Growing up, I didn’t know many Jewish kids. I was a white, blond-haired, blue-eyed, privileged white male. That said however, I was raised by a single mom and four older sisters whose honor and integrity shaped not only the way I thought, but my actions as well.
Raised Catholic in the sixties, the only thing I knew about Jews was they apparently didn’t believe in hell. As a young Catholic boy, hell was a part of our daily conversation. I remember the images clearly. As I recall however, the nuns and priests never spoke of the holocaust. But I had a black friend named Lonnie Belk whose older brother, a Vietnam vet, told me the story of Auschwitz and Dacheu in gruesome detail. He had a book he brought back from Germany with pictures. I was nine years old.
Later in my adolescence I remember someone saying “he’s a Jew,” in a way that was not intended to disparage, yet nonetheless piqued my curiosity.
“How do you know?” I queried.
The boy laughed at me. “His name is Rosenberg. All Rosenbergs are Jews.”
I remember thinking that if I were a Jew I would fight. I would never let someone treat me in such a way. And it was around that time I began to notice that I looked just like those who were saying these horrific things. I didn’t feel a sense of self-loathing as much as I did a sense of responsibility.
That was a long time ago, and over the years I have had many long and valuable friendships with those who either practiced their faith, or held on to Judaism the way one holds onto the blessed memories of childhood. One such friend is a woman I met in San Francisco four years ago while looking at homes to rent. Her mother was dying and in the last throes of Dementia. My friend told me she was calling for her brothers and sisters who had never left the Buchenwald extermination camp.
It was like I was nine-years old again.
Today, I am an atheist/agnostic. That is to say I believe in people and their stories, not the imagined tales designed to cajole or frighten. What happened this weekend in Pittsburgh is a reminder that we are, not what we say, but what we do.
It is time again for us to act on the time honored Judeo-Christian principles of love and compassion and let that message stand as a wall between those who choose anger and hate.
And love always wins.