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The High Holidays

Susan Estrich on

This week, Jews around the world will celebrate Rosh Hashana, the New Year, the high holidays.

It is a very strange time to be Jewish in America.

The first president with a Jewish daughter and Jewish grandchildren, the first Jewish "zayde" (grandpa) in the White House, has taught a new generation the lasting power of anti-Semitism. As the violent thugs in Charlottesville denounced and defamed Jews, our president could not find the words to denounce the thugs. David Duke, the white-supremacist politician, thanked him, as well he should.

Equating virulent racists and anti-Semites with those who opposed hate is wrong. It was wrong when Trump did it the first and second time, and it was wrong when he did it last week.

If the White House zayde will not denounce those who hate us, hate his own daughter and grandchildren, then what? Since the horror of the Holocaust, American Jews, while small in number, have taken the lesson to heart, deeply involved in politics, supporting candidates on both sides with enormous generosity in the hopes that they will never allow another such genocide to occur.

I grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust. Anti-Semitism was a fact of life. My mother was afraid to make trouble when they told me that I couldn't be Mary in the school play (even though I had the longest hair, the usual test) because I was Jewish. My town had a map for real estate agents showing the only area where Jews were allowed to live. The fancy clubs all had a policy of excluding Jews. My Hebrew-school teacher, Mr. Sherf, had a number on his arm, and we all understood what that meant. He introduced us to the poetry of the children of the Terezin concentration camp. (The poems have been collected in the classic beautiful book "I Never Saw Another Butterfly.")

This is a poem I have quoted here before. The words are my mantra when I feel lost and depressed. They were written by an anonymous child in 1941.

"He doesn't know the world at all

"Who stays in his nest and doesn't go out.

"He doesn't know what birds know best

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