On Oct. 27, 2018, 11 Jewish men and women died in a hail of gunfire at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh. They were murdered by a killer who ranted against the Jewish immigrant aid group HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) for bringing African and Middle Eastern immigrants to America.

The murders were a shock to a religious and ethnic community that thought of itself as a firmly established part of this nation despite historical barriers that were based on the notion that America was created as a white, Christian nation. Jews now joined African Americans, Muslims and Sikhs as the victims of a growing hatred against religious and racial minorities.

I write these words just weeks after a website calling itself “Christians For Truth” published a thinly veiled anti-Semitic post attacking Portland’s mayor, Ethan Strimling, for opening the city to hundreds of African asylum seekers:

“So Strimling knows that as a Jewish outsider he’s resented … as he boldly pushes forward his nation-wrecking agenda of imposing ‘diversity’ on a city that has no room and no need for uneducated and violence-prone immigrants from Africa.”

For millions of immigrants before them, including nearly 3 million Jews, America was the “Golden Land,” free from the oppression of religious hatred and economic inequality that they faced in the lands of their birth.

Portland’s Jewish community was no exception. When Portland celebrated its centenary on July 4, 1886, Barnard Aaronson, designated to speak for the small Jewish community of the time, could find only a positive relationship to his Christian neighbors: ”Our city fathers have in the past fully merited the good will and affectionate esteem in which they are held by us.” Yet Aaronson was more cautious about the future: “We sincerely hope nothing will occur in the future to mar the harmonious feeling now existing between the denomination.”

That harmonious feeling would not last. By 1923, Portland’s established Protestant communities, including members of Maine’s Ku Klux Klan, had had enough of the sizable Catholic and Jewish representation on the City Council, especially from the heavily Jewish Ward 3.

In September 1923, Portland voters threw out the old form of government and voted in the new council-manager government by several thousand votes. In December, when elections were held for the new City Council, Klan-endorsed members swept to victory. The new City Council was made up entirely of Protestants.

When the walls of political discrimination finally came tumbling down in the 1950s, Portland could ultimately count six Jewish mayors among its civic leaders. Its seventh Jewish mayor, Ethan Strimling, has understood the promise of the Golden Land, not only for America’s Jews but also for millions of others who have the same hopes and aspirations.

Yet the comments that accompanied the “Christians for Truth” post read like a page from the ideological playbook of Nazi Germany:

“They (the Jews) flood our White countries with non-Whites so that they aren’t the only racial minority. And if Jews can create a multi-racial society, they can ‘disappear’ into the background, pretending to be White while actively undermining White society using racial tension and divisions to distract us from the real problem.”

This was the message of Nazi racial ideology, which saw Jews as the people who manipulated blacks, Sinti and Roma (commonly called Gypsies), lesbians and gay men and the physically and intellectually challenged of their nation into infecting and destroying German “Aryan” society. Those ideas led to the murder of millions, Jews and Christians alike.

I call upon the leadership of Maine’s Roman Catholic and Protestant communities to denounce the vitriolic slander of the “Christians for Truth” website. We are living in a new era of relations between Jews and Christians. Jews admire the strength of Christian theologians in denying and denouncing most if not all the historical charges against Jews, beginning with the crucifixion of Jesus. Jews admire the created sense of brotherhood and sisterhood of both communities in working to build a society that reflects the idea of welcoming the stranger and keeping alive the hopes and aspirations that define the real Maine and the real America.


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