Brickner: A Yom Kippur for us all

Columnist Joan Brickner reflects on the Ken Burns documentary The U.S. and the Holocaust and the continued rise of antisemitism.

Joan Brickner, Forum Readers Board
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In Michigan, “Bill” and I had been friends for years. I even introduced him to his wife. But, out of the blue, he posted a nasty, anti-Biden message and I responded poorly. Last week, however, I sent him an apology.

It was only later I realized I sent the letter on Yom Kippur (pronounced “yaam – kuh – poor”). This is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar: a day to admit wrongdoing and practice repentance. In my limited understanding, a time to recognize we are hurting, but also that we hurt people, and we seek to improve: We hurt. We hurt. We change.

We all could benefit from this practice. Oddly enough, I think such an ideal relates to one of the reasons for long-standing antisemitism. Please hear me out.

Recently, we watched Ken Burns’ documentary “ The U.S. and the Holocaust .” My husband and I found it powerful, connecting America to Nazism, past and present.

America inspired Adolf Hitler. For instance, automaker Henry Ford wrote antisemitic literature which led to him receiving a Nazi medal, accepting the award with a smile. Jim Crow laws validated the segregation of Jews, before the Holocaust.


Several years ago, I attended a Lutheran church. Lutherans celebrated the church’s 500th anniversary. Yet, Lutherans failed to acknowledge the vile antisemitism of Martin Luther and the later support, passive and active, of Hitler. No atonement.

Now, left and right, Jews experience sharpening attacks on individuals, on synagogues, with some liberals opposing Israel’s right to exist.

And why this long hatred?

For years, I heard Jews were hated because they “killed Christ.” But is that true?

Could it be that Jews were hated – at least in part – because Jesus came out of Judaism? That, despite major differences between Judaism and Christianity, Jesus was born a Jew, and, in a sense, spread Jewish principles to Gentiles, rather than selfishness, power and nationalism?

Indeed, two historians in Burns’ documentary suggest a similar idea.

Peter Hayes says Jews were considered the most dangerous minority partly because Jews “brought the notion of conscience, the golden rule, fair play, international cooperation, into the world.”

Timothy Snyder added that Jews are “responsible for every global idea, every universal idea; anything that allows us to see each other as people rather than members of a race, that’s the Jews.”


Globalism. It’s become a hated word.

Rabbi David Wolpe writes, “In the Bible, the words ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (Lev. 19:18)…. Forgiving your neighbors is one way of loving them, and learning to love yourself.”

This love means we do not dismiss help for the poor and sick as “virtue signaling.” It means equal justice under the law. And it means we don’t practice a tribalism which says abortion, lying, and wife-beating are wrong, unless it’s “one of our guys.”

Yom Kippur? It’s not about forgetting. We need documentaries like Burns’. Rabbi Eliyahu Fink says, “We are reminding the world about the Holocaust so that it should never happen again – to anyone else.” The violence of the Hebrew Bible need not to be repeated. But those principles of love, justice, forgiveness, and kindness help us all, spoken by Moses and Jesus, help us all.

Interested in a broad range of issues, including social and faith issues, Brickner serves as a regular contributor to the Forum’s opinion page. She is a retired English instructor, having taught in Michigan and Minnesota.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

Brickner writes, "Some call this the “politics of distraction.” We must not drag attention away from real issues to sideshows.

Opinion by Joan Brickner
Interested in a broad range of issues, including social and faith issues, Joan Brickner serves as a regular contributor to the Forum’s opinion page. She is a retired English instructor, having taught in Michigan and Minnesota.

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