Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My parents were far more paranoid about being Jewish than I was, and this of course made sense, as they had lived through World War II, and they had heard the antisemitic rhetoric (rants) of fellow Detroiters Henry Ford and Father Charles Coughlin (and, likely, others). They knew that they could not buy homes in certain parts of the city. They had likely wondered anxiously with their parents about what had become of the family members who stayed behind in Europe. And who knows what else they had heard, seen, and/or faced, since I never asked and never took any of it seriously. When my father questioned me about how I could be friends with non-Jews and how I could trust them, I dismissed him as a nut. (I did not dismiss my father in general as a nut, but that kind of talk seemed so odd and irrational). I like to think that the fact that I could be friends (very close friends) with non-Jews means that the world has improved since my father's time. And in fact as I have traveled with my book and presented it to groups, many people have told me that they think it has improved in terms of acceptance, tolerance, and so on. "We're not there yet," seems to be the sentiment, but we're getting better. Still, below, from Phil Herbst's Color of Words is insight into the world in which my father lived.

Jewish problem, Jew problem, Jewish Question. A common and largely Prot­estant concern in the early part of the twentieth century with keeping Jews out of exclusive or monopolized areas of social, economic, and political life. In his history of Harvard University, Samuel Eliot Morison wrote, 'The first German Jews ... were easily absorbed into the social pattern; but at the turn of the century the bright Russian Jewish lads from the Boston public schools be­gan to arrive ... and [by 1921] Harvard had her 'Jewish problem'" (Three Cen­turies of Harvard, 1936, 147). In 1920, The International Jew, The World's Problem, a reprint of twenty antisemitic articles from the Dearborn Independent, a newspaper owned and published by industrialist Henry Ford, began with such wild assertions as "Not only does the Jewish Question touch those matters that are common knowledge, such as fi­nancial and commercial control, usurpa­tion of political power, monopoly of ne­cessities, and autocratic direction of the very news that the American people read; but it reaches into the cultural re­gion and so touches the very heart of American life" (in Myers 1960, 282).

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