Monthly Archives: February 2023

My Romance by Frances Cohen

My mother Frances Cohen wrote down her memoirs in her late eighties. This story, how she met my father Bill Cohen, is one of our family favorites. More of her stories can be found on this blog as well as in Fradel’s Story, a collection of her articles co-written with me.

Since today is Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d write about my romances until I met my true love. The saying goes, “You have to kiss many frogs until you meet your true love.” Well, I knew many frogs.

I was a senior in high school when I experienced my first romance. I thought that Bernie had the bluest eyes and the curliest hair. I was completely infatuated. The economy wasn’t the best. So, our date consisted mostly of walking and holding hands. Bernie was my date for the Senior Prom. Although he wore a very shabby suit and I borrowed a gown, I thought I was lucky to have a date to the prom with the guy I adored. Things changed after I graduated high school. I got my first job in a toy store for $10 a week six days a week. Bernie didn’t have a job, so in the fall when the leaves died, so did our romance.

That New Year’s Eve was not a happy one for me. Instead of giving me a gift on Christmas Eve, my boss told me he did not need my services anymore. Worse yet, I did not have a date!

Time passed. Both my girlfriends were going steady. Their problem was that their boyfriends did not have a car. Charley, one of their friends, did, so my girlfriends urged me to date him. I was not especially fond of him, but we all were fond of his car. Conveniently, Charley was able to drive the three couples around. The six of us even went to the midnight show at the Apollo Theater.

Financially, things improved for me when I finally got a good bookkeeping job that I loved. When summer arrived, I was given a week’s vacation with pay. I decided to spend it in a hotel in the Catskill Mountains. The hotel had all the ingredients for romance, including swimming, boating, entertainment, and dancing. The first night at the hotel, I was seated next to a tall, handsome guy named Harry. We spent the whole week enjoying all the activities, and by the end of the week, I was completely infatuated with him. We continued dating after I got back from my vacation. I was having a great time as I was dating Charley on Saturday and Harry on Sundays. That situation ended a month later when Charley wanted to get engaged. How could I marry Charley when I was wild about Harry?

When Harry invited me to a formal dinner dance at the Astor Hotel that his firm was sponsoring, I was delighted. I purchased a new black taffeta gown with a matching purse and matching shoes. When Harry arrived to take me to the dinner dance, looking handsome in a tuxedo with a corsage in hand, I was ecstatic. But shortly after the dance, he stopped calling. I was really hurt. I guess I was wild about Harry, but Harry wasn’t wild about me.

I didn’t date anyone interesting for quite a while. Now that I was almost twenty-two years old, my mother was eager to see me settled with a handsome, rich, Jewish man. Cupid stepped in to help. My brother Eli, our cousin Elliot, and their friend Bill Cohen were all working for my Uncle Paul, who had a chain of department stores in Upstate New York. The three of them came home one weekend to visit each of their families. Bill, who had seen my picture at my Aunt Rose and Uncle Ruby’s house, asked Elliot and Eli to fix me up on a “blind” date.

That night I finally met my true love. Bill and I were attracted to each other immediately, and there was instant chemistry from the first moment we saw each other that was to last for a lifetime. My mother’s prayers were answered—almost! Bill was handsome and Jewish. Rich he wasn’t, but two out of three was not bad!

It was to be a long-distance romance. Bill made the eight-hour trip to see me as often as he could, but we only saw one another less than ten times before we married. We wrote every day—I still have his letters in a blue satin bag I keep in my dresser! We had so much in common: our love of reading, our respect for education, our desire for children, and our large, close-knit families. We soon realized that our family trees even had connecting branches as both our families came from small villages near to each other in Lithuania.

