Most people mean well, fear losing the jobs and income by which they support their families, and are terrified they will lose friends and social standing. This is true equally of “Good Germans,” nice Jews, and average Americans desperately trying to survive today’s Leftist Woke “cancel culture” reign of terror. To find heroes whose words and deeds withstand that fear — well, that’s why heroes are outlier and few.
As I grew into adolescence, it initially was hard to understand “Good Germans” of the Hitler years who did not stand up to the Nazis, but instead quietly accommodated themselves to the Holocaust. They saw what was happening and yet remained docile. Yes, there were the precious few heroes who actually imperiled their own lives by hiding Jews in their homes — in attics, basements, under floor boards. However, the very best among the rest tended simply to look away as Jews were trucked off to ghettoes in preparation for cattle-car journeys to death camps. The best of those “Good Germans” turned aside and did not lay hands on their Jewish neighbors’ pianos, chandeliers, and art work left behind, but they also did not lift a finger to help.
Was it genetic? Had centuries of anti-Jewish eruptions throughout Europe — murderous crusades along the Rhine from the 11th to 13th centuries, “poisoning the well” defamations of the mid-14th century Black Death bubonic plague era, blood libels, desecration-of-the host slanders, expulsions and inquisitions, Cossack pogroms, and all that transpired into the Hitlerian 20th century — biologically changed German, Ukrainian, and other European spiritual DNA? As a teenage boy, I wondered. However, in later years I met a man of the American Midwest and of German descent, an attorney for whom I worked at Jones Day when I litigated complex multi-million-dollar matters, and he became one of the best friends I have had. He is a man of extraordinary character whose friendship I have cherished throughout the past quarter century.
I once got stuck in my law office over Shabbat (Sabbath) because another partner at the firm, a real stinker, forced me into an untenable position that left me unable to leave downtown Los Angeles in time to reach my home in the San Fernando Valley before sunset, the time we light candles to begin the Shabbat observance. So this precious colleague went grocery shopping on Friday night to buy me wine for the prayer I recite sanctifying the Sabbath day, the double portion of rolls for the ritual Sabbath meals, and other foods so that I could observe Shabbat more elegantly in my office. He even brought me a copy of the local Jewish weekly newspaper, David Suissa’s Jewish Journal.
Over time, we celebrated parallels in our life experiences, sharing so very much beyond our identical conservative politics and social values. When he remarried, my wife Ellen of blessed memory and I were the only Jones Day attorneys invited to his wedding. We have continued to be very tight. After he left law practice and returned to the Midwest with his wonderful new wife, he proceeded to attain elective political office, and I always donate to his campaigns. He likewise donates often to my shul.
So don’t tell me there is something genetic in Germans. Or in Polish people. Or in others.
Yes, there is a profoundly troubling strain in European history, and bad history can prompt bad culture that can lead to bad societal influences as group-think hatred permeates. Soon, Jews are being blamed for this, and Italians, Chinese, and many others are being blamed for other things. Mid-19th century Angelenos burn down Chinatown and murder Chinese rail workers, while Kentuckians burn down and murder German and Irish immigrants nearly simultaneously. In time we learn that the oppressed are no less impervious to their own bigotry and hate, as an Al Sharpton incites Blacks to launch murderous anti-Jewish race riots a century later in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and Harlem, while other manifestations of Black race-hatred erupt at sites extending from a Jersey City kosher food store to the “Women’s March” and a Washington, D.C. pro-life rally.
I gained remarkable insight during one exceptionally brief and professionally outlier thirty-month period twenty years ago when I was rabbi at a congregation that proved a poor fit. Time subsequently has demonstrated those difficulties were the greatest blessing Ellen of blessed memory and I ever could have asked for — but never would have sought. At the time, Ellen and I were in only our fourth year of respective second marriages. Those next three pressure-cooker years tested our mettle, the depth of our commitment to each other’s personal happiness and professional success, and bound us tightly in ways that changed both our lives and amplified our mutual love. It made us inseparable and unbeatable. Those years also led to my deciding — for once and for all — that I no longer will contend with obstruction, that life is too short to be wasted on screw-cap wine or an impossible employment situation. Consequently, we launched our own congregation that also freed me to write and speak my mind uninhibited, to teach truth fearlessly.
