Award-winning Author Dara Horn’s new book People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Past has a provocative title. And make no mistake, it’s designed that way. She wants you to feel uncomfortable as she explores the world’s fascination with dead Jews. From examples of more subtle antisemitism to machete attacks in Jewish homes and shootings in synagogues, Dara challenges her readers to confront the reasons why we have such little respect for living Jews. Along with her latest work, Dara is also the author of five novels and won a Reform Judaism Fiction Prize and two National Jewish Book Awards.
Listen to the latest episode of All Inclusive as Dara discusses the appeal of Anne Frank’s lasting legacy, why a Jewish city was deserted in China, the limitations of Holocaust education to curb hatred of Jews, and more.
For a link to the Diarna Project, click here: https://diarna.org/.
Award-winning Author Dara Horn’s most recent book is ‘People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Past’. Along with her latest work, Dara is also the author of five novels and won a Reform Judaism Fiction Prize and two National Jewish Book Awards.
Dara Horn: Okay, there we go.
[music comes up in the clear]
Jay Ruderman: Hi, I’m Jay Ruderman and welcome to the “All Inclusive” podcast: stories of activism, change and courage.
Greta Thunberg: This is all wrong.
Simone Biles: I say put mental health first because…
John F. Kennedy: This generation of Americans has already had enough.
Leonardo DiCaprio: I stand before you, not as an expert, but as a concerned citizen.
Jay Ruderman: Each episode we bring you in-depth and intimate conversations with inspiring individuals trying to change the world.
Dara Horn: That discomfort–it wasn’t sorrow. It’s rage.
Jay Ruderman: And today on our show: Dara Horn.
Dara Horn: Anne Frank wrote this line about people being truly good at heart, 3 weeks before she met people who weren’t.
Jay Ruderman: Dara Horn is an award-winning author of six books and the recently published collection of essays, “People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present.”
Dara Horn: People love dead Jews. Living Jews, not so much.
Jay Ruderman: From Harbin, China, to Monsey, New York, from Anne Frank to Shakespeare, Dara examines the ways in which Jewish history and culture have been memorialized and presented.
Dara Horn: What I’ve found is I’ve now become, like, this sort of receptacle for all of this pain in the Jewish community that I really didn’t know about.
Jay Ruderman: It constitutes an effort, she claims, to both minimize Jewish suffering and to whitewash the atrocities and antisemitism, both past and present. Today, the consequences are clear: antisemitic attacks in America are on the rise, and Holocaust education has shown to be ineffective, at best. This is a timely and important conversion.
Jay Ruderman: Dara Horn, thank you so much for joining me on “All Inclusive.” It’s such a pleasure to welcome you to the broadcast.
Dara Horn: Thanks so much for having me.
Jay Ruderman: So Dara, you gave your book, “People love Dead Jews,” a very provocative title. And by implication, they don’t like living ones. Can you explain the title and the argument for having such a provocative title?
Dara Horn: Sure. Well, all I can say is for readers who are uncomfortable with the title, you will be even more uncomfortable with what is inside the book. Because it only gets worse after you make it past the cover. This is actually a topic that I avoided for most of my career, and I would say that I spent 20 years not writing this book. I really, just, never wanted to write a book where Jewish identity was defined from the outside, and this changed for me about 4 years ago. In 2018, I was asked by Smithsonian Magazine to write an essay for them about Anne Frank. And I got that request and I was overwhelmed with dread, because I thought, “Wow, I really don’t want to write an essay about Anne Frank.” And this goes to your question about the title. You know, the normal response to an assignment like that would be to, “I should turn it down.” But, you know, I’m, that would be logical, but I’m a writer so I’m not a very logical person. And, I also sort of feel that what I’ve learned in my 20 years of writing, in publishing books, is that the uncomfortable moments are where the story is. And so ultimately, by choosing this title, and making the reader uncomfortable, I’m sort of inviting the reader into that moment. And the reason I– the source of this title comes from what I ultimately did write for Smithsonian Magazine about Anne Frank. Because in that moment, when I got that request, I just thought, instead of thinking, “This is uncomfortable, I’m going to turn away from it,” I thought, “This is uncomfortable, that’s interesting, why do I want to, why do I feel so uncomfortable with this?” And in that moment, I remembered a news story that I had seen about something that had happened at the Anne Frank museum earlier that year. This was, again, in 2018. This was a news item that described how there was a young Jewish man who worked at the Anne Frank Museum, and the museum would not allow him to wear his yarmulke to work. They made him hide it under a baseball hat. He appealed this decision to the board of the museum, and the board of the museum, then deliberated for 4 months, and then finally relented and let this young man wear his yarmulke to work. Four months is a very long time for the Anne Frank Museum to ponder whether or not it was a good idea to force a Jew into hiding. And, at that point, I realized the source of my discomfort, and I made it the first line of that piece, which now is, of course, the title of the book. “People love dead Jews. Living Jews, not so much.” And, you know, I really wanted to draw readers into that uncomfortable moment, because I think that there’s a lot that we have suppressed about the way we react to those kinds of situations.
