In a few recent opinion pieces, I’ve made passing mention of having some Muslim friends. This is important because many observant Jews don’t know any Muslims at all, with the result that everything they know about Muslims comes from reports of terrorism in the news. This, of course, is a grave injustice to the overwhelming population of Muslims who, like every other demographic, just want to live their lives in peace.
And then there are people like Nancy Salem, a Texas preschool teacher, who make it harder on everyone.
Ms. Salem was recently fired after a history of anti-Semitic Twitter posts was revealed by an online watchdog group. The most grievous was a beauty from 2013, in which Salem bid farewell to a departing friend, advising her to “Kiss the Palestine ground for me and kill some jews!” There were also a number of anti-Semitic re-tweets, including the following “joke”: “How many Jews died in the Holocaust? Not enough.” (Salem apparently found this hysterical, as it was punctuated with “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.”)
Salem had been employed by The Children’s Courtyard in Arlington, Texas. (Motto on their web site: “Safe. Secure. Comfortable.”) While Arlington is not exactly Borough Park, it does have a Reform Temple, a Chabad center and a Jewish cemetery, so it’s not inconceivable that Salem may have had Jewish children in her class. That’s a chilling thought. I’m not suggesting that Salem would necessarily harm a child but her own words seem to suggest that she might rejoice in the death of her Jewish students. (Even if that was hyperbole on her part, I think it’s fair to assume that she wasn’t going to give all of her students her pedagogical best.)
In a statement, The Children’s Courtyard said that “(t)he offensive comments certainly don’t reflect our views. Our employees are expected to uphold certain standards of personal and professional conduct. Our senior leadership thoroughly investigated this matter. This person no longer works for our company.” Kudos to them for taking swift and appropriate action.
But back to us. What are we to do with this information? In my opinion, we should use it to strike a balance. For sure, there are horrible people out there who want to do us harm, or who would at least rejoice in our downfall. (By “us,” I don’t necessarily mean Jews. I could mean Americans, Westerners, Israelis, African-Americans, etc. Unfortunately, whatever demographic one belongs to, there’s an “us” and a “them.”) It would be recklessly dangerous if one were so naïve as to ignore the words or actions of one who professes hate.
But that’s not everyone. It’s not even close. Most Muslims are good, peaceful, law-abiding citizens, just like most Christians, most Jews, most Hindus and most atheists. (Muslims are nearly 25% of the world population. If all of them were secretly jihadists, it would have been all over long before now.) So while there is certainly a “them” that hates “us,” not everyone in “them’s” demographic is actually a “them.”
We Jews have a PR problem similar to that of our Muslim cousins. What does much of the world (ignorantly) think of us? They think that we control the government. The media. The banks. Want to be really appalled? Google “Jew gold.” Here’s one of the definitions from Urban Dictionary:
“Jew gold is a term for the small bag of gold that Jews wear around their neck. The purpose of jew gold is to buy heaven from God on Judgement Day. Jews carry two bags around their necks, one for the jew gold, and a decoy bag filled with rocks. It has been scientifically proven that it is impossible to get a Jew to part with their jew gold.”
Apparently started as a joke on the television show South Park, there are now people who actually believe that Jew gold is a real thing. Again, don’t believe me? Check Yahoo Answers where this is a distressingly popular question, à la this gem:
“There’s this Jewish kid at school named Ned, so me and my friend got him outside and checked him for the gold bag but it wasn’t there. We asked him where it was and he said he didn’t know what we were talking about. Is this more Jew trickery?”
Silly, baseless hatred, right? Then along comes someone like Bernie Madoff and upsets the global economy. And everyone knows he’s Jewish. (Quick quiz: what religion is Ted Kaczynski? Mark David Chapman? What about Squeaky Fromme? But somehow everyone knows Madoff is Jewish!)
The overwhelming number of people reading this don’t work in government, media or banking, let alone have any shot of ever controlling them. You know we don’t have little bags of gold around our necks. But if someone is convinced of such things, a Bernie Madoff is just going to make that person double down on his beliefs, saying, “They’re all like that, this one just got caught.”
This was the reaction of one of my Muslim friends immediately after the Fort Hood shooting: “Please don’t be a Muslim, please don’t be a Muslim, please don’t be a Muslim… oh, dang.” When such events occur, Americans become vigilant and prevent Muslims from carrying out such insidious acts of terror as getting coffee and going to the library. (Except by “vigilant” I mean “paranoid” and by “insidious acts” I mean “life.”)
Just as the existence of a Madoff doesn’t make all Jews part of a global conspiracy, people like Nancy Salem don’t make all Muslims tacit supporters of ethnic cleansing and Judenrein. If anyone was qualified to have an opinion on the subject of ethnic cleansing and Judenrein, it was Anne Frank, and she wrote, “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”
Yes, there are bad people out there. It would be irresponsible to think otherwise and not take steps to protect ourselves. But it is equally irresponsible to vilify the overwhelming majority of good people for the actions of a few highly-visible hateful people. We have to be better than that. As Anne Frank continued in a less well-known part of her quote, “In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals.”
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.