clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

‘Bienvenido al judaísmo’ to my Latino brethren

Americans are not divided by race or religion but separated into two broad categories. Either you sympathize with people different than yourself. Or you don’t.

A pair of outstretched hands against a gold tile background above Hebrew letters.
Mosaic from the Templo Libertad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a reminder that some Latinos are actual Jews, posing a double challenge in Trump’s America.
Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

”Many clients tell me, ‘We’re the new Jews, we’re just like the Jews.’” — Dario Aguirre, Mexican American lawyer

Well, there’s a statement I never expected to read on the front page of The New York Times. But there it was, Wednesday morning, alongside my grapefruit and toasted English muffin.

I’m not sure what to say. A hearty “Shalom amigos!” comes to mind. But maybe that’s trivializing the fear that Latino Americans feel as Donald Trump’s hateful words are turned into murderous actions by his dimwit supporters.

I could take the opposite tack — a sneering “You wish.” What’s wrong with being Jewish? You make it sound like a bad thing.

And I guess it is, in the crazy-people-always-wanting-to-kill-you sense. But hostility from murderous madmen is only part of Jewish identity, and I would argue a small part. When I was growing up in the 1970s, the Holocaust weighed on Jewish minds, and a certain Death Cult aspect settled upon the religion. I found that unappealing. And so did other Jews, who managed to eventually rediscover the joy in Judaism.

Which is the task of all marginalized peoples: to not be defined by those who hate you but maintain your own proud identity, which Jews — and, my impression is, Hispanics, too — are quite good at. Hounded and persecuted in every era and land, Jews have remained a cohesive people for 3,000 years, while oppressors from the Babylonians to the Nazis have come and gone.

Let’s be clear: I’m not speaking for all Jews. We don’t have a pope. We are not a fungible mass, which always comes as a shock to haters and, sometimes, to the hated, too. Jews range from bearded, black-hatted Hassidim to that self-loathing Goebbels wanna-be Trump adviser Stephen Miller, who, to his regret and mine, is still Jewish.

Not to compare hardships — something oppressed minorities often do — but Hispanics have two big advantages over Jews.

First, numbers. The United States is less than 2% Jewish, a population steadily shrinking thanks to intermarriage and the general disinterest watering down all religion. The U.S. is 18% Hispanic and growing. Jews would swap those demographics in a heartbeat.

Second, whatever nations of origin Hispanics come from have their good and bad points. But at least the world considers them your homeland. Half the sophomores in America aren’t gnawing their dewy lips, anxiously pondering how to give Mexico back to the Aztecs, who were there first. A luxury Jews can only dream of. Our homeland is the one nation on Earth whose continual existence is debated as a parlor game. It was simpler when we were merely blamed for killing Christ.

Bottom line: Americans are not divided by race or religion but separated into two broad categories. Either you sympathize with people different than yourself. Or you don’t. The first group is laden with Democrats, I’m proud to say, Jews, no doubt many Hispanics, and good people of all races, religions and genders, all bold enough to envision a world where everyone needn’t be a copy of themselves. The second group rejects the humanity of anyone who can’t be viewed in a mirror. No need to explain who makes up that group.

Mr. Aguirre, since you’re using Jews as metaphor, let this Jew leave you with a thought: This is a very long game, one never won nor lost. If you think America in 2019 is as bad as it gets (“It’s the death of the American dream,” you told the Times), then I have relatives in a pit in Poland who would argue that with you, if only they could. That’s the bad news.

The good news is there’s always hope. The name of the Israeli national anthem, “Hatikvah,” means “The Hope.” One stanza goes, “Our hope is not yet lost.” That’s as good a definition of being a Jew, of being a Democrat, of being a liberal, in 2019 as I can imagine, and while I don’t want to minimize the terror that these killings inflict upon all manner of decent people, that fear must lead to hope, hope that we can squelch those with hate in their hearts and a nightmare vision for America.

Here it makes sense to look to the Jews. We’ve been thwarting murderous fascists for thousands of years. We’ll outlast this crew, too, all of us working together.