By Basil Gala, Ph.D.
In Search of Meaning
My late mother Georgia made some good Jewish friends in America, but in Sampsous, Turkey, as a child she beat up a Jewish classmate when she learned of his ethnicity. She yelled at him, “You Jews killed our Jesus.” She told me the story with some remorse. The Jews, of course, are not the only people hated in many parts of the world and through the centuries. European settlers in America learned to hate the native people whom they called Indians and would frequently go to war to exterminate them. Indian tribes fought each other, the Sioux hating the Pawnee and vice versa. Muslims have tended to hate Christians, and Christians, the Muslims. Serbs engaged in ethnic cleansing of Muslims, whom they called Turks. Sunni Muslims have gone on rampages against Shiite Muslims, and Irish Catholics have feuded with Protestant Irish. In Africa’s Rwanda, the Tutu tribe slaughtered many Tutsi tribal members. Turks committed genocide against Armenians and Greeks in 1922, killing millions. Many American southerners despise and hate African Americans and are ready to lynch them for alleged offenses.
Yet the Jews are distinguished in having been exterminated to the extent of over 6 million individuals at the hands of the Nazis during World War II. Hitler and his friends wanted a final solution to the Jewish problem in Europe and they nearly achieved it with death camps and crematoriums. If we can find out why the Jews have been persecuted so severely, we may throw some light on ethnic and religious hatred to discover the causes of such hatred so that we may indicate an alternative path for mankind, hopefully, before such hatred puts an end to our race in total warfare. The opposite of hatred is love for your neighbor, as Jesus taught. Make love, not war, the flower children yelled holding up their peace signs. I’m ready to love you, but don’t stop on my toes.
Can we love those who attack us, take our land and property, and enslave us? The Jews were enslaved by the Egyptians, Babylonians, and Romans, taken captive, tortured, and crucified. After the failed revolts against the Romans in 66 CE and 132 CE, Jews left Palestine in large numbers. That was the Diaspora, which spread their people north to Russia, then Poland, Germany, and the rest of Europe (Ashkenazi), and on another route along North Africa to Spain (Sephardim). Everywhere they were met with hostility: pogroms and persecutions. The Jews were not allowed to own land, so they settled in cities and towns, working as tailors, pawnbrokers, bankers, financiers, and other professionals. In spite of the hatred they encountered, they prospered.
Hatred is an attitude or chronic inclination of extreme hostility towards someone or something, initially leading to discrimination. Hatred is like dry gunpowder that requires only a spark to set it exploding into anger and aggressive action against its object.
When we hate we don’t always express our feeling openly, we may suppress hatred and just become sullen, but ready to attack if provoked. Hatred is stressful and can damage our health, both physical and mental, yet we indulge in it out of habit or because it’s forced upon us by an enemy. The Jews in Europe were not anybody’s enemy; they were just people providing needed services. Whence the hatred for them?
In America too Jews faced discrimination, but no persecution thanks to our free institutions which protect all the people. The Jews are 1.7% to 2.6% of the US population, but from a largely poor minority of working-class people upon immigration they have become enormously successful in every field of endeavor and now have the highest incomes of any ethnic group. About 25% of millionaires in America are ethnic Jews. Could envy on the part of other ethnic groups be at the root of the hatred against the Jews? I have heard people say, “If you’re Jewish, why aren’t you smart or why aren’t you rich?” Jews are like other people, some are smart and rich, but not all.
I hold no envy against the Jews or any other successful group. In my high school years at Athens College, Greece, I had a Jewish classmate named Matsas. He was a quiet fellow, not bothering anybody, who invariably earned high grades and graduated as the Salutatorian with the highest scholastic achievement. He went on America to study chemical engineering with a full scholarship.
When I worked in New York City for a few years, one of my bosses was a Jewish gentleman, Mr. Ruderman, in the import-export business. I was his personal assistant in the business. He gave me much freedom in what I did for him, allowing me to take the initiative in several projects. Mr. Ruderman was always courteous and kind like an uncle to me, giving me no reason to dislike him.
My favorite professor at the University while I was studying for my BS in Electrical Engineering was Jewish. He gave excellent lectures and I did well in his classes. At the California Institute of Technology for my graduate degree, I met Dr. Richard Feynman and Dr. Murray Gell-Mann, both Nobel Prize winners in Physics. They were fine and friendly to all the students, secular Jews, hailing from the Jewish nation but not adhering to Judaism.
If secular Jews are hated, is it because they are subhuman creatures or because the want to take over the world with their superhuman abilities? If those, like Albert Einstein, Feynman or Gell-Mann, have great ideas, I say let them take over the world; we’re going to be better off.
As to the religious Jews who observe Judaism, what harm are they doing to anyone? Of course, the Jewish population has its share of criminals and scoundrels, like Bernard Madoff, the Ponzi schemer, who worked the largest financial fraud in US history. What ethnic population lacks such despicable people? What about the Italians with their Mafiosi or the Japanese with their Yakuza? Why should Christians or Muslims hate the Hebrews? Jesus Christ was Jewish and his teachings are an outgrowth of Judaism. As Jesus said, he came to add to the faith, not to tear it down. Islam is also derived from Judaism with the same stories and teachings, except with an Arabic flavor. The prophet Mohammad called Jews and Christians People of the Book, to be respected.
Saint Paul, born Saul and a Jew, never met Jesus in person but had more to do with the growth of Christianity than any apostle. He preached the Christian faith around the Mediterranean Sea, writing numerous epistles to the congregations he founded to bolster their faith. He ascribed the crucifixion of Jesus to the Jews, not the Romans who did it with the petition of the Jewish clergy, upset with the loss of the money merchants at the temple that Jesus chased away in front of his followers. St. Paul’s epistles are part of The New Testament and largely share the blame for Christian hatred toward the Jews.
Even if we can blame the Jews for the Crucifixion, they killed one of their own to protect their traditional faith and their rents from the money changers.
Before the Nazis, the most infamous persecutors of Jews were probably that illustrious pair of Ferdinand and Isabella in Spain, who also launched the Columbus expedition to America in 1492 CE. That royal couple and the Spanish Inquisition gave the Jews and Muslims three choices: get out of Spain, convert to Catholicism, or be executed. Many Jews went to North Africa; others went to Northern Europe, the Netherlands, France, and England. It was a loss to Spain.
It’s always a loss to the world of humanity when innocent people are killed, enslaved, persecuted, discriminated against, and thwarted in their peaceful pursuits, their unique culture and monuments destroyed by conquerors. Such was the loss of the ancient Greek, Native American, and African cities, with the inhabitants carried off as slaves to labor in mines and fields until death.
White Southerners I have known despised African-Americans calling them niggers, close to animals. From those near animals arose great leaders in recent years. Why that hatred? At the root of it was fear that their old slaves would best them if freed. So fear can turn to hatred and hatred to violence.
In World War II we saw propaganda blasting at the Japanese and German people, depicting them as monsters. In cartoons, the Japanese were shown like buck-eyed, glass-eyed, rat faced runts, called Japs or Nips. After listening to all the atrocities our adversaries had done in the war you had to hate them and fight them.
So what the manipulators of public opinion, our leaders, want from our hatred has a lot to do with the existence of the hatred. Today Russians are taught to hate Americans and 70% of them do so for no good reason. We have done nothing bad to the Russians except telling them to keep hands off the sovereign nation of Ukraine.
To stop then this situation of national and religious hatreds we must look to those who instigate them for their own purposes and see to it that these leaders lose power over their people.