My grandfather spent his youth dropping bombs over central Europe from the nose of a B-17. On one of his thirty-five missions, enemy fire took out two and a half of the plane’s four engines. Concerned by the extent of shrapnel in the air, the pilot suggested that he land the plane, thinking they wouldn’t make it safely over the Channel. My grandfather argued until the pilot agreed to fly back to the base in England.
He wasn’t trying to be unreasonable. They were suspended over Nazi Germany, and there was a six-pointed star affixed to his uniform.
After Charlottesville, I think of that star, and I think of the rows and rows of European Jews with their yellow stars queuing for death on a train platform, stumbling toward death on a Polish field, crumbling into death at a work camp.
Ashkenazi Jews “pass” as white in the US, but it’s only ever been a temporary visa. We aren’t the first in line to have our welcome revoked, but after the immigrants and the people of color and the Muslims and the LGBTQ and the disabled, still it comes. (PS, don’t assume you’re safe because you’re Christian. We’re particular about our Christians in America, too.)
As a result, I’ve always felt that Jewishness is an entryway to understanding race in America, and that anti-Semitism is an entryway to understanding racism anywhere. No, it’s not the same, and I will never try to argue that it is. American Jews sit in the gray space between the majority and the marginalized. I feel selfish for waiving a minority status that has only ever minimally impacted me, but then, I think of the middle school teacher who insisted that I was Israeli. I think of the distant European cousins I will never meet because their great-grandparents were extinguished like blown matches. I think of my grandfather, who knew that crashing into the English Channel was preferable to landing in Nazi Germany.
Never again, we say. The years pass, leaving behind fewer and fewer of their tattooed forearms, and still, we say never again.
Never again, but more choose to believe in conspiracy theories. Never again, but hate crimes flourish. Never again, but a domestic terrorist left a peaceful protestor dead in the street. Never again, but they chant “Jews will not replace us.”
When my grandfather made it back to England, he threw himself from the plane and kissed the tarmac. If my grandfather were alive today, hovering above this country, I wonder if he’d be willing to land on American soil, or if he’d tell the pilot to keep flying.