Even more astounding, we had actually “met” over twenty years earlier as children through those connections. In 1919, when I was two years old, I contracted the Spanish flu. When my lungs filled up with fluid, the doctor saved my life by cutting an incision into my back to drain them. It was recommended that I spend time away from our tiny apartment in Brooklyn and breathe country air. My mother Ethel quickly made arrangements for the two of us to visit her stepmother’s sister Ittel [Levinson] and her husband Archik Perelman, who lived on a farm in Burlington, Vermont. While there, Ethel and I were visited by Archik’s brother and sister-in-law, Itsik and Sarah Perelman; their daughter Annie [Perelman] Cohen, and her six-year- old son, Bill. There is an expression “My father married my mother. Why do I have to marry a stranger?” Well, Bill didn’t feel like a stranger to me.

On Valentine’s Day, 1940, Bill made a special trip in to see me. We went to the movies and then went out for sundaes at an ice cream parlor. After spending three hours watching Gone with the Wind, Bill must have thought I was Scarlett O’Hara, and so he asked me to marry him. I must have thought he was Rhett Butler, because I said yes. We were married that summer and have spent the last sixty-six years celebrating Valentine’s Days, our anniversary, and our love for each other.

This story, along with others my mother shared with her children, is found in Fradel’s Story, available on Amazon

Eighty-seven years later, a small victory against anti-Semititsm

Recently, the University of Southern California renamed the school track and field Allyson Felix Field in honor of the USC alumna and its illustrious 11-time Olympic medalist. Most media sources did not include in its coverage the previous name of the venue: Cromwell Field. What is the story behind the change?

Dean Cromwell, known as the “Maker of Champions” headed the USC track and field team from 1909 through 1948. During his tenure, he guided the team to 12 NCAA team national championships and 34 individual NCAA titles. A darker story exists: As assistant coach for the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Cromwell was one of the people responsible for the expulsion of the only two Jewish American athletes on the track and field team – Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman. 

The decision to erase Cromwell’s name follows USC’s recent policy to remove the names of well-known figures with dark pasts. In 2020, USC removed the name of its seventh president, Rufus von KleinSmid, from one of its most prominent buildings, citing his support of eugenics as well as his tolerance and support of pro-Nazi faculty. Soon after, the college removed a John Wayne exhibit at their School of Cinematic Arts following student protests against the actor’s history of racism and homophobia.

Cromwell’s words and actions deserved the same fate. In 1936, he spoke at a Nazi-organized German Day celebration in Los Angeles, California. According to the American Jewish World, the venue was filled with swastika flags and people dressed as storm troopers. In his remarks, Cromwell said, “Oh boy, if I could only be that handsome boy Adolf [Hitler] in New York for an hour.” He also effused that he did not see “a single colored man, woman or children [sic]” during his Olympics time in Germany, adding he did not object if they decided to leave.

As reported in a June 26, 2020, article by Larry Elder on, Cromwell was also known for his racism and belief that Blacks were not equal to humans. An excerpt in Cromwell’s 1941 book Championship Techniques in Track and Field, he noted “the Negro athlete excels because he is closer to the primitive than the white athlete.” 

Cromwell’s racist rant continued: “It was not so long ago that his ability to sprint and jump was a life-and-death matter in the jungle. His muscles are pliable and his easygoing disposition is a valuable aid to the mental and physical relaxation a runner and jumper must have.” Despite outcries from the Los Angeles community, he not only remained as coach but was later honored by USC’s naming of the venue he oversaw for almost 40 years.

Calls to boycott the games began soon after the Nazi’s rise to power. Avery Brundage, head of the U.S. Olympic Committee, was determined that the United States accept the invitation to Berlin. Known as a Nazi sympathizer and an antisemite, he brusquely dismissed such concerns as the work of “a Jewish/communist conspiracy.” 

The outcry grew louder in 1935, when the Reichstag, the Nazi-controlled parliament, passed the harshly restrictive Nuremberg Laws, which deprived Germany’s Jews of citizenship, forbade intermarriage and decreed that no German girls work as servants for Jews. Many feared the games would be a Nazi propaganda tool where, as stated in an article about Glickman in, Hitler would extol the superiority of “pure Aryans over nations that allowed Jews, blacks and other ‘mongrel’ races to compete on their behalf.”