Jay Ruderman: Do you think the book was written for Jews or for non Jews?
Dara Horn: Well, so I will tell you that when I write my books, I am never thinking about the reader. I’ve made that mistake in the past. With my very first book, I remember thinking that, if anybody’s gonna read this other than my mother, it’s gonna probably be a Jewish audience, because that book, like all my books, was very deep into Jewish themes. And the editor who bought the book was not Jewish, and she told me, you know, “I was reading your book, and I felt like I was reading about my own life and my own family.” And, since this is, as I said, my sixth book, I sort of have since discovered that I’ve underestimated my readers. Literature is about communication. But with this book, in particular, you’re correct that there’s something a little bit strange about it in terms of the way audiences react to it. What I’ve discovered and what sort of really impacted me about the reception of the book are two things, which are, one very negative, and one very positive. One is that I’ve discovered, from my Jewish readers, that there’s — that there’s something about this book that activates something in them. And what I mean by that is, when I wrote this book, it was a very, for me, a very intellectual exercise. But now that I’ve published this book, I’m now inundated with messages from Jewish readers. Old people, young people, secular people, religious people, people from many different countries, and they’re all sending me the very same message. And the message says, “I felt uncomfortable my whole life, I never understood why. This book articulated this for me. Thank you.” Then it says, “I never told anyone this, but,” dot, dot, dot, and then they tell me some horrible story about some degrading experience they’ve had in their own life. And then they say, “Thank you for writing this book.” And so what I found is, I’ve now become, like, this sort of receptacle for all of this pain in the Jewish community that I really didn’t know about. And that’s been very disturbing to me. So that’s sort of like one response I’ve gotten from readers. But then the sort of more heartening thing is, I have a whole lot of non-Jewish readers. And what I hear from my non-Jewish readers is like this moment of enlightenment, where my non-Jewish readers basically read this book and say, “I had no idea.” You know? “I can’t believe that people have been carrying this around with them for all these years,” you know, “I learned so much, I want to be a good ally, and now I’m starting to understand how.”
Jay Ruderman: So I’m a strong believer in allyship. And I think in activism, allyship is very important. But we’re going through this period of time where we’re seeing more and more anti-semitism. And we’re seeing things that people are taking in different ways, and I’ll give you an example. Whoopi Goldberg, on the view recently made some comments that that were really she was taken to task for.
Whoopi Goldberg: The Holocaust isn’t about race. It’s not about race.
Co-Host: What is it about?
Whoopi Goldberg: It’s about man’s inhumanity to man.
Jay Ruderman: I mean, this is after you wrote the book, but I’m just wondering, because it’s coming up, you know, weekly, in our lives in America, what are your thoughts of what’s going on?
Dara Horn: I mean, I have a lot of thoughts about a lot of different things going on. But I mean, yes, it seems like there’s this attempt to reenact my book in real time, which I did not engineer. But what I think is, the thing about the Whoopi Goldberg’s comments is that it just reflects this deep ignorance of the, really, the non Jewish American public in general, about Jewish history, and about Jewish identity. And I honestly do think that what’s interesting about it is that it reflects the way that Holocaust education has been taught in this country, There’s been this attempt to sort of teach Holocaust education as if that’s a substitute for teaching people about anti semitism. It is not. It is not. And there’s also been a very long standing attempt in the past 30 years to universalize the Holocaust. So, what’s often done when the Holocaust is taught in schools or in other public education settings, it’s taught as like what Whoopi Goldberg said, “Oh, it’s about man’s inhumanity to man,” right? I mean, that sort of, what she’s saying does come from an, you know, what’s often used as an approach to teaching the Holocaust, rather than sort of making it about what it actually was about, which was the destruction of Jewish civilization. Of course, to be interested in the destruction of Jewish civilization, you’d have to know what the content of Jewish civilization was, and that’s what nobody is interested in learning as the title of my book proclaims.
