The Absence of Tolerance and the Rise of Anti-Semitism


By JoEllen Collins

JoEllen Collins—a longtime resident of the Wood River Valley—is a teacher, writer, fabric artist, choir member and unabashedly proud grandma known as “Bibi Jo.”

This column is difficult to write, as this morning I awoke to the news with scenes of current anti-Semitic fascists demonstrating in Germany, others in France, and scenes of Jewish gravestones sprayed-painted with swastikas. Sick at heart, as I have been often at current news, I am especially bewildered by the shock of these images as a woman who, even as a young girl, learned of the Holocaust and could not comprehend how Hitler’s regime could kill innocents—babies accompanied by their mothers. The recent acceleration of violence may have revealed an often-hidden intolerance toward Judaism I had hoped had diminished because recent generations have been able to witness through film and journalism these crimes. I have had faith that we learned from history not to repeat its excesses—certainly, I hoped, not in this more “enlightened” century!

In recent days we have witnessed many ramifications of religious, racial, ethnic, and cultural hatred, recently exacerbated by the complicated conflict between Jews and Palestinians in IsraeI. I fear pontificating on that in this short space, especially because I would rather honor instances of positive and kind behavior, even toward those with whom we disagree.

Thus, I am reviewing my own history and life experiences relevant to anti-Semitism. I was raised in a rather devout Christian home and fervently lived according to the positive components of my faith. We learned to be civil when we disagreed. I cannot recall even one bigoted joke or disparaging anti-Semitic remark from my family and friends. My Jewish high school boyfriend was a highly intelligent, sweet and athletic teenager who has always remained the object of my gratitude for his respectful and tender treatment of me at all times as we courted in our “old-fashioned” world of dating. My parents adored him.

When I later married a different intelligent and honorable Jewish man, the father of my children, my parents adored him, too. I easily blended thoroughly into his large, talented family, enjoying every moment we shared with them. My daughters happily observed Seders and Easters, Hanukkah and Christmas.

I did have a younger member of my family who, as an adult, wrote me letters using words like “yid” and ‘kike.” I found it difficult to understand why he did this when I asked him not to, but eventually I cut off the letters from him. Later, when I met his wife, she mentioned my lack of correspondence, and I told her about the bigoted language. She fully understood.

Thus, for most of my life I have spent time learning about and loving the Jewish faith of my friends and relatives. My family in San Francisco practices Judaism. I honor that entirely but am now more afraid than ever of the violence resulting from ignorance and hate. The great writer Elie Wiesel noted that one-on-one friendship between those of difference conquers bigotry. I do see my grandchildren and their friends naturally relating one-on-one to their heterogeneous group of kids despite any cultural labels they may have inherited. Can I hope, perhaps?

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