By Michael Jacobs | firstname.lastname@example.org
The theme of remembrance and the consequences of forgetfulness kept coming up in early May.
That theme wasn’t surprising May 4 at the American Jewish Committee dinner honoring Eliot Arnovitz, who talked about the AJC’s educational role in helping him understand Jewish history, especially World War II and the Holocaust. And remembrance is the point of the Atlanta History Center exhibit “Filming the Camps,” which held a preview May 5; it’s all about the Holocaust and the Americans who documented it 70 years ago.
But I wasn’t expecting to hear those echoes at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights at its first honor dinner May 6.
Maybe because I was born 18 months after Martin Luther King was assassinated or because my ancestors were on the slave-owning, privileged side in the South, I never thought about the need to hold tight to the memories of the civil rights struggle and the horrors of Jim Crow.
The Holocaust, as the ultimate expression of anti-Semitism, is literally life or death for Jews. Thus, we feel a need not only to remember, but to ensure that everyone else never forgets. We hang on to the bitter memories instead of trying to forget and move on.
But the civil rights movement felt like something we as a society needed to work through and leave behind. Hanging on to those old wounds was keeping all of us from moving forward.
I guess the center and the honorees’ speeches May 6 did their jobs and opened my eyes to what was obvious: The civil rights movement was and is a fight not just for equal treatment, but also for that most basic of rights, life.
Did I mention that I was a history major in college, albeit one whose interest faded after 1865?
I don’t share this embarrassing story because I like to show off my ignorance or insensitivity (I don’t) or to argue that I have a new understanding for those non-Jews who didn’t support the creation of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and who think we Jews should just move on (I do).
The point is that my experience at dinner May 6 prepared me to see the JNF-SOJOURN discussion over breakfast May 8 with more clarity.
SOJOURN wasn’t looking for a list of JNF’s gay employees or a recital of all the reasons JNF is a great workplace for the LGBT community. What I think SOJOURN wanted from JNF CEO Russell Robinson was a recognition that honoring someone like Charles Stanley isn’t a faux pas; it’s a life-or-death issue. There’s a real fear that seeing a respected Jewish organization celebrate a man who revels in hating gay people could push a scared teen over the edge to suicide.
If you feel that way, there’s no separating the issues. You can’t put aside your concerns in one area to focus on another area of agreement. And all the expressions of support for LBGT rights and all the semiapologies “for any pain you felt” won’t close the rift.
JNF supporters, seeing nothing but an effort to show gratitude to a friend of Israel, are understandably frustrated at being portrayed as the bad guys, the ones who must undo what was done while the other side does not budge.
No one can compromise on a life-or-death issue, so the burden is on JNF. It crosses the rhetorical battlefield and embraces SOJOURN’s position, or it accepts that the rift among pro-Israel Jews in Atlanta never will heal.