Jay Ruderman: Can you talk about visiting the Anne Frank Museum, a museum that’s really about a Jewish family that is wiped out in the Holocaust, but has been taken in by the non-Jewish community?
Dara Horn: One of the things that’s so celebrated about Anne Frank, and the line from her diary that’s on the wall of the museum, and it’s on the book jacket, is the line where she says, “I still believe in spite of everything—”
Winona Ryder: I still believe in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. I see the world being slowly [fades under] …
Dara Horn: You know, and we say this line inspires us, by which we mean, it flatters us, right? It makes us feel forgiven for lapses of our civilization that lead to piles of murdered girls. It’s like, and this is something that’s very deep in non-Jewish Christian civilization, right, is this idea that a murdered Jew has, like, offered us absolution from our sins. The reality though is so much simpler. Anne Frank wrote this line about people being truly good at heart, three weeks before she met people who weren’t, but you have to sort of dump that reality in order to tell this feel good story. And that really comes to the sort of, those central points in my book are twofold. The first is people tell stories about dead Jews that make them feel better about themselves. And the other is, living Jews have to erase themselves in order for that story to be told.
Jay Ruderman: You wrote a sort of, an op ed, as if Anne Frank had lived, and I found it to be very powerful. I’m wondering if you would read it on page seven of your book.
Dara Horn: Sure. So for context, this is, this op-ed, it’s, it’s not an op-ed, I’m sorry, it’s an obituary, sort of a pretend obituary for an Anne Frank who was not murdered in the Holocaust. And what I’m sort of getting at is maybe she would have had something else to tell us if she had lived to describe her experiences.
[Music comes up in the clear]
Anne Frank, noted Dutch novelist and essayist, died this past Wednesday at her home in Amsterdam. She was 92. A survivor of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, Frank’s acclaim was hard won. In her 20s, Frank struggled to find a publisher for her first book, “The House Behind,” a memoir of her experiences in hiding and in Nazi concentration camps. Disfigured by a brutal beating, Frank rarely granted interviews. Her later work, “The Return,” describes how her father did not recognize her upon their reunion in 1945. Frank supported herself as a journalist and in 1961, she earned notoriety for her fierce reporting on the Israeli capture of Nazi henchmen Adolf Eichmann, an extradition via kidnapping that the European elite condemned. After covering Eichmann’s Jerusalem trial for the Dutch press, Frank found the traction to publish “Margot,” a novel that imagined her sister living the life she once dreamed of, as a midwife in the Galilee. A surreal work that breaks the boundaries between novel and memoir and leaves ambiguous which of its characters are dead or alive, the Hebrew translation of “Margot” became a runaway bestseller, while an English language edition eventually found a small but appreciative audience in the United States. Frank’s subsequent books and essays brought her renown as a clear-eyed prophet carefully attuned to hypocrisy. Her reputation for relentless conscience built on her many investigative articles on subjects ranging from Soviet oppression to Arab-Israeli wars, was cemented by her internationally acclaimed 1984 book, “Every House Behind,” written after her father’s death. Beginning with an homage to her father’s unconditional devotion, the book progresses into a searing and accusatory work that reimagines her childhood hiding place as a metaphor for Western civilization, whose facade of high culture concealed a demonic evil. “Every flat, every house, every office building in every city,” she wrote, “they all have a house behind.” Her readers will long remember the words from her first book, quoted from a diary she kept at 15: “I don’t believe that the big men are guilty of the war. Oh, no, the little man is just as guilty. Otherwise, the peoples of the world would have risen in revolt long ago. There is in people simply an urge to destroy, an urge to kill, to murder and rage, and until all mankind without exception undergoes a great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated, and grown will be cut down and disfigured, and mankind will have to begin all over again.” Her last book, a memoir, was titled “To Begin Again.”
