William A. Gralnick
Goldbergs is a good place to start. Not Goldberg’s in Brooklyn, but Goldberg’s in Paris. From there he sickness of anti-Semitism and the evil of hatred began to spread. Last week, my Brooklyn Eagle announced on the front page that police are being assigned to smaller, more vulnerable synagogues around the borough. One of them was my family’s. It is where my brother became Bar Mitzvah. It didn’t start out as small and vulnerable but now it is. How that happened is an interesting story. What comes next is a more important story because historically anti-Semitism against Jews has shown Jews to be the canarary’s in the mine shaft over the centuries. Eventually, the gas of hatred gets into everyone’s lungs. But let’s start with what was Temple Beth Emeth in East Flatbush, Brooklym.
While Jew-hater Wilhelm Marr coined the term anti-Semitism, what it meant had been acted out well before. In the Dark Ages Jews were slaughtered because they were tagged with bringing the Bubonic Plague down upon Europe. The church tagged them as money-changers and sly, dishonest businessmen, then really got its wheels revved up during the Inquisition. Then there were the forced expulsions that drove Jews out of the Iberian Penisula, France and Germany, and, as it is said in Brooklyn “one-two-and a third” (or yada yada yada) all the way to the Holocaust. For the record, there were not six million Jews killed by the Nazi’s. Current research is finding huge stores of hereto undiscovered graves. The projected figure is 7-7.5 million. Add the priests, the homosexuals, the communists, and true figures are about 13million souls who flew to heaven, many carried by the smoke of the ovens.
In the 1950’s, except for a minority of Jews, the Holocaust or Shoa (Flame or Fire), was not spoken of. I heard not word one about the war at all except from my grandfather, who was in the Pacific Theatre, and my uncle who suffered a near life-ending wound leading his troops in the Battle of the Bulge. And it wasn’t very much. At Temple Beth Emeth things were quiet, stately, even staid. The Jews began to make another attempt to fit into the life around them. Except for a beating I took by some Irish ruffians on Easter, I had no run-ins with anti-Semites until I left Brooklyn for college.
Then came demographics. I don’t know about now, but until the turn of the century, Jews moved more than any other group in America. In New York, many went to Queens or the Bronx. Some of them, and others, went to Yonkers and Westchester County, still others flocked to Nassau County, Long Island. I’m a good example: 1 St Paul’s Court twice, 500 Ocean Avenue, Belle Harbor, and Waldorf Court—all within the space of 8 years! ‘sort of “movin’ on up” with the Jeffersons.
The Jews were members of synagogues. The synagogues where they went burgeoned. The ones they left behind, like Beth Emeth, shrank. Except for Orthodox enclaves, the pattern was repeated in every major urban/suburban area of the country. It takes a critical mass of people to sustain a house of worship (this pattern hitting the Catholic Church just as hard). Building maintenance, staff, utility bills.
At a point a decision has to be made. Either close the doors or find a way to get more people into the building. Consolidations began. Beth Emeth ultimately became stable through the addition of four more houses of worship. The members walked out of their Temples and into the doors of Beth Emeth. The Temple is now known as Temple Beshert, taking letters from the names of all the conjoined places of worship. “Beshert” in Hebrew means “meant to be” or “meant to be because it was ordained by G-d.” Hope springs eternal.
The glue seems to be holding. The synagogue remains a functional Temple, but “the ole gray mare ain’t what she used to be.” Hence it is vulnerable and needs protecting. The first time I saw such a thing, I was
We wanted to visit a well-known Jewish place of worship. We were met by soldiers in SWAT gear and semi-automatic rifles. I was then the regional director of the American Jewish Committee. I had credentials. “Please get me the rabbi,” I asked. He appeared. He didn’t care who or what I was. Unless I had made an appointment and had a background check done, no one but members could enter, and then only at specific times and for specific purposes. I saw the in Germany, Spain, Italy. Chills ran up my spine every time. After 911, back here in Boca Raton, I had police posted in front of my office, the Jewish campus had a full-time police and private security presence, all the synagogues in town had police presence though some waved it off.
So here we are. Anti-Semitism has been with us longer than smallpox. We’ve beaten smallpox but not anti-Semitism. Can it be done? No. Can it be marginalized? Yes. There’s a famous phrase: All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.” That’s the key to the lock. With a lot of good, all-encompassing education at every level of learning, with Christians, particularly Evangelicals coming to terms with the fact that you can’t love Israel and hate Jews no matter what they think the Bible says, for people to call out their friends when they pass an anti-Semitic canard in conversation (“You know Mary, I saw this guy in a store trying to Jew the owner down on the price”), it can be done. Let society have a closely watched corner into which we push these evil thinkers and doers while the rest of us can breathe fresh air untainted by hate.
After this maybe you need a plug to pick up compies of The War of the Itchy Balls and Other Tales From Brooklyn and George Washington DIdn’t Sleep here. Both on Amazon, both will make you smile!