May 23, 2024
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May 23, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Who Is A Jew? What Does It Mean?

Editor’s Note: This op-ed comes from a former member of a “secret” Facebook page for descendants of Holocaust survivors, including many living in the area covered by the Link. The list consists of 3000 members from around the world with approximately 50-60 very vocal contributors, most of them ranging in age from about 45-67.

One morning, anyone who was vocal with a center or left of center position on anything political or on Israel discovered they were eliminated from the list with a click. This was particularly true if they had ever defended US President Obama, or used facts to counteract outrageous racist statements or “misstatements.” The flame wars raged between the sides, with all the attendant invective, but only the “liberals” were expurgated. “They simply disappeared us,” one of them told JLNJ.

What happened to people who wouldn’t toe the party line on Facebook happens every single day in many, many damaging ways to all kinds of marginal people or people who find themselves surrounded by those who disagree with them. They simply fall off the radar, losing friends and connections, history and legacy in less than a heartbeat—whether they are symbolically kicked off a Facebook page—or are victims of racism and worse.

How can I put into words what it means to be the son or daughter of a Holocaust survivor? After all, my people, the Jewish people, have been surviving (or not) for thousands of years. Suffering is nothing new. Yet we, the children of the victims and survivors, have given ourselves a name. We are Children of Holocaust Survivors (COHS), or generally, Second Generation.

No two of us are alike. We are Republican, Conservative, Liberal, Democrat, vegetarian, omnivore, from different streams of Judaism, secular, converted and atheist. Some of us got high at Woodstock, others went to Beis Yaakov and Yeshiva; many of us speak Yiddish, others don’t. We are beautiful, or not so much, brilliant, or less so. We are blonde, swarthy, rich, poor or don’t care about money at all. The only thing we have in common, however, is our family horror.

And don’t for a moment think it isn’t horror. When we describe what our parents went through by naming that experience the Holocaust, it’s as if we’re being polite. We’re being nice to the world, trying not to shock, not to upset, because the truth is so much worse than that word.

Many of us were taught from the beginning of our lives that trust is an error. Don’t trust your best friend, because you never know: they can turn on you. All you have is family. We were also taught that Jews are our only family: so no matter what, stand up for each other, because no one else will stand up for you. But that was yesterday. Today, we are safe in America, oceans and decades away from hell. But in Europe things are rumbling; the Middle East is coming closer. Something is brewing, and without a crystal ball we don’t know what, exactly. But what we know is we’re uncomfortable.

That kind of unsettled feeling breeds terror. We cling to our fragility because it clings to us. We feel that fragility while we raise our families, take vacations, go to work, and find groups on the internet that make us feel we are not alone.

Facebook hosts many COHS groups. When we join a group, we are looking for one thing, and one thing only: comfort. That’s why our political affiliations, our religious practice, and our opinions barely matter. The only thing that matters is, we are. People we meet on these groups share this haunting heritage: we know, wordlessly, what we know.

We’re family. We don’t turn on each other. So imagine how damaging it would be to be banished from a COHS group, without warning, by an administrator with an agenda. For the first time I joined such a group and it was rough as soon as it became clear that some people believed and promoted Tea Party, “birther” propaganda. Myself and others argued against the fear and hatred and clung to the idea that COHS was a safe place where we could speak our minds about our own experiences.

But the administrator of the site eliminated our voices, stories and standing without explanation. It was a purge I don’t understand. It’s as if a difference of opinion makes a Jew less of a Jew. And I always thought, 2 Jews, 18 opinions. Abraham was an iconoclast. That’s what Jews do. Ask questions. So I’m questioning this now: in order to be a Jew, must one toe the party line? And what is the party line anyway?

I am a liberal. I don’t love Obama but I’m glad he’s President, considering the alternatives. I support Israel because without Israel, there would be no security for any Jew anywhere. I thank my parents, who forgot to provide me with religion, but remembered to teach me that I’m Jewish. And I want to feel free, with my mishpucha, to argue about whatever is on my mind and on theirs. Just like a family. We disagree, but we’ve got one another’s backs. We don’t toss out members, or disappear them because this is loyalty, recognition, remembrance, and even love.

By Jonathan Weintraub

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