Brundage travelled to Germany to investigate the anti-Jewish claims that favored the boycott. He returned to the U.S. praising Hitler and dismissing reports of discrimination “In forty years of Olympic history,” Brundage said, “I doubt if the number of Jewish athletes competing from all nations totaled 1 per cent of all those in the games.” [According to a 2020 article in The Nation, Brundage’s number was a fabrication.] In the end, the United States decided to participate in the 1936 Summer Olympics. Both he and Cromwell later joined the isolationist America First Committee, which attracted Nazi sympathizers.

Brundage chose two U.S. college coaches to oversee the men’s U.S. track and field team: Lawson Robertson, University of Pennsylvania, would serve as head coach; USC’s Dean Cromwell was named assistant track coach. Several runners, including Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalf qualified for individual events. A second group of men qualified for the relays, including two Jewish college athletes: Marty Glickman, Syracuse University, and Sam Stoller, University of Michigan. Each were to run a 100-meter leg on the 400 meter relay team.

As Glickman later wrote in his memoir The Fastest Kid on the Block, his suspicions about Cromwell and the fairness of the relay team selection process began at the American Olympic team trials in New York. After a very close finish, films showed that Glickman had placed third behind Owens and Metcalf in the 100-meter dash. Under pressure from Cromwell, the judges ruled that he placed fifth, thus losing his place on the team as an individual participant to USC’s Foy Draper, who was openly favored by Cromwell. 

When the athletes arrived in Berlin, there was little public display of the horrors that would soon follow. Hitler had promised there would be no antisemitic demonstrations, and his propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, ordered all anti-Jewish signs removed from Berlin streets. But the swastikas flew everywhere and the stiff-armed Heil Hitler salute was a constant presence. In a special Olympic edition of Der Stürmer, the virulently antisemitic German weekly recognized as a cog in Hitler’s Nazi propaganda machine, a cartoon was printed that reviled the Jews and said, “Jews are our misfortune.” Earlier, Julius Streicher, the paper’s editor and a Hitler favorite wrote: “We waste no words here…Jews are Jews. And there is no place for them in German sports…Germany is the Fatherland of Germans, not Jews.” 

Hitler’s dreams of a display of his master Aryan race were soon dashed by the accomplishments of the American Black athletes, who won many of the medals.

In the days leading up to their event, Glickman, Stoller, and their teammates practiced diligently for their 4X100 relay, which the United States’ team was highly favored to win. The morning before the scheduled preliminary heats, however, Robertson and Cromwell called a meeting and announced that there were rumors of hidden German “super runners” who were to step into the relay. As a result, Glickman and Stoller would be replaced with two other faster runners, Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe. 

According to an article from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Owens, to his credit, protested against the move. Citing his exhaustion and the three gold medals he had already won, Owens told Cromwell, ” Let Marty and Sam run, they deserve it,” Cromwell pointed his finger at him and said, “You’ll do as you’re told.” Glickman told the coaches there would be a ‘big stink’ if the only two Jews on the track and field team were pulled. Cromwell cut him off. “We’ll worry about that.”

On Aug. 9, 1936, Glickman and Stoller watched from the stands as the United States team of Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe, and USC track stars Foy Draper and Frank Wykoff won the 4X100 meter relay in a world record time of 39.8 seconds. With Owens and Metcalfe running the first and second leg, Hitler was spared the embarrassment of another Black man first crossing the finish line. The German ‘super runners’ never materialized, and the German relay team placed third behind United States and Italy, 1.4 seconds slower than the winning time.

Time and history have uncovered the truth. Avery Brundage wanted to spare Hitler the embarrassment of seeing Jewish runners cross the finish line first. Cromwell, also known for his antisemitism and racism, supported Brundage and also wanted his USC athletes in the race. The change in the members of the relay was not a result of lack of speed. It was a result of Brundage and Cromwell’s antisemitism. “What is absolutely clear is that the move was made to spare Hitler and Nazi Germany the embarrassment of having Jews standing on the podium,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in a July 4, 2020, article in the LA Times. “And if that isn’t antisemitism, I don’t know what is.”

