By Bruce S. Ticker
PHILADELPHIA — The Jews of the Fairfax neighborhood of Los Angeles were exposed to a modern, American-style pogrom on May 30 that should enrage us all. Not only were Jewish businesses sacked but five synagogues and three Jewish schools were reportedly vandalized in George Floyd’s name by thugs.
Writer Daniel Greenfield wrote on his blog, “One small business owner described a ‘late Saturday night with people driving down the Fairfax district streets screaming effing Jews’”.
Before reading Greenfield’s opinion piece, I referenced the rampage by protesters in a commentary last week, but I was not aware of the scale of the carnage via initial media reports. Greenfield and Laurie Cardoza-Moore alerted me to the level of the damage late last week. Originally, I caught news reports of two vandalized shuls, and Greenfield’s article reported that vandals struck five synagogues and three Jewish schools.
At my request, Greenfield sent me links to other reports affirming that three shuls and one school were defaced, and he wrote in a subsequent e-mail that he learned “that pretty much any Jewish institution in the path of the protesters was defaced.”
Both Greenfield and Cardoza-Moore, president of the Nashville-based Proclaiming Justice to The Nations, characterized the Fairfax incident as a serious matter that should worry American Jews. They are right. In fact, it occurred to me that at least two other issues linked to the Floyd demonstrations pose a grave threat to Jews. Those two others:
These ongoing rallies could readily cause the number of coronavirus cases to spike, which makes the rest of us all the more vulnerable to the disease;
Many people of color have assumed the worst of middle-class and wealthy whites, and specifically Jews. The protesters focused on Los Angeles’s West Side because the area is heavily white, not to mention Jewish, even though many are empathetic about inner-city ills.
In his strongly-worded commentary, Greenfield urged Jews to forcefully criticize what happened in the Fairfax area, writing, “One would think that the hateful vandalism of eight Jewish institutions and a mob screaming slurs after trashing Jewish businesses would lead to some sort of meaningful response.”
He emphasized that the Jewish community’s reaction has been understated, much less a “meaningful response.” “Decency and self-respect alone compel us not to remain silent,” he wrote. “And if we do remain silent, while chanting the cause of those who vandalized our houses of worship and shops, we will have neither decency nor respect.”
Cardozo-Moore, a modern-day Righteous Gentile, wrote, “Violence against the Jewish communities in the cities set ablaze has been a sadly under-reported side effect of the destruction in America we have witnessed emblazoned across every news report…The story repeated in virtually every city under attack by protesters. Anti-Semitism comes to every event hatred hosts. It is globally on the rise at such an escalating rate that little wonder it would find entry into the current political and social unrest in America.”
To speak up as to how we, American Jews, can by jeopardized by these protests does not minimize the central issue – police brutality. The death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer can be opposed without defacing synagogues, spreading a disease or punishing sympathetic whites.
We must raise our voices if we expect to draw the attention of the rest of the world. The ludicrous rise in anti-Semitism was finally recognized by our fellow citizens in October 2018 when 11 congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue were murdered, but there have been other brazen attacks on Jews and/or Jewish facilities in the past quarter-century that resulted in muted responses.
The Fairfax riot was a pogrom. The thugs must have known that Fairfax is a historically Jewish neighborhood. Even if they did not know this, these were synagogues and Jewish schools that were defaced. Some businesses were clearly marked for Jewish consumer needs, such as kosher restaurants. Would we remain silent if something like that happened in Europe?
The Covid-19 could spread because of these protests. The New York Times identified three cases that were possibly caused by participation in the demonstrations. Medical experts told the Times that many infections and deaths could result from the rallies, and we should find out for certain in a few weeks.
Police officers during normal times might thank the protesters for the overtime, but they know they could contract the virus from those rallying for Floyd. The son-in-law of a childhood friend is a police officer who is facing crowds in Philadelphia. Health-care workers will be vulnerable if they must treat stricken police officers and demonstrators.
Not to mention the rest of us, me included. I am susceptible because of my advancing age. I hoped that the efforts to reduce case levels would permit us to go outside and once again socialize, dine out and attend plays and movies. A great many of my classmates are still around, and I fear that the protests could force us to wait much longer to enjoy our surroundings.
Many of us would welcome the protests if not for the virus. Now they can dampen our sympathies.
By physically bringing their grievances to the heavily white West Side – stretching from downtown L.A. west to Santa Monica – people of color are showing they can be as presumptuous about white people as many whites are of African-Americans.
Consider the attitude of Patrisse Cullors, who organized the May 30 event in Fairfax: “Let’s go into the heart of what is symbolically white in Los Angeles, which is Beverly Hills,” she told a New York Times reporter. “These people need to hear our pain and our grief. We wanted to bring this to communities who often aren’t dealing with police violence.”
Whites in Fairfax dealt with not “police violence” but protest violence. Whites in Fairfax heard not “our pain and our grief” but the sounds of glass breaking, much like the sounds of the glass breaking in Nazi Germany more than 80 years ago.
Before May 30, people of color would have found more sympathy from West Siders than among whites in nearly each corner of the country, including the thousands of Jews who reside there. Not that their viewpoints are perfect. However, if West Side whites are tone-deaf, why is California arguably the strongest liberal state in the nation? Why else would L.A. and the San Francisco Bay Area be solidly Democratic?
Many complain that voting does no good because little is done for the poor even when Democrats are in power, which includes eight years of President Obama’s tenure. There is some truth in that, but what they do not recognize is that Republicans obstruct most Democratic legislation. President Trump benefited from low voter turnout in Philadelphia, Detroit and Milwaukee in 2016, and in fact Pennsylvania Sen. Patrick Toomey won both his elections – in 2010 and 2016 – thanks in part to low turnout among minority voters in Philadelphia.
If Cullors wants to “bring this” to insensitive whites, maybe she should consider communities where large swaths of Trump voters live. She can start with Bakersfield, 100 miles north of L.A., and then choose from a wide range of red states and right-wing regions.
Likely American Jews can raise even more related concerns. If we do not speak up for ourselves, why should anyone else care?
Bruce S. Ticker is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. He may be contacted via email@example.com