JCMI, Kristallnacht and the issues of the day
Eighty years ago, the Nazis showed their hand. Persecution of German Jews, which previously had been largely economic and legalistic, became violent and physical, with over 900 killed, 267 synagogues burned and demolished, 30,000 Jewish men rounded up and sent to concentration camps, and thousands of Jewish businesses vandalized.
November 9, 1938, became known as “Kristallnacht,” the Night of Broken Glass, for the shop windows shattered throughout the country. Civil authorities watched passively, making no effort to deter the rioters or help the victims
On Friday evening, the regular Shabbat service at the Jewish Congregation of Marco Island commemorated the event, considered the beginning of the Holocaust. Rabbi Mark Gross delivered a powerful sermon to the approximately 50 worshippers, drawing parallels between the events exactly 80 years earlier and the rise of hate crimes in this country now. The worst anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history took place last month when a gunman killed 11 worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue, simply because they were Jewish.
Gross laid out the history of Kristallnacht, and noted that, “last week, when we had to open the folding back walls of our synagogue and bring in more chairs to accommodate a capacity crowd anguished by the synagogue shooting in Pittsburg, someone complained to our (JCMI) president afterwards that they thought it was offensive for me to ‘talk about politics.’
“I frankly found it jarring that someone could be more offended by my concern over the causes of murderous white nationalism than they are by a white nationalist’s murder of 11 Jews.” Gross took on the idea that “it can’t happen here.”
He noted that “it took barely two years for the Nazis to implement the 1935 Nuremberg Laws stripping German Jews of their citizenship; it took only three more years for German civility to be laid aside in favor of mob violence on November 9. How much durable are our own democratic institutions once we yield to inertia and drink the Kool-Aid of hate?”
He called on the congregation to look inside themselves and be sure they are not allowing other minorities to be demonized.
“If we subscribe to a divisive neo-nationalistic rant branding all immigrants to this country as criminals and terrorist, then we have forsaken our own history, parted company with the wisdom of the Jewish tradition, and failed to capture the lesson of Kristallnacht.
“If we, whose Yiddish-speaking forbears were denigrated a century ago for their foreignness, bristle angrily at Spanish-speakers in the mall for not having learned English – or, for that matter, for even being here in the first place – then we have forsaken our own history, parted company with the wisdom of the Jewish tradition, and failed to capture the lesson of Kristallnacht.
“If we, practitioners of a sometimes despised minority religion, sneer with contempt at the Somali cabbies in Minneapolis who (out of regard for the convictions of their own faith) are willing to forfeit a fare rather than transport a traveler carrying bottles of duty-free liquor, then we have forsaken our own history, parted company with the wisdom of the Jewish tradition, and failed to capture the lesson of Kristallnacht.”
The JCMI congregation includes members who were there in Germany that night 80 years ago. Eta Gluzband, a Holocaust survivor, came to the front of the temple to read prayers, chanting “Baruch Adonai,” (blessed are you, Lord our God), and was overcome with emotion. Another survivor, Hildegarde Goodstein, was in Berlin for Kristallnacht as a little girl, and managed to escape in 1939.
Congregation president Sue Baum spoke of how her late husband’s mother, the night of Kristallnacht, realized there was no hiding at their home, and told him to get on his bicycle, ride and keep on riding. He rode all night, through streets filled with shattered glass, and survived to emigrate to America.
Baum thanked all the Marco Islanders who had sent condolences and expressed their support after the Tree of Life synagogue shooting, saying, “the outpouring of sympathy for our loss has been amazing.”
At 7 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 20, Baum noted, JCMI will host the annual interfaith pre-Thanksgiving Unity Service.