That congregational experience also taught me something more: it revealed that many of “my own Jews” are, for lack of a better term, “Good Germans” also. As they witnessed their Board of Directors plow down one excellent rabbi after another through ten years, several approached me furtively to say: “Rabbi, I want you to know I am behind you one hundred percent.” I would respond gratefully and would ask that supporter to convey those identical thoughts to his friend on the Board, and he would respond: “I am sorry, Rabbi, but I cannot do that. He is my [client, customer, patient, landlord, handyman], and I just cannot involve my [personal friendship, business relationship] with him in your problem here. But I do want you to know I am behind you a hundred percent.”
That revelation was enlightening: such people would notlead, would not stand at my side, but instead lurked behind… one hundred percent behind. These Jews were “Good Germans.” When my hostile Board of Directors sought to embarrass me by circulating a ten-page survey-poll of my performance as congregational rabbi, the Board expected results to justify terminating me. Critics are more motivated to opine than are the copacetic. Instead, the returns came back phenomenally — more than 90 percent positive. Notably, almost all responders mailed backanonymously. Those results unexpectedly provided the documentation to negotiate my departure on my terms. But I also learned that, like “Good Germans,” even nice Jews will be circumspect before risking their incomes, jobs, or modest social status.
I was reminded of this while reading more about the Texasrabbi where an Arab Muslim terrorist recently took hostages as he demanded the release of a vile and despicably murderous anti-American Arab Muslim terrorist sentenced to 86 years’ imprisonment. She is a cause célèbre cheered on by CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations), an Arab Muslim hate organization. Surprisingly, that rabbi actually had been fired recently by his temple’s Board of Directors after sixteen years of devoted service. Though deeply loved by many of his congregants, his Board was resolutely determined to throw him out.
It got me thinking — beyond Jews and Germans — as to America under “cancel culture.” I not only have practiced the highest level of multi-million-dollar federal and state litigation at the most respected national firms, but I also have been a law school professor for two decades. So many of my closest faculty colleagues retreat from their deepest beliefs, fearing to express their innermost consciences amid the Woke professional reign of terror permeating academia. American universities now curtail free expression so vigorously that conservatives who voice their perspectives cannot get hired in social sciences. The rare conservative who sneaks past these Leftist McCarthyites by remaining silent cannot win tenure later if she lets even a single word slip. Tenure protects free speech but takes seven to ten years of self-suppression to attain. Until then, a conservative may not remain merely neutral. Rather, he must “pay lip service” to the Woke agenda. And many deeply conservative professors remain taciturn amid the cancel culture terror pandemic to protect their jobs, incomes, and social status.
I will not pay such lip service, but I do self-censor in the workplace. That is not where I express support for Trump’s political agenda, advocate for Israel, or give voice to how much I despise Black Lives Matter for its Jew-hatred, its Marxist origins, and its anti-American and racially biased hate. If L.A.’s Catholic-endowed law school identifies overtly with Black Lives Matter, what choice is there for the conservative? I have had students ask me privately: “Professor, are you a Republican?” I ask what prompts such curiosity. They respond: “Because you never try shoving your beliefs down our throats. All you do is teach law and tell great jokes and drop-dead-funny anecdotes. You are the only professor here who does not manipulate class time to attack Republicans, push an agenda about ‘systemic racism,’ promote critical race theory, or force-feed us Black Lives Matter. That means you must be conservative. Are you?”
I guess I must be.
Read Dov Fischer every Monday and Thursday in The American Spectator and follow him on Twitter at @DovFischerRabbi.