Here’s the sickest part, for me: the shooting at the National Holocaust Memorial Museum didn’t surprise me. It reminded me.
Reminded me of That Man, the glassy-eyed non-traditional student who plagued my first semester of teaching; of the day he remarked, in a world religions session, “Hinduism teaches that human nature is basically good, but Judaism teaches that it’s basically evil.” No, it doesn’t. He demurred. I said, to inform the other students if not to convince him, that Judaism interprets Genesis 1 to mean that G-d made everything good, including human beings, that we’re able, through an informed conscience and reasonable effort to resist temptation.
Reminded me of OurLadyofPunk, a student who worked as a waitress in a small town in Texas. During the 2000 election, she told me, disappointment in her voice, that she overheard many diners saying no one should vote for the Dem ticket because of Joe Lieberman. Can’t have a Jewish VP, according to the diners in that restaurant, in that town.
Reminded me of the joe-blow kind of guy who told me that his oral presentation was going to be on Judaism. Then he gave a long sermon advancing one type of Christian premillennial end0times scenario in which “the Jews” played a significant part – in the course of which, he included the observation that G-d sent the Holocaust to punish Jews. His classmates’ stony silence spoke their disagreement, but I still hear the of-courseness, the naivete with which he threw out something he regarded as a fact and probably thought the others did, too.
Reminded me of the summer I though of laying off Judaism, omitting it from my teaching to avoid the pain of these incidents. I had talked myself half-way into it, when Buford Furrow went into a Jewish Daycare and shot up some kids and adults. Then I knew I had to keep at it. After that, I never looked back.
Reminded me of That Man, again, who came for a second semester to save the other students from me (according to a self-appointed informant). This time, he claimed that Judaism doesn’t let non-Jews into Heaven. I corrected him in class, and then brought to the next session numerous ancient sources saying that righteous gentiles have a place in the World-to-Come. That’s when he told me I didn’t know my subject.
Reminded me of all the times I’ve wondered why somebody who isn’t Jewish thinks that their (not-Jewish) religion requires them to believe something about what Jews believe. Or don’t. Or do, or don’t. Such that when I correct misinformation about Judaism, these not-Jewish people think I’m “attacking” their faith.
Reminded me of the Jewish student who told me she’s afraid to tell other students that she’s Jewish because some of her friends got beaten up for it in Texas public high schools.
Reminded me of all the times since I’ve moved here that somebody has assumed that I’m Jewish and launched into one of those, “Well I have Jewish friends, but” talks. And I don’t tell them I’m not, just to avoid the appearance of implying that their biggest mistake was about my own religious beliefs.
Reminded me of the time I wrote up a document summarizing the incidents of religious harassment that I have either witnessed directly, or been told about. The anti-Semitism took a good page or two, but the document was three times as long. Pagans, Buddhists, Catholics, Muslims . . . many had been harassed. I presented this, at a meeting, to higher-ups, as evidence that the university should conduct more formal investigations into religious harassment. My document was dismissed as merely anecdotal.
Reminded me of my own visit to the Holocaust Museum, to that speechless horror at the event, and also at the undeniable fact that human beings can come to view their fellow human beings as something akin to vermin.
Reminded me of the student who cut me off when I tried to talk about my visit there.
Reminded me that these memes students come in with don't make them violent, but they do provide the soil for hate, or for fell0w-travelling with haters.
Reminded me at my uneasiness with high-flown, ostensibly leftist literary criticism that undermines the whole notion of historical knowability, of fact. So much of that thought girds itself in critique of power structures, and fails to remember that the non-being of facts serves murders only, never their victims. (Reminded me that I wasn’t surprised when the Paul de Man scandal broke in the ‘90s.)
Reminded me of how weary I get, having to correct the same hateful idiocies, often so innocently held, year after year. Reminded me how often I’ve wished that whatever gives people these ideas would just stop it, so that the first pedagogical move didn’t always have to be an ideo-ectomy.
But I know it won’t stop.
Reminded me that neither can I.