalgia I have for the date:

Back in the early '90s, I played trombone in a ‘rehearsal band’; a jazz big band that met in a studio on W42nd street in Manhattan once a week to play through charts from the Big Band era of the '30s and '40s. 

The bandleader was an older musician from that bygone era who had acquired most of the original Count Basie ‘book’, as well as a nice sampling of music from the other top-tier (Miller, Goodman, Ellington, et al), bands' repertoires. And the players were a mix of professional and amateur musicians ranging from college age to retirees. 

Those few hours playing big band jazz with serious musicians were the highlight of my week.

Once in a while the leader would get a call for a gig and we would get to play the old tunes for an appreciative audience.  One such gig was the annual New Year’s Eve Black Tie Gala at the exclusive Downtown Athletic Club.

There’s an old joke about the Downtown Athletic Club posits that the only minorities one is likely to spot inside the hallowed halls of the club are the wait-staff… and the recipients of the Heisman Trophy (which is awarded there every year). 

We Jews tend to ‘pass for white’ in the modern world, so we largely see such discrimination as a cause to be championed rather than a first-hand problem to be overcome.  This gig changed that worldview for me.

The event was as glitzy and high society as you probably imagine, and it felt like time traveling to be playing WWII-era jazz in such a historic NYC setting on New Year’s eve.

While the band was on a break between sets, the bandleader came over to me and a trumpet player who was also religiously observant musician and told us that we would have to take off our kippot (yarmulkes).  It isn’t clear to me now if the demand came from the party host, a guest, the bandleader himself or some combination thereof.  What was clear – and remains so – is that someone took exception to a barely noticeable scrap of black cloth in a sea of black tuxedos, starched white shirts, champagne and party streamers, and felt empowered/entitled to demand that the offending religious article be removed from view.  

That was then. 

Now, more than 20 years later I don’t think anyone can reasonably deny that Jews in America (and elsewhere in diaspora), are less secure or less apt to experience discrimination and attack in the course of their daily lives.

Antisemitism has never disappeared, or even waned. It has been a historical constant; perhaps the oldest hatred in recorded history. What some mistake for it waxing and waning is it going through periods of being more or less socially acceptable to express in public. 

It may surprise you to hear that I honestly don’t mind Antisemitism or anti-Semites.  I've come to accept it as a constant reality that will never go away.   

What I do mind is having to face anti-Semites on their own turf and on their own terms. 

Over here, I know I am hated for being a Jew (even though they give that hatred the fig leaf of calling it anti-Zionism).   But as an Israeli, I have the privilege of ignoring the haters who no longer hold power or influence over me… and of defending myself - without explanation or restraint - against those who still operate under the misconception that they do.

Just something to ponder as you go about your rationalization of how 'it isn't as bad as it seems'.

Happy New Year!

Posted by David Bogner on January 1, 2019 | Permalink

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