It is not easy to confront Donald Trump, but my uncle Jack has never shied away from bullies. Trump has defeated the Republican candidates, heaping insults on them to diminish their manhood. My uncle Jack trained as a boxer, which gives him the well-known gloves-on, ready to throw a punch posture.
Even if you don’t know my uncle or not fond of the sport, you realize that boxing the fighting with fists is about super confronting. It has a long history going back to the Greeks with ups and downs in popularity throughout the centuries. Boxing gained prestige in the west to become an official sport when it got included in the Olympic Games in 1904. Uncle Jack’s training is an essential qualification to challenge Trump if you consider that boxing requires enormous courage and focused determination.
My uncle Jack took up boxing in his early 20s. It was an unusual pursuit for a young man raised in an Orthodox Jewish family and it was not surprising that Jack did not disclose his boxing training to his family. My uncle loved boxing, but he was not preparing for a professional career. He took up the sport because he believed that he had a right to defend himself against bullies. Jews in Germany have been attacked by far-right thugs on the streets of Frankfurt am Mein and Jack hoped that boxing would allow him to defend himself.
Jack lived in a city that hardly resembled contemporary Frankfurt. It describes itself now as “the most international city in Germany, the largest financial center on the continent, the historical city of coronations, the city of Goethe and the Frankfurt School.” Uncle Jack trained as a boxer when Goethe was reviled and a few years before the Nazis shut down the famous Frankfurt School of Critical Theory and its faculty found a safe haven in America.
This is uncle Jack’s story, yet he would like the readers to know that the city of Frankfurt has had a Jewish community at least since the 12th century. Jewish roots and tears and joys and scholarship and generations of families have been part of the city. Throughout its history and for six centuries, Jews experienced periods of a thriving Jewish life disrupted by killings, massacres, forced conversions and repeated returns and building anew.
In 1824, hope spread its fragile wings as Jews received rights equal to non-Jews in Frankfurt and the city became a vibrant Jewish center, a birthplace of Reform Judaism and home to a thriving Orthodox community. In 1921, however, the equal rights granted to Jews were threatened. In 1930, Uncle Jack’s boxing training was his response to the rising power of the far-right thugs that organized attacks on Jews. Its seemed that hope, once again would wither as a fear- mongering, screaming leader with a ridiculous moustache managed to convince a nation that all its problems would be over if they just got rid of the Jews.
Xenophobic anti-Semitic ideas that surfaced full force in Germany were not enough; bad ideas required instruments of fear. Hitler craftily created the Nazi ‘stormtroopers’ know as SA (Sturm Abteilung) and as ‘Brownshirts,’ to dominate the streets by gang violence to silence, frighten and murder dissenters.
Uncle Jack thought that a good fight was possible and what better than boxing? He had a knack for the sport and became quite good at it. The Nazis however were no ordinary bullies; they were gangsters who had already known that they would become the “law and order” of the land. Their slogan, in hindsight raises a red flag when Trump promises us that ‘law and order’ would make America great again. Yes, uncle Jack would be first to agree that any comparison with Nazi Germany needs careful analysis, but the politics of screaming ‘law and order’ to promote bigotry and hatred of the ‘other’ is a historic echo and a reminder of the danger of candidates like Donald Trump.
In a blink of an eye and the imposition of the yellow star, attacks on Jews in Germany would go unpunished. The law intended to protect citizens had no meaning when it came to minority citizens like Jews. Lawless terror became evident when Uncle Jack and several Jewish friends were ambushed one night by a large group of Nazis with heavy clubs. Jack was seriously beaten up and brought home. Though he needed medical care, my grandparents were afraid to take him to a hospital. A Jewish doctor came to the house to tend to Jack and as soon as he was well enough to travel, he went to live with our relatives in Belgium.
In hindsight it may seem that German Jews should have seen Hitler’s menacing danger. Yet, at the time the Jewish community in Germany was deeply divided. There were those who thought that Hitler was just a phase, a political episode that would soon pass. They thought that Germany would not allow the likes of Hitler to take over. And there were those like my family who saw on the bloodied injured Jack the writing on the wall.
My father told me years later that Jews like uncle Jack wanted to prove that self-defense was possible, that Jews could stand up for themselves. In the attack on the Jewish young men, his brother Jack realized that courage was not enough, that Jews were a small ethno/religious minority in a country where the German state would protect violence and persecution.
Loving uncle Jack and growing up in Israel I wanted to know why courage was not enough; it was critically important to my father that I and my generation understand that when Hitler came to power there were just 500.000 Jews in a population of 67 million people in Germany; that Jews were less than one percent, and that a small minority could never stand up against the genocide that would come. Nazi propaganda distorted the numbers of the census to give the false impression that Jews were everywhere out to destroy Germany and few called the Nazis on the facts.
That distortion of facts to promote fear is as important now in 2016 as it was then in Germany. Attention to numbers that bigots throw around is of utmost political urgency. We are all reminded of it when we now hear Donald Trump tell us how he saw thousands of Muslims dancing in New Jersey on September 11. Journalists and scholars have looked into it and there is no shred of evidence that it had ever happened.
Yet, I keep telling uncle Jack that America isn’t Germany. But what about the cartoon of the Star of David and a money grabbing Hillary that Trump promoted? And what about the joy of Trump’s supporters like the KKK David Duke and white supremacists groups who claim that Trump’s message is their message? And what about those who come to Trump rallies, a vigilante mob screaming to jail Hillary or shoot her? Then there was Kasich’s warning ad that said: “If Trump becomes president, ‘you better hope there’s someone left to help you.’”
So, what is uncle Jack saying about confronting Trump? If he were alive today he would be 110 years of doing good in the world. Knowing him, I can see him taking off his boxing gloves and handing them over to Hillary and to all of us. “Fight,” he would say.
Hillary Clinton has recently done what Germans at the time had not done, she focused on those who support dangerous leaders and she named followers of Trump as “Deplorables.” Criticism immediately rained on her claiming that that the naming was not politically smart because it would alienate so many Trump supporters. Hillary has done what many here are refusing to do, to speak of the danger of a leader who promotes a violent xenophobic racist campaign. Whether his supporters physically attack protesters, or shout obscenities, or threaten Hillary, or “explain” Trump in the media, what should we call them?
Uncle Jack of blessed memory would remind us that Hitler won the election in 1933. Many who voted for him because they refused to take him seriously, came to regret it when it was too late. He would say that in America in 2016 we are obligated as citizens in a democracy not to be bystanders, not to allow lies to go unchallenged, not to avert our eyes. We must never say that Trump doesn’t concern us because we are not Muslims, not Mexican, not refugees, not Blacks, not women, not Jews.