George Washington, in his 1790 letter to the Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I., told Jews they would be safe in the new nation.
“The government of the United States . . . gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance,” he wrote. “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
Though that assurance has been tested, the United States has endured as a safe haven for Jews.
Now President Trump has violated Washington’s compact. He has given sanction to bigotry and assistance to persecution. After the shooting in Pittsburgh, which the Anti-Defamation League believes is the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history, there is no longer safety under the vine and fig tree.
I had been dreading and expecting this day, and more like it, for two years. This was more than predictable; it was predicted.
After Trump’s presidential campaign began with genteel anti-Semitism, progressed to dog whistles and ended with a full-throated targeting of Jewish “globalists,” I wrote on Election Day that the results would be coming in on the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the infamous night of Nazi violence and vandalism against German Jews: “I pray that on this solemn anniversary, Americans tell Donald Trump and the world that we are never going back there.”
After Charlottesville, when Trump said there “were very fine people” marching among the neo-Nazis chanting “Jews will not replace us,” I wrote about my daughter’s fear of returning to Hebrew school because of violence; armed white supremacists had chanted “Sieg Heil” and forced worshipers to flee a Charlottesville synagogue.
Consider some of the many times Trump gave sanction to bigotry before 11 worshipers were shot dead at the Tree of Life:
Telling Jewish Republicans they wouldn’t support him “because I don’t want your money.”
Tweeting an image from an anti-Semitic message board with a Star of David atop a pile of cash.
Branding his campaign with the “America First” slogan of the anti-Semitic pre-war movement.
Alleging that “blood suckers” and “a global power structure” including “international banks” are secretly plotting against ordinary Americans.
And, when urged by the Anti-Defamation League to stop using traditionally anti-Semitic tropes, repeating the tropes in an ad with images of prominent Jews, including George Soros.
Once in office, in addition to making common cause with the Nazis of Charlottesville, Trump stocked his administration with Stephen K. Bannon and other figures of the nationalist “alt-right;” hesitated to condemn the rise of anti-Semitic threats and vandalism; issued a Holocaust remembrance statement without mention of Jews; lamented the attempts to silence Alex Jones, who peddles anti-Semitic conspiracy theories; and, declaring himself a “nationalist,” increased verbal attacks on “globalists,” particularly Soros.
Supposedly, American Jews are protected by Trump’s daughter Ivanka marrying into the faith, or by Trump’s fondness for Israel’s nationalist policies.
But it doesn’t work that way. The ADL reports a 57 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents in 2017. Other groups Trump targets — African Americans, Latinos, Muslims — have long experienced this and worse; a man in Kentucky last week allegedly tried to enter a black church before killing two black people at a supermarket. It is the new normal, though, for Jewish journalists and public figures to endure routine threats, for unabashed anti-Semitism to flourish in social media — and now for Jews to fear for their safety in quiet places like Pittsburgh, where I lived and worshiped for three years.
Whatever Trump’s motives, his words and deeds inspire the hateful and the violent. The man accused of sending pipe bombs to a dozen favorite Trump targets (including Soros) eschewed politics, his family’s lawyer says, until he “found a father in Trump.” The accused Pittsburgh gunman, though apparently rejecting Trump for being insufficiently nationalist, embraced on social media the themes Trump has popularized: the “globalist” danger, immigrant “invaders that kill our people” and an “infestation” of undesirables.
After the shooting, Trump read from the teleprompter the proper denunciation of anti-Semitism. But proceeding with a rally mere hours after the massacre, he galvanized the crowd with the same complaint the alleged Pittsburgh killer cited in social media before the carnage: the migrant caravan. Trump told the crowd, “No caravans, right? We don’t want caravans. We’re not having caravans.”
“Build the wall!” the crowd chanted.
Trump closed with his usual vow to fight “others” who are trying to “destroy our proud American heritage.” White supremacists get the message.
On Shabbat, Jewish custom says, God gives each of us a “neshamah yeteirah,” an extra soul for rejuvenation on the day of rest. But this Shabbat, we lost 11 souls. And our Jewish and American souls will continue to be so drained — unless our president changes his ways, or we change our president.