Petty Prejudice

Ignorance and bigotry are never good things.  But at what point should we stop concerning ourselves with every last occurrence of them and, instead, just carry on with our lives?

In our attempts to rid society of all manner of cultural and ethnic prejudice, is it possible to go too far?  Does every instance of insensitivity merit a national conversation and a formal condemnation by the Anti-Defamation League or the ACLU?

In a world with far more racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia than any of us would like—but also with more multiculturalism and legal equality than at any point in history—should we not simply ignore those who insist on living in a backward dystopia, instead of dignifying their stupidity by including it in the daily news cycle?

Of course, I could be referring to anything here—what with the religiously and racially-charged events of the past few months, to say nothing of the 400 years before that—but in this particular week I am struck by the coverage of a bizarre little episode in Lynn, Massachusetts.  There, residents are in a tizzy following an act of anti-Semitic vandalism in an old town cemetery.

What sort of vandalism, you ask?  Were headstones knocked over and broken?  Were swastikas or other graffiti sprayed onto sacred family plots?  Did members of the Westboro Baptist Church turn up with their hateful placards and promises of God’s eternal wrath?

None of the above, thankfully.

What happened at the Pride of Lynn Cemetery, rather, is that a woman walked past the grounds’ Holocaust memorial—a modestly-sized obelisk—and noticed that a pile of raw pork had been laid at its base.

Pork, of course, is regarded in Jewish tradition as treif and unclean.  Jewish dietary laws forbid the consumption of all pig-based products, and anti-Semites enjoy nothing so much as referring to Jews themselves as “swine.”

As such, to purposefully dump several chunks of the unholy protein at the foot of a memorial to six million murdered Jews is a sign of profound and unmistakable disrespect—crude, obvious, offensive.  Contemptuous and contemptible.

But that’s all it is:  A callous prank by some anonymous anti-Jewish jerk.  A person so clueless and fanatical that he sacrificed a perfectly good dinner just so he could let everyone know what a terrible person he is.

In point of fact, this drive-by porking does not signal the end of civilization as we know it.  It is not an act of cultural warfare that should disrupt our sleep or cause us to worry about an imminent surge in anti-Semitism on Boston’s North Shore.

Make no mistake:  Violent provocations against Jews in the West are a real threat, with slaughters and beatings and protests arising from one end of so-called civilized society to the other.  In some areas—particularly in Europe—the situation is only getting worse.

As far as crimes against world Jewry go, planting raw pork in a cemetery is not a first-order concern.  Not even close.  Indeed, strictly speaking, it’s not even a crime, insomuch as no property was damaged and no persons were harmed.  (Not physically, at least.)

But you’d never know that from the reaction, which was not only swift but completely over-the-top.

The woman who first spotted the offending meat reported becoming “physically ill” at the sight of it, adding that the perpetrator(s) “wanted to cause pain and they did.”  Rabbi Yossi Lipsker, director of a local Chabad, said, “It’s beyond belief that in today’s day and age, right here, right now we could see something that I can only characterize as vile.”

No, it’s not.  It’s completely believable that some idiot would do this in any day and age.  That’s what idiots do:  They think of the most noxious transgressions against good taste and social harmony and see how much trouble they can cause.

The only question is how the rest of us—fine, upstanding citizens that we are—respond to such delinquency.

My humble advice:  Don’t respond at all.  Don’t be provoked.  Don’t engage.  Don’t give civilization’s lowest-hanging fruit the idea that their dumb opinions are worth airing, because they’re not.

It’s like most parents say about dealing with schoolyard bullies:  Just ignore them, and eventually they’ll go away.  Or, if you prefer, the way we constantly console ourselves about terrorism:  The only way the bad guys win is if they force us to change how we live our lives.

If you’re an observant Jew with a well-calibrated moral compass, you have every reason to be repulsed by such a frontal assault on your belief system.  At the same time, however, your faith ought to be strong enough—and your skin thick enough—to be able to dismiss such cretinism as a regrettable byproduct of living in a free society in which certain people get a rush from emotionally wounding others.

By totally flipping out every time it happens, you only encourage copycats to try something even worse.

Don’t give them that chance.  Don’t elevate their rotten ideas into a full-blown threat to society—not when there are so many actual menaces to be dealt with.

Regarding public prejudice, we have to learn to distinguish between the serious and the petty, to know which indecencies are worth worrying about and which are merely indecent.  There aren’t enough hours in the day to stomp out every last manifestation of individual bias, nor can we afford to be so naïve as to believe such a thing were possible, even with all the time in the world.

In response to Porkgate, the good people of Lynn held a rally in support of their Jewish brethren, and local police are investigating the incident as a possible “hate crime.”

Really?  We’re raising hell and expending precious law enforcement resources for what was, ultimately, a tasteless joke?

I don’t pretend to understand the mind of a person who sneaks into a cemetery with a sack of raw meat, but my guess is that he’s pretty darned pleased with himself for all he has accomplished.  As the lady said, his object was to wreak psychological havoc, and damned if we didn’t oblige him.  He cast out his bait and we took it.

We didn’t need to make all that fuss.  Those who discovered the profane slabs could have picked them up, tossed them in the garbage and continued on their merry way.  No one would be the wiser, and the perpetrator would have nothing to show for his pointless stunt.

It’s easy to comprehend the desire not to let anything slide, and to affirm our country’s traditions of pluralism and religious tolerance at every opportunity.  It’s encouraging that the city of Lynn takes the scourge of anti-Semitism seriously and is prepared to use the full force of the law to put an end to it once and for all.

I just worry that such efforts will have precisely the opposite effect, and that by treating all anti-Semitism as equally harmful, we will become progressively less adept at recognizing the real thing.


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