The thing is my great-uncle cut his finger off because of “blood libel.” He didn’t want to be conscripted into the Czar’s army and have to shoot his own relatives or any Jew. My grandparents and their parents somehow escaped to England where they took ships to America. We never knew how they escaped as they wouldn’t talk about that part of their lives, or their lives in Belarus. “Past is past” they would say. America was their future. And their children’s future.
But my parents told us about “blood libel.” I can’t remember when I was first told that people in Belarus thought Jews used the blood of Christians in matzohs. My parents, both born in Manhattan, would have only known if people in their family told them. They knew so little about their parents lives before New York. “We didn’t ask then.” “If we asked they wouldn’t have told us.” Or I might have read about it. A friend might have told me. It could have been conversation around the court. I don’t remember but I always knew the truly horrible concept, if not the name. I do remember reading The Elders of Zion. My father gave it to me. We talked about it. It made me ill. So did Henry Ford. (I think I wanted to know why we never had Ford cars.)
I know both my grandfathers came over on the same boat and were roommates for awhile in a boarding house. They didn’t meet again until after my parents began dating. I always loved that story. I had wanted to give my mother something with both their names on it as tangible proof that my grandfathers knew each other. But when I found the boat I could only find my maternal grandfather on it. I’m sure my paternal grandfather used a fake name. It sounds like something his family would do. “Blood libel.” Until they reached America, they didn’t want to be known as Jews. We were raised on the few stories of the pogroms my parents knew, and my maternal grandmother would tell stories. Except about the week she was caught in a pogrom, separated from her family and saved by a family of “friendly Christians,” as people who helped Jews were known. She was eleven.
I can’t believe that even Sarah Palin knew the history of the phrase she was using. Yet she used it in a way she (or more probably her writer) thought was empathetic. It never is.
I hope that this past week brings back unity to this country. I hope we have all stopped to examine our own behavior and beliefs. I know; I’m seeing too much good in people. But people are basically good. Who wasn’t sickened by the shootings? And President Obama was everything I had hoped he would be, for two years, last night. He made cry in a good way. He made me proud to call myself American.
And I’m ready to put this issue to bed. I have to focus on all the good that’s happening in my life right now! Did I tell you I totally lost my ability to write?
Etta James is only 71–too young, way too young to be suffering from dementia. She has cancer, too. I think this is one of the most beautiful songs in the history of songs