I grew up in a small Southern town. Most of the people were Methodists, Presbyterians or Baptists, with a few scattered Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Catholics. There was a family who was none of these. The man owned a jewelry store downtown. This man, Mr Rosenthal, was Jewish. St that time, he was the only Jewish person I had ever met. He and my dad were good friends. When I was little, my dad would take me to his store and Mr. Rosenthal would show me lots of pretty things. He would listen to me intently. I still remember his kind face. Mr. Rosenthal became my friend.
I remember the first time my dad told me about Hitler. My father was a WWII Air Force pilot. He commanded a wing out of England. He flew 30 missions from England to Germany. He never talked to me much about the war, but he did one day after we had visited the jewelry store. He hated that innocent Germans were killed in the war, but the Jews had to be saved. His mission was to end Hitler’s reign and free the Jewish people. I think he felt a true kinship with Mr. Rosenthal. There was an invisible connection between them. They both had seen what hate can do to people. They had a trust that only comes from knowing that they were forever connected by their shared experience of the worst darkness overtaken by the brave light of Allied soldiers. After he told me about the concentration camps and how the Germans used gas to kill the Jewish people, he wiped a tear from his eye and said to me, “Mr. Rosenthal is a real fine man.” I remember saying back to him, “I know, I know he is Daddy.”
Several years after that I saw “The Sound of Music” with my mom. I hadn’t seen Mr. Rosenthal in awhile, but I thought of him at that moment. Suddenly the movie made sense to me. When the Van Trapp family was fleeing Austria for Italy I thought about my Jewish friend. From that time until today I cannot even begin to comprehend the hate many people feel for Jewish people.
As I was growing up, I rarely heard a racist comment regarding Jews. Since trump became president, that has changed. I never thought about something like Nazi Germany ever happening again. Today, a gunman in the United States shot ten people at a Synagogue. I thought about Mr. Rosenthal and all my Jewish friends. I try to wrap my head around the hate that is coming out of the darkest places in America. I try to undersatand an administration inciting hate towards anyone. Have we not seen enough in our past to realize that humanity is best when we are connected in being human and respected for who we are?
Everyday the rhetoric coming from Washington sounds more haunting, more dangerous. Could something as horrific as slavery happen again? Could concentration camps dot the American countryside. Could evil overtake Americans as they seethe with hate. Is our society so hopeless, so ignorant, so hardened that what once was unimaginable, could become reality. I never thought I would have these thoughts about my country. Never. I look at old friends who support trump. I search their faces and wonder who they are. My safe world has gone mad, and old friends are cheering it on.
I miss the certainty in my parents’ words. I miss my dad hugging the custodian, watching my dad make the disabled smile, his never having a single worry about the gay clothier, and my dad telling me, Mr. Rosenthal was a really “fine man”. The world felt right. Not today. Not today. America is dark, but the lights are not out, because all over America there are people just like me. Each one of us must vote in the midterms. We must resist what goes against everything America stands for. We cannot let the unthinkable happen…ever again.
Anyway, it’s not a right/left issue. It’s a right/wrong issue, and America has constantly been on the side of what’s right. Because when it comes down to it, this is about keeping faith with the idea of America. Because America’s an idea, isn’t it? I mean, Ireland’s a great country, but it’s not an idea. Great Britain’s a great country, it’s not an idea. That’s how we see you around the world, as one of the greatest ideas in human history, right up there with the Renaissance, right up there with crop rotations and the Beatles’ White album. The idea, the American idea — -it’s an idea — -the idea is that you and me are created equal, and will ensure that an economic recession need not become an equality rescission. The idea that life is not meant to be endured but enjoyed. The idea that if we have dignity, if we have justice then leave it to us, and we’ll do the rest. This country was the first to claw its way out of darkness and put that on paper. And God love you for it, because these aren’t just American ideas anymore. There’s no copyright on them. You brought them into the world. It’s a wide world now. I know Americans say they have a bit of the world in them, and you do, the family tree has lots of branches. But the thing is, the world has a built of America in it, too. These truths, your truths, they’re self-evident in us.” — Bono