Dr. Benjamin Kendall
I am 93 years old and some of my earliest memories are of antisemitism.
As a kid, we lived in West Oak Lane, on a predominantly Jewish block. However, my grade school was Kinsey Elementary, three blocks across Ogontz Avenue in the middle of St. Benedict’s parish. The parish was a hotbed of virulent antisemitism.
Every morning, the Jewish kids on my block would gather to cross Ogontz Avenue in a group. Traveling alone could mean being attacked by a group of Catholic kids looking to beat up Jewish stragglers. We performed the same ritual heading back home. If, for any reason, I was kept after school, upon leaving the building, I peeked out the door to see if the coast was clear and then ran home as fast as I could. Our next-door neighbors, the Helds, a fine Catholic family, told us that at St. Benedict’s, the priest’s antisemitic homilies would refer to Jews as “Christ killers.”
But why did these Catholic kids want to harm me? It made no sense at all.
Most historians place the blame for the death of Jesus on the Roman occupiers. But this has not stopped antisemitism from flourishing for more than 2,000 years. Even if some Jews a couple of thousand years ago were involved in the death of Jesus, what did this have to do with me? Again, I had no explanation.
I have concluded that antisemitism is embedded in most non-Jewish Americans’ DNA. It may be recessive, but it is there. Mountain folks of West Virginia who never met a Jew, hate us.
When Hitler’s Germany killed 6 million Jews, overt antisemitism became politically incorrect. But I am certain more than a few Americans were not disturbed by Hitler’s actions. I will not speak of gentiles in other countries.
It takes very little for American antisemitism to show its ugly head from under its veneer of indifference. Antisemites are eager to emerge from under their rocks.
Just a few headlines can tell the story: Jewish migration from Europe in the mid-19th century. Leo Frank’s lynching. Henry Ford’s promoting “The Protocols of Zion.” Father Coughlin. Charles Lindbergh. The Charlottesville rally. And now, the reaction to Israel’s response to the unspeakable inhuman attack on men, women and children in Israel on Oct. 7.
Most people were silent when they heard of Jews being marched into the German gas chambers, but when Jews respond to Hamas atrocities we see “KKK” and swastikas scrawled over synagogues and signs like “gas the Jews” appear on websites.
Today’s news is filled with demands on Israel to stop its attack on Gaza and to halt its attempt to rid the world of Hamas, while little space is given to demands for the release of the innocent Jewish hostages held by Hamas.
Before the establishment of Israel in 1948, antisemitism was diffused across a Jewish population spread thinly over the land. Now, this blind hate can be concentrated on a single entity, a land surrounded by hostile neighbors, many of whom are trying to drive them into the sea. Their goal: to obliterate the land of Israel.
It is hard to stop people from hating Jews when folks can be antisemitic even without ever meeting a Jew and when that hate can be passed down from father to son and glorified in their place of worship. But until this hate can be locked away (I doubt it can ever be eliminated), no Jew will be safe anywhere. And if Jews are not safe, the entire world will not be safe.
Benjamin Kendall is a retired physician in Philadelphia.