Jay Ruderman: So powerful, and puts her perspective on living through this experience in a very different way than the world is consuming her perspective right now. I’d like to shift and talk about Harbin, China. First of all, what brought you to Harbin, China? I was fascinated about you walking around there with layers and layers of clothing. But what was it like to be there?
Dara Horn: Sure, so, for context, Harbin is this city in northeastern China. It’s south of Siberia, north of North Korea, which is, you know, as awesome as it sounds, and it’s kind of known in, sort of like, tourist circles because it has this world-renowned ice festival. Every winter, they have like 10,000 workers come and build this, like, entire city out of ice. So, that’s sort of the draw for tourists to go to Harbin. And I remember considering whether I wanted to go to Harbin and thinking like, “Well, you know, is it really worth going halfway around the world just to see an ice city? I wonder if there’s anything else to see in Harbin?” And, just looking on travel websites, and it’s like, “Top 10 Things to See in Harbin,” and it’s like “ice festival, ice festival, ice festival, synagogue, synagogue, Jewish cemetery, museum, Jewish, you know, Jewish Museum, Jewish cemetery, ice festival.” And I thought, like, “Huh, that’s weird.” And I started looking into this. And what I discovered is that the city of Harbin was essentially built by Jews. This was something that happened in the early late 19th, early 20th century, the Russians had gotten a concession from the Chinese to build a branch of the Trans-Siberian railroad into China. They needed educated Russian-speaking entrepreneurs to build this railroad junction for them, like they basically needed a town in this extremely underpopulated region. And 20,000 Jews, Russian Jews, moved to Manchuria and built this city, built all the infrastructure of this city. And then what eventually happened is that, you know, as I put it in the book, you already know this story has to end badly. There’s various regimes that make life more and more impossible for the Jews until the last Jewish family is evacuated by the Israelis in 1962. Today, there’s one Jew who lives in Harbin, and your listeners, I don’t say this in the book, but your listeners will appreciate, this place is so remote that they don’t even have a Chabad. So, no Chabad, one Jew. But what’s interesting about it is this, the city government, about 10-or-15-years ago, decided to spend $30 million restoring Jewish heritage sites. But what was amazing to me was going to Harbin so and, to your point about sort of how it feels to be there, it is very, very strange. Because you’re in this entirely Chinese city at this point, I mean, there’s really, there’s certainly no Jewish community anymore, there’s one person who, actually is an Israeli, who settled there 20-years ago for an academic position, and he’s involved in restoring these sites. But what’s amazing about it is that you walk through these sites, and the way they’re restored is so bizarre, because there’s, for example, there’s this Jewish Museum there, it’s in the building of what used to be the synagogue, one of the two synagogues in Harbin, and they have part of their exhibit where you walk into a room, and there’s like a life-sized plaster sculpture of a man sitting at a desk with a typewriter on it, and then the caption says, “Real Jewish Businessman in Harbin.” And then you go to the next room, and there’s like, you know, two life-size, plaster kids playing with blocks, and there’s a caption that’s like, “Real Jewish Children in Harbin.” You walk through this whole Jewish museum that tells you all about all these wonderful, rich Jews, notice they’re all rich, which was in fact not true in Harbin. “Look at these wonderful, rich Jews who built all these great businesses in Harbin.” Nothing in this museum tells you why this wonderful community no longer exists. They don’t tell you! And you know, you’re walking through these places, and, you’re like, they weren’t so crazy about the Jews when they lived here, because that’s why there are no more Jews here anymore. To your question about, like, how do you feel to be there, you know, as a Jewish traveler, you feel deeply uncomfortable in these places, or at least I do. There’s this deep discomfort. And, as I said before, the uncomfortable moments to me are where the story is, because then I’m thinking, “Why do I feel so uncomfortable?” And what I realized is that every time I’ve been to one of these places in my life, I have buried the reason for my discomfort. I have told myself that it’s sorrow, right? Like, oh, it’s just so sad that this community that used to be here isn’t here anymore, and don’t I feel grateful to these non-Jewish people here who are so nice and restored this synagogue or made this museum or whatever it is. And what I realized is that I was lying to myself, because that discomfort, it wasn’t sorrow. It’s rage. And I realized that my whole life, I’m burying this rage. And, in Harbin, it just sort of became so clear to me, I just felt this, this anger.
