Commentary: Words with the weight of history

By Mary Beth Schneider

INDIANAPOLIS — Even for this president, the one who claims he has the “best words,” these words were startling.

These words evoked decades of anti-Semitism that questioned the loyalty of Jews.

Rabbi Mike Harvey of Temple Israel in West Lafayette said there were two comments that sent a shiver of recognition through many: “One that we went to sleep to, and one that we woke up to.”

Mary Beth Schneider

The first was Trump’s comments on Tuesday that Jews who support Democrats — and a majority do — were either stupid or disloyal.

They woke the next morning to Trump retweeting the comments by Wayne Allyn Root, a conspiracy theorist, that Israelis “love him like he’s the king of Israel. They love him like he is the second coming.”

In past delusions, Root has questioned Barack Obama’s American birth and religion, said the Las Vegas mass shooting was coordinated by Muslims and that George Soros — a Jew and wealthy supporter of Democrats — had paid the white nationalist who drove into a crowd in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing Heather Heyer.

“Those are two different, extremely problematic things,” Harvey said of the double-dose of Trump comments and tweets. “The first one is scary… To label a particular group of people as disloyal unless they vote along the party line is something that has been seen in Jewish history all too well. That language, not just in ancient history but in modern history as well, has been used to fuel genocides.”

“All this sort of rhetoric, they are not just words,” the rabbi told me. “They fuel hatred. They fuel violence. They help dehumanize certain groups of Americans.”

And Root’s fawning words that Trump savored? “The last time that someone was referred to as the ‘King of the Jews’ that message was written on Jesus’ cross when he was crucified. So that’s symbolic,” Harvey said. And as Jews do not believe there was a first coming of the Messiah, calling Trump the “second coming” for Israeli Jews “shows either an extreme disassociation from the views of Judaism or it is simply another implication that evangelical Christianity knows better and Jews, if they would just wake up, would understand. And that’s a very deep-rooted anti-Jewish, anti-Semitic trope.”

Harvey grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, without the fears children face today.

“Thirty years ago, anti-Semitism had not boiled to the surface in America,” he said. “Certainly there were under the surface anti-Semitic acts, anti-Semitic feelings and comments, that sort of thing. It was nothing like it is today.”

These days we see bigots marching in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us” — and a president who says there were good people among them. We see a video of California high school boys raising their hands in a Nazi salute and singing a Nazi war song. We see a Carmel synagogue defaced with swastikas. And, worst of all, we see 11 people killed and six wounded at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Children who already have to fear going to school now also have to fear being shot where they worship.

After the killings at Tree of Life synagogue, synagogues began discussing protective measures and active-shooter drills.

“We just voted this past week on our board to have a locked-door policy, meaning that the doors are 100 percent all the time locked. That is a new cultural change for us,” he said, adding that things such as shatter-proof glass and a safe room where people can seek refuge are being planned.

Harvey said he tells children in his congregation that “every generation of Jews, of Jewry, encounters something like this… It’s simply part of our lives. It makes us stronger and more resilient and we’re still here. There’s no need to give up hope.”

Especially not in the face of what is the brightest light of hope in what seems like a dark epoch: They are not alone.

“We have seen incredible amounts of unity and support and interfaith understanding,” Harvey said. “We have so many allies, so many churches and mosques and organizations and government officials that are so supportive when things like Tree of Life happen.”

He tells the children that “despite the fact that there is so much vocal hatred, there is a great deal of support, a great deal of protection by our friends here. And to remember that the loudest voice isn’t always the strongest voice.”

Even if the loudest voice belongs to the president.

Mary Beth Schneider is an editor at, a news website powered by Franklin College journalists.

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3 Responses to Commentary: Words with the weight of history

  1. The fact that this column has no mention of Tliab and Omar, who have been spewing anti-Semitic language for years, tells me your concerns about anti-Semitism are not genuine.

    • Mary Beth Schneider

      I discussed those issues with the rabbi but ran out of room in this column so thought it might make another column at another time. But basically he and others very much disagree with the congresswomen and BDS but also believe they would be allowed to travel to Israel. You might look at the statement by the Anti-Defamation League which sums up the feelings of many.

  2. “Make another column at another time?” Ok. I’ll wait. Ran out of room? That’s an excuse. One sentence would’ve done the trick. Omar and Tliab have been spewing anti-Semitism for months and you have not written a single column calling them out. I agree fully that what the president said was wrong but you should have included it in your column in some way to show anti-Semitism is far from exclusive to Trump. If you truly care about this issue, please post a link – it can include social media – where *you* have called them out in the past. An article or even a Tweet would suffice. Otherwise your outrage is selective and partisan.