Ok, it’s Thursday, not Sunday. Makes no difference to Lorie Sheffer which day her Guest Blogger post hits the press. Please enjoy this. If you have a brain and a heart, this one’s for you.
“They came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.”
That famous quote is credited to Pastor Martin Neimoller (1892-1984). He was referring to the fact that basically decent German people turned a blind eye as the Nazis targeted group after group in their horrifying rise to power. In doing so, over six million Jews were exterminated, along with five million others including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Gypsies, Poles, homosexuals, Soviet POWs, the handicapped and mentally ill and political groups including liberals and socialists.
Over thirty years ago, I learned what it feels like to be a religious minority when I married a Jew. Most of the bigotry wasn’t overt, but that seemed to make it even scarier; if danger wears a sign, we are not caught unaware. I lived in this rather conservative, predominantly Christian area we were not exposed to different cultures or religions. When he moved here from New York City, my ex-husband was the only Jew in his new, small high school. He was forced to participate with Christmas and Easter programs in this public school, but denied excused absences for observance of Jewish holy days or holidays. When a teacher angrily referred to him as “a kike”, there were no consequences for that slur. It was assumed he was “a rich Jew”. When we got married, comments were made to me that if I converted to Judaism, all of our children and I would burn in Hell for not accepting Jesus as our Savior. I once sat across the table at a family Hanukkah dinner in The Bronx from an elderly couple, their concentration camp numbers still crudely tattooed on their forearms. Grandpa would tell us of how, when he immigrated to America, he was forced to walk on the opposite side of the street from the churches or he would be spit on. In my heart I knew that there was most certainly a place for them in heaven.
Not too many years ago, a remark was made to me concerning a play at my son’s high school. It was Children of a Lesser God. “My kids could never put on that play because of what’s across the street from their high school. You know how THEY are. They don’t believe in God.” This was a reference to our city’s only Synagogue. I do, in fact, know how “they” are. They are people whose religious beliefs mean as much to them as anyone else who is a person of faith. They are not all investment bankers or doctors. They are not all wealthy. They are not ALL anything. The family I was part of didn’t fit any of the stereotypes.
I now watch as another religion is being looked upon with scorn, fear and hatred. Just as all Germans were not Nazis, not all Muslims are terrorists. None of my homosexual friends are trying to destroy my marriage or anyone else’s marriage. My non-Christian friends are not trying to take away Christmas. I know some very moral, wonderful agnostics and atheists. Perhaps this is a perfect time to step back and take a good look at history. It seems to have a way of repeating itself.
Thank you Lorie, for your insight. It seems we all have a lot to learn about each other. Let us never tire in this endeavor.