Jay Ruderman: You know one of the passages that sort of stuck with me is that, when you were in the museum and going through it, and you’re looking at Jewish artifacts, and you see a Seder plate. And the Seder plate you’re looking at it and you’re like, “Oh, this must be an old Seder plate.” And you’re like, “Wait a second. This is a modern Seder plate. I have the same Seder plate in my house.”
Dara Horn: Right. It was done, it wasn’t even done that well. There’s this exhibit where it’s like, you know, “These are the real, authentic Judaica of this family.” And, yes, a Seder plate under glass in this exhibit, and I’m like, why are there English words all over this Seder plate? Like they’re literally like, it’s like an American Jewish Seder plate where it says like, “bitter herbs,” right. I’m like, “Why would this Russian Jewish family in China have a Seder plate with English words on it?” And the answer, of course, is that they didn’t. They bought the Seder plate like on eBay. Like it was so transparent, like, there was no attempt to even, like, pretend. But the reality is, like, that level of ignorance, you see it everywhere, right? You see it everywhere. I mean, you know, you mentioned Whoopi Goldberg’s comments, like, people don’t know anything about Jewish culture. They know that Jews got murdered in the Holocaust and that’s kind of it. And so, what I find is, like, in the Jewish community, we have this need to sort of defer to these non-Jewish, you know, these non-Jewish institutions that are like, that we feel like are doing us some kind of favor. That’s not really what’s happening in a lot of these cases. And that’s really what I’m calling out in the book.
Jay Ruderman: I want to talk about something that you write in your book, about a project. I hope I’m pronouncing this correctly. The Diarna project?
Dara Horn: Yes, well, so Diarna, and I encourage your listeners to investigate this, it’s very available online, it’s D-I-A-R-N-A.org. If you go to their website, this is an online museum of Jewish historical sites mostly in the Islamic world, although they’ve now expanded it beyond that.
Man 1 [archival sound]: This place was full of haystack. So, I start to clean up the hay, and I saw all this hebrew writing that you can see here. And then I found the hechal, you can see … [fades]
Dara Horn: This was really an attempt to preserve these sites for future generations, because, we were just talking just now about Jewish heritage sites in Europe and other places where they’ve, like, you know, local communities have invested money and effort in making this into a tourist attraction. You have the opposite thing happening in places like Tunisia, where these places really have just like, are going to seed or are threatened with destruction. And what Diarna does is they send photographers to these places to document these sites, and they also then collect oral histories from Jews who lived in these places before these communities were decimated.
[archival sound of A mazrou man recounting Jewish prayer]
Dara Horn: I found it incredibly moving.
[archival sound of torah reading in Fez, Morocco, 1950s ]
Dara Horn: And what’s astonishing is you learn about how old and large and vibrant these countries’ communities were. Like, did you know that Tripoli was 25% Jewish in 1940? Right, Tripoli in Libya? How many Jews are in Libya today? Zero. What I found really moving was that these are places where, you know, for the most part, Western tourists can’t go. In a lot of these cases you can’t go to Libya, you know, today, because there’s so much political instability in some of these places. Syria. There was a woman, Christie Sherman, who’s a photographer, she went on an expedition for them in 2009 and she documented this 500-year old synagogue in Damascus for them.
Man 2: So, again, this is the entrance of the synagogue, the sanctuary itself.
Dara Horn: She was the last person to step into that synagogue with a camera, and it was destroyed during the civil war in Syria about two years later. So you know, that’s sort of like the kind of work these people are doing, is really racing the clock before these sites are destroyed.
Jay Ruderman: So, I mean, it’s so important, and we’re gonna put a link to the website, because I think people should check it out and understand that in many different countries around the world, there were vibrant Jewish communities that, as you said, don’t exist at all. I want to talk about literature, and specifically Shakespeare. You have a very moving part in your book with your son who wanted to listen to a recording of “The Merchant of Venice.” And I’m wondering if you could start off by reading on the bottom of page 207, where it starts with the trial scene.
[Music comes up in the clear]
The trial scene was agonizing. We listened together as Shylock went to court to extract his pound of flesh, as the heroine, chirping about the quality of Mercy forbade him to spill the Christians blood as he so desperately desired.
Joan Plowright: Take then thy bond, take thou thy pound of flesh. But in the cutting it, if thou dost shed one drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods are by the laws of Venice confiscate unto the state of Venice.
