If We Forget The Past……….!

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            I think it was Santayana who reminded us that those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. A sad fact of life now is that too few people study history and, as a result, we may be reliving it. This reality is going to be even more relevant now. This is not a political statement, rather, a reflection on what is very present in our world and, it has direct impact (or will have) on our generation in many ways. As Jews, we need to be cognizant of words and phrases that have found their way back into public discourse. A look at history will or should raise warning lights.

            Issues and proposed policies around immigration, nationalism, economics, and other issues are often tinged with some wild rhetoric. It is important to remember that, for the majority of American Jews, we may be only one or two generations removed from that immigrant status. When we read people signaling out some group as a cause for society’s ills, we need to remember the historical fact that we, as Jews, have often been seen as “the other”. Just look at that Passover Hagaddah!

            One of the great gifts of this country has been the fight to see patriotism in the light of inclusion. We seem to be seeing more and more ultranationalist talk, some linked to religious affiliation and race. Look at history and see that when that happens, we Jews usually suffer.

            The unusual and rapid rise in antisemitism is not just the result of the Gaza war. Even since Charlottesville, it seems that too many people have thought it was OK to focus their anger, frustration, and fears on Jews. Dara Horn’s recent book: “People Love Dead Jews”, or her recent article in “The Atlantic” (“Why the Most Educated People In America Fall For Anti-Semitic Lies”: The Atlantic Feb. 15,2024), along with other op-eds and articles, are casting a frightening light on this reality.

            We need to have more open and honest discussion of history, especially Jewish history in our congregation and organizations. We need to know that catch phrases like “America First” stem from a period in American history that hostile to us. We are at a serious transitional moment. Our generation has lived through so much transition, both good and less than good. We need to be vigilant as to how people in power use language and where that language came from and what it means.

            Let me also suggest a good place to start. It is the new book by Rachel Maddow called “Prequel”. It will make you very angry and should be a must read for all of us. It looks at the rise of fascism in the United States post World War 1. It’s detailed description of the institutionalization of antisemitism in Germany and that linkage to American racism will make you very uncomfortable. Some of the language, laws, and rationale for laws from that period have found their way back to our time. The section (pages 26-29) on how Nazi Germany used Jim Crow laws to help develop their laws against the Jews of Germany will shock you. We were never taught this when we were growing up! (see also “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson)

            History is a great teacher IF we choose to study it. If not, we shall relive it, and the consequences are often not good.


Rabbi Richard F Address



  1. Thank you, once again, Rabbi Address. Let’s replace the deeply-entrenched and wishful-thinking-thought of ‘it can’t happen here’ with the firm statement “Never Again!”
    I just watched the movie ‘ORIGIN’, written and directed by Ava DuVernay. This will prove to be a very important film for all of us. It includes a powerful, accurate and prescient depiction of anti-semitism.

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