A Public Sphere for Poetry, Nature, and Politics
In a rising tide of racism and anti-semitism around the world, vandals toppled and damaged more than 170 headstones at the Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery in the St. Louis suburb of University City.
My mother grew up across the street from Allen Sabol. Both of our families moved to an inner ring suburb of St. Louis, University City. I can’t remember when I didn’t know them.
Allen Sabol was an aerial gunner during World War II. He fought the Germans, and was a prisoner of war. He was a real war hero. He served on the city council, and volunteered for more civic activities than can be listed. My community thrives because of folks like him.
He was a friend and a neighbor. Perhaps my fondest memories, simply enough, are of chatting him at the grocery store. My wife and I are still friends with his daughter, Laurie. He passed in 2014, at age 92.
Today, I visited the grave of Mr. Sabol and his wife. It’s right down the street. I needed to know if his tombstone was desecrated.
Allen Sabol was an Orthodox Jew. In the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery, over 170 tombstones were overturned, vandalized, smashed and broken last night.
I had to go to the cemetery today. To pray. To bear witness. To simply stand beside my Jewish friends and neighbors. To be a Christian who recites “The Shema”.
Since January, there have been close to seventy bomb threats against Jewish community centers across the United States. Eleven last night. Now this. Folks are shocked. Folks are pained. Not many people are surprised.
We have allowed racism to become part of our national dialogue. We have become anti-immigrant, Islamophobic, anti-Mexican. Who is surprised that anti-Semitism is in the mix? Put a different way, how far is it from kicking over a Jew’s tombstone to kicking in the door and arresting an undocumented Mexican?
Donald Trump has appointed Steve Bannon to be assistant to the President and White House chief strategist. He is a regular attendee to the Principals Committee of the National Security Council. Bannon was comfortable running an anti-Semitic headline in his Breitbart News. If the president is OK with this, then painting a swastika on a synagogue is OK – right?
Trump did today finally deliver his first public condemnation of recent anti-Semitic incidents. It is also worth noting that Trump’s derogatory campaign rhetoric against Muslims, Mexicans and immigrants won enthusiastic support of those who also embrace anti-Jewish idealogies. Jewish groups criticized the White House for omitting any mention of Jews in its statement marking Holocaust Memorial Day last month. Trump’s “statement today is a pathetic asterisk of condescension after weeks in which he and his staff have committed grotesque acts and omissions reflecting anti-Semitism, yet day after day have refused to apologize and correct the record,” wrote Steven Goldstein, the executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect.
Let our stand on this issue be perfectly clear. No one that I know is pointing an accusing finger at conservatism. The fault does not lie with the idealogy of Ronald Reagan, Jack Danforth or David Brooks. The fault is entirely with Donald Trump and all that he has wrought.
Today, I set a pebble on the gravestone of the Sabols. Then I walked over to the old part of the cemetery where the damage had been done. Smaller tombstones were broken in half. The larger ones were pushed over. Someone had taken a hammer to some of those old photographs they used to put on tombstones. I never thought I’d see this in my lifetime. I never thought I’d see this in my neighborhood.
As I look out my window, a dad is playing with his kid. The dad wears a yarmulka. These are my neighbors, my friends. To me, there no longer is any such thing as anti-Semitism. I simply can’t be that abstract anymore. There is only anti-Allen. Anti-Laurie. Anti-Karen. Anti-Tom. Anti-Michael. Anti- the dad down the street and his kid.
Copyright 2017 John Samuel Tieman
Vandalism of Jewish graves is a recurrent problem in many countries.
Gravestones lie turned over in the Jewish cemetery in Marcali, 177 kms southwest of Budapest.
Desecrated tombstones at the Sarre-Union Jewish cemetery in Alsace (Reuters).
More than 170 toppled Jewish headstones in Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in a suburb of St Louis in February, 2017.