Dara Horn: As the Court confiscated his property, along with his soul through force conversion conversion, as the play’s most cherished characters used his own words to taunt and demean him, relishing their vanquishing of the bloodthirsty Jew, my son stopped asking me to explain. 20-minutes of congratulatory hijinks followed Shylock’s final exit, as the cast reveled in their victory and his seized assets. At last it was over. The minivan fell silent. Then my son announced, “I never want to hear that again.” “You will definitely hear that again,” I said.
Jay Ruderman: So you obviously exposed your 10-year old son to “The Merchant of Venice,” which, as you said, is one of the most read pieces of literature. How should we as Jews approach this? I mean, should we do what you did, or should we try to hide our children from the xenophobia and anti-semitism as long as we can?
Dara Horn: Well, I mean, you’re not going to succeed in hiding it. So you know, why try? But what I talked about in the book, the reason I sort of share this with my son was because, in a sense, I had been gaslit. And what I mean by that is, you know, I read this play in school, like a lot of people did, and I sort of had been told by all the teachers the way that all of us were, that, you know, “Oh, this play is not really anti-semitic, it’s just a product of its time.” And, you know, there’s, the proof is that, you know, it’s so much better than other contemporary works and look, Shakespeare gives Shylock this monologue where he talks about how he’s really just another human, right? He says, “I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes…” [fades]
Laurence Olivier: I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions. If you prick us, do we not bleed?
Dara Horn: My son heard this, 10-years old, and says, “Mom, this is the evil supervillain monologue that every evil supervillain does in every Marvel movie.” My son was like, “What idiot would fall for the evil supervillain monologue?” And I’m like, “Well, I guess me.” I have a PhD in comparative literature. Yep, I fell for the evil supervillain monologue. It was that obvious to a child. And, you know, what I would say is, like,, how do we respond to this? As I said in that passage, like, the answer isn’t like to cancel Shakespeare, right? I mean, because, I mean, then you would have to basically cancel all of Western civilization. Right? I mean, we’re living in this. This is what we’re living in. I think that the answer is to, to not fall for it. Right? To Be aware of it, to understand it and not to fall for it.
Jay Ruderman: Well, it sounds like your son was ahead of his time, or mature, that he really got what was going on there.
Dara Horn: He’s watched a lot of Marvel movies.
Jay Ruderman: He has. All of our kids have. I want to talk about, I think, what was for me the most impactful part of the book because it just felt so real. You know, we’re going through this period of time when there are very troubling, violent hate crimes committed against Jews: the Pittsburgh Temple of Life massacre, the hostage situation recently at a synagogue in Texas, these made big national news, but there were some incidents that didn’t make so much news. And let’s talk about what happened in several attacks in New Jersey, some of which were very close to where you lived. And, I’m wondering if you could talk about what happened there and how it impacted you.
Dara Horn: Yes, so there was an attack, this was just before the pandemic, in December of 2019. This one was on a kosher grocery store in Jersey City that was part of the Satmar community, Satmar Hasidic community there. And this was a gun battle: five people died, two of whom are assailants and three were people in the store.
News 4 Now Newscaster: Turning now to the news, and we are getting our first look at yesterday’s attack in Jersey City that left a police officer dead, two suspects… [fades under]
Dara Horn: And what was amazing to me was the way this attack was portrayed in the media. Always, it was always basically some way of saying that it was the fault of the victims.
News 4 Now Newscaster: Investigators are not yet saying Tuesday’s violence was a hate crime.
