One young man, a recent immigrant to America, graduated from killing with his hands to building a sophisticated network of contract killers—both to support his own expanding illegal gambling ring and for hire. Another young man, friends with the first, was a known rapist, extortionist, and murderer with a lust for making his victims suffer and watching them die slowly. A third man made the equivalent of hundreds of millions of dollars selling illegal substances throughout the United States and controlled the police in several major cities. A fourth man was known for, among many other psychopathic acts, kidnapping a rival, hanging him from a meat hook by his thumbs, and smearing his eyes with a bandaged soaked in gonorrhea discharge.
The first man was Meyer Lansky. The second was his boyhood pal Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel. The third was Arnold Rothstein. The fourth was Dutch Schultz. They were all gangsters during the early part of the 20th century. They were all from immigrant families. And they were all Jewish. But the United States of America continued to allow in their kind. Your kind. My kind. These sadistic men weren’t flukes. They actively recruited people from their own cultural circle and were instrumental in organizing a nationwide racketeering mob that terrorized a nation.
Today in 2017, I’m subjected to Facebook tripe—like the Ami Horowitz video of Muslim refugees supposedly running wild in Sweden—as evidence that we ought to support whatever version of Donald Trump’s travel ban is currently being floated. There are a few clips of smoke and broken windows and chatter about a recent increase in reported rapes. Not a shred of verifiable statistical evidence is offered in support of any of this. And no attempt is made to logically connect Sweden’s policy of allowing in hundreds of thousands of refugees with the Trump administration’s initial executive order banning every last individual visitor from several Muslim majority nations, including visitors already carefully vetted and granted a visa or green card.
All of this is troubling enough on its own. The prejudice. The xenophobia. The meanness. The absence of disciplined reasoning. The false equivalencies. The constitutional disregard. But what often gives me real shpilkes is the source—fellow Jews.
How did you fall so far from Deuteronomy 10:19: “Love ye therefore the foreigner, since you were foreigners in the land of Egypt?” When did you lose your empathy and grow fond of stomping on the fingers of refugees clinging for dear life to the deck of a ship you safely boarded and now sip Mai-Tais on? When did you trade your soul for a “Make America Great Again” tallit?
You know better. In the tiny piece of your spirit passed down from the nomadic Abraham, you know the typical Muslim refugee was just a baker or carpenter or software engineer going about his or her business until death dressed as Islamic or secular henchmen came to the door.
And then it was with them as it was with our ancestors. They thought of their children, grabbed a bunch of household items, and fled to the mercy of far off peoples. God forbid they land on your doorstep. You—suffering from selective historical amnesia; misusing Talmudic aptitude to stretch, twist, and mangle American law to justify slamming doors on the huddled masses yearning to breathe free; cruising down the road of life in a Porsche not content merely to whiz by the overheated Nissan on the shoulder but having the sheer chutzpah to pontificate on why our forefathers would do the same. Newsflash—Abraham and Sarah didn’t have green cards. Neither did the refugees on the SS Exodus.
How is it that I am better able to identify with the Muslim refugee than you are? Ironically, I have you to thank for that. For decades you have been telling me in effect that I am less Jewish than you. The reasons are as numerous and varied as the dog-eared pages of a Siddur. My wife is not from a predominantly Jewish family. I’ve been known to flick on a light during Shabbos. I live in a rainbow neighborhood and think gay couples getting married under a chuppah are the bomb.
In truth, you threw me and my ilk off the Exodus a long time ago. Like bread tossed into the waters on Rosh Hashanah, you long ago cast the so-called unobservant into the sea as part of a misbegotten ritual penance. To add insult to injury you now you send me insipid hate-mongering videos and ask that I lunge for the hull of the same ship long enough to shout amen to your newest misguided holy war.
Nearly every communiqué you have sent me over the last twenty years has been for the explicit or implicit purpose of proclaiming the legitimacy of your identity at the expense of mine. So thank you. You have done more than enable me to identify with a stranger. You have made me a stranger.
When did you get so clannish, close-minded, bitter, and utterly immune to the spiritual message of the Torah you claim to love? And how on earth can you like Steve Bannon? He’s a schmuck.
Allegedly we still have at least one major social value in common—tikkun olam, “repair of the world.” So even as you dispose of our great humanitarian legacy for political expedience and pure spite, perhaps all is not lost. Perhaps you would tell me I can repair the world by praying longer, more often, and more diligently; by forcing my wife to dress more modestly; by pressuring my daughters to surrender their university careers in favor of an obedient marriage to an aging misogynist jeweler. These are difficult mitzvahs to fulfill, and as God Himself once said, we are a stiff-necked people.
Fortunately, I have but a single easily fulfilled request for you. Go home and watch Schindler’s List one more time.
Rich Herschlag is well into his third decade as an author, consulting engineer, husband and father and is very tired.