Years later, Glickman reflected on his disappointment in The Fastest Kid on the Block. “Watching the final the following day, I see Metcalfe passing runners down the back stretch, he ran the second leg, and [I thought] that should be me out there. That should be me. That’s me out there.” Hopes for a second chance were lost with the onset of WWII. Upon his graduation from Syracuse, he became famous for his broadcasts of the New York Knicks basketball games and the football games of the New York Giants and the New York Jets. But he never forgot the 1936 Olympics or forgave the men responsible for blocking his and Stoller’s participation.

In 1998, the U.S. Olympic Committee awarded its first Gen. Douglas MacArthur medals to Stoller (posthumously) and Glickman. Citing the injustice done, USOC chairman William Hybl said, “We are not only atoning for this, but are [also] recognizing two great individuals.” 

In Judaism, there is an expression that reads “midah k’neged midah,” -measure for measure. One’s actions and the way they affect the world will eventually come to that person in ways one might not necessarily expect. Eighty-seven years after Berlin, the past has caught up with Cromwell with the removal of his name at the field he coached. Unfortunately, neither Stoller nor Glickman lived to see this happen. 

Published in the (Orlando) Heritage Florida Jewish News, February 10, 2023 and in (Capital Region, New York) The Jewish World, February 16, 2023

Today I am a woman: My adult bat mitzvah

I am publishing this on the thirtieth anniversary of my adult bat mitzvah, which was held at Congregation Beth Shalom, Clifton Park, NY.

My education at Congregation Beth Shalom in Plattsburg, New York, was strong in Jewish history and traditions, but it was very weak in Hebrew. If I wanted to learn the language needed to follow the service,  I either had to attend twice during the week, difficult with its one hour round trip, or I had to be preparing for a bat mitzvah, not something females did in the 1960’s in Upstate New York.

Our father had grown up in New York City in the Depression. His bar mitzvah ceremony was celebrated with several other boys in his Eastern Parkway synagogue, including the president of the shul’s son. The honor conferred on this golden boy was his reading most of the Torah portion and the haftorah and giving a  speech while the remaining b’na mitzvoth were left with very short prayers and shorter participation. The party consisted of some sponge cake and wine back at my father’s house followed by playing sandlot baseball.

As a result of my father’s experience, his son was to have everything denied the father. Jay’s bar mitzvah was a huge celebration. Over 120 people were invited to the service, including relatives we had never seen before and never saw again. Immediately following the service, my parents hosted a lovely reception at the Cumberland Hotel in Plattsburg. We all got new clothes for the party; I remember how special I felt in the “balloon” dress that was popular in 1961. 

As was the tradition in our reform synagogue, one’s Jewish education officially ended at sixteen years old with a Sunday morning confirmation service . My class consisted of three girls: Susan Singer, Andrea Siegel, and me, none of us who had had bat mitzvahs. We recited prayers and gave speeches. Mine was on anti-Semitism.  How in the world my teacher ever encouraged that topic and how I ever summarized its history in less than ten minutes I’ll never know, but I felt proud in my white robe and mortar board cap. A reception followed. What I remember most was how one of my teachers gave Susan and Andrea cards with cash gifts and completely ignored my presence. Not the sweetest memories to carry from my simchas.

Despite the snub,I loved learning about Jewish history and traditions. I attended classes with the grade behind me and even helped out in the primary grade classrooms. Once I left for college at Albany State, I attended services for Rosh Hosanna and Yom Kippur at Beth Emeth, but I was not involved in Hillel nor did I take any classes in Judaic Studies that were beginning to be offered.

It was not until my children were born that I began to be interested in studying Judaic topics again. Over the years, I took some basic Hebrew and playbook Hebrew classes so I could better follow the service. In the years I stayed home with my children, I seriously considered going back to school for a second master’s in Jewish Women’s Studies. When time constraints ruled out classes, I began a self-tutorial, reading books by Anzia Yezierska, Tillie Olsen,Cynthia Ozick, Grace Paley, and other noted Jewish female writers. This all went on the back burner when I returned to a full-time teaching position in 1986. 