Dara Horn: Basically, I couldn’t find a news article that didn’t say something derogatory about the community being attacked while reporting the attack. And in the Jersey City case, it was usually, the way that they were portraying it was that these Hasidic Jews were gentrifying a minority neighborhood. Which to me is very interesting, because, I mean, first of all, these people were fleeing gentrification. They were in Jersey City, because they were priced out of Brooklyn, right? Second of all, these people are highly visible members of the, according to the FBI, the biggest hate crime target in the country. Like these aren’t, you know, white hipsters. And the last, you know, is there this murderous rage against gentrification where people are walking into cool coffee shops with AK-47s and, you know, like blowing away people with man buns? Because like, I haven’t seen that happening. What I realized, like, why are we pretending that this is about gentrification? And the answer is that these articles are all sending a signal. The signal is that these people deserve it. Right? This is victim blaming. It would be very similar to if you were writing a news story about a woman who was sexually assaulted, and you spend most of the article being like, “Just for context, here’s what she was wearing.” And that’s what’s sort of most astonishing to me. I spoke at the beginning of our conversation about this idea we have in anti-bigotry education in this country where you teach people not to be bigoted by saying like, “Oh, look at this group over here, you shouldn’t be prejudiced against them because they’re just like you and me. They’re just like everyone else.” But of course, when you teach that, what you’re sending, the message you’re sending is, if somebody isn’t like you and me, then it’s fine to hack them with a machete, and that’s exactly what we see happening here. And what was so devastating to me was that realization, was that actually, there was zero sympathy for the victims of this hate crime, zero. And the reason there’s zero sympathy is because, you know, these people don’t look like you and me, they have weird hairstyles, and therefore, it’s totally fine to blow them away with automatic weapons, and that–that message came loud and clear.
Jay Ruderman: I’ll tell you a very short story that, when I was a very young child, well, way before you were born, I was at a place called Great Adventure in New Jersey.
Dara Horn: We go there all the time.
Jay Ruderman: I don’t know, on that day, there were many, many 1000s of Hasidic Jews, and we were in line for a ride. And the person behind us said, “Uch, these people, they’re the cause of all the problems here.” And my mother turned around, and she said, “You know, we’re Jewish, also.” And the person’s response was, “Oh, yeah, but you’re not like them.” So I think what I took away from that is, anti-semitism could be focused on people that look Jewish, but it’s actually against everyone that’s Jewish. There’s a lot of attention on on talking about the Holocaust and expecting that that will have an impact on anti-semitism. And I think your point that you make throughout the book is that it doesn’t go together, that you can teach about the Holocaust and people still can be anti-semitic.
Dara Horn: Absolutely. And you know, what, what those people said, like, “Oh, you’re not like them.” This is part of what I talked about at the beginning of our conversation. I said, you know, the message of the book is people love to tell stories about dead Jews that make them feel good about themselves. The other piece in that is that Jews have to erase themselves in order to make that story possible. And when that person behind you in line says, “Oh, you’re not like them.” What they’re saying is, “Jews are fine as long as they’re not Jewish.” That goes to that example in the Anne Frank museum where that young man has to hide his yarmulke under a baseball hat. What they’re basically sending the messages is like, you know, “Jews are great. We love Jews, as long as they’re not Jewish,” right? Like, we want to celebrate the Jews, humanity, the nice Jews, right? Like the dead ones, not the Jews who are doing yucky things like I don’t know, living in Israel or practicing Judaism? Right? Like, Jews are fine, as long as they’re not Jewish. It’s really the message of that. It’s this requirement that Jews erase themselves. And yeah, I mean, that’s really what you’re seeing with that comment of like, “Oh, you’re not like those Hasidic Jews.” Like, well, what’s your problem with the Hasidic Jews? Is it that they’re Jewish? Because it sure seems like that’s your problem.
Jay: Dara, I really want to thank you for being my guest today on “All Inclusive.” I know that you’ve said in the past that anti-semitism is not a Jewish problem, it’s a problem for everyone. I do want to encourage anyone who has not read your book, wherever they buy books, to pick up a copy of, “People Love Dead Jews: Reports From a Haunted Present.” It’s a powerful book. It’s a book that should be read by everyone. And thank you so much for being with me and spending time with me today.
Dara Horn: Thanks so much for having me.
All Inclusive – Outro:
Jay Ruderman: “All Inclusive” is a production of the Ruderman Family Foundation. This show is produced by Yochai Maital and Jackie Schwartz. It was edited by Matt Litman. If you enjoyed this episode, please check out all of our previous conversations. Look up, “All Inclusive,” wherever you get your podcasts. As always, if you have an idea for a guest or just want to share your thoughts, I’d love to hear from you. You can tweet me – @jayruderman, or email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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I’m Jay Ruderman and join me for the next installment of “All Inclusive.” I’ll be talking with Niambe Tosh, daughter of the world-famous reggae musician, Peter Tosh, founder of The Wailers, along with Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer, for a conversation about inequality, legalization of marijuana, and how a family tragedy spurred her into action.