In 1993, however, Flo Miller, one of  Congregation Beth Shalom’s teachers, suggested that I take a Haftorah trope class that summer with two other interested women. The four of us met each week around Flo’s kitchen table. By the end of the summer, each of us had chosen our own Haftorah for our adult bat mitzvah. I chose Mishpatim, the Torah portion whose  date for reading that year fell on the week of  my father’s ninetieth birthday to honor him and, coincidentally in the year of my forty-third birthday to reaffirm my link to Judaism on what would have been the thirtieth anniversary year of my own bat mitzvah. Over the next several months, my lunch hours at work consisted of a quick bite and at least two practice sessions with the Haftorah. Once a week, Flo would call me on the phone, and I would again read the Haftorah to show her how well I had progressed. By winter, Flo, Rabbi Harry Levin and I decided that I would also read two Torah portions at the service.

My bat mitzvah, which was held on February 4, 1993,  was not a huge affair. My parents and Larry’s parents could not come from Florida, and my siblings were too spread out across the country. Many members of the the synagogue attended, however, along with Larry’s sisters and brother-in-laws and a few close friends, I A Kiddish followed, and then my family and friends went to a Chinese restaurant for a celebratory meal.Meanwhile, I taped a full rendition of the Haftorah and Torah readings and sent it to my father for his birthday.

I would love to say that the experience resulted in many more Torah and Haftorah readings at Congregation Beth Shalom. Unfortunately, learning Hebrew did not come easy to me. It never flowed off my tongue, and even though I enjoyed the musicality of the tropes, I continued to stumble over the Hebrew letters and vowels. My next experience reciting Haftorah for a service proved to be even more difficult for me than the first, and I have not tried again. I continue to enjoy attending services and have high respect for the congregants who volunteer to read Haftorah and Torah portions. And through Jewish book clubs and my own independent reading, I will continue to study and appreciate my chosen faith.

Strategy for positive aging: Life choice to keep learning

“What are you going to do when you retire?” As many of us edge closer to the age where we can hang up our shingle, that question comes to us from family and friends. Our spouses, however, usually have something to add: “I don’t want you to sit home and do nothing! You need to find something to get you out of the house!”

For Jay Golden, finding something led him to a new passion for which he only had imagined: Playing a musical instrument. 

Jay was born in 1938 in Manhattan to first generation Jewish parents. Eschewing their Orthodox households, the couple moved their family to Chicago. 

In 1951, the Goldens purchased a 13 inch black and white set. Jay, now a teenager, loved watching the shows featured on at the dawn of the televisions age. His favorites included Flash Gordon (Syndication 1954-1955), The Lone Ranger (ABC, 1949-1957), and Don Winslow of the Navy, a series that originally shown in movie theaters.

As much as he loved the stories, Jay was even more fascinated by the classical music that accompanied the shows. Through his research and visits to local record stores, he learned that the superhero Flash Gordon vanquished his enemies to the music of  “Les Preludes” by Franz Liszt.  “Don Winslow of the Navy” buoyed his patriotic spirt to the music of Felix Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture (“Fingals Cave.”). And how could any who grew up in the 1940s and 1950s forget the stirring opening from The Lone Ranger, which was the overture to “William Tell” by Gioachino Rossini?

Using money he earned through his allowance and odd jobs, Jay began collecting vinyl records of the classics. He graduated from the University of Illinois in 1962 and the University of Chicago in 1968. When he married Ellen Lewis in 1977, his 200+ vinyl collection soon gave way to the newer technology—compact discs (CD’s). His knowledge and appreciation of the music, composers, and the performers continued to grow. 

Fortunately,Jay and Ellen’s home town, Rochester, New York, provides ample opportunities for classical music. The University of Rochester’s prestigious Eastman School of Music hosted concerts by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra as well as performances by their students. Nearby Nazareth College offered a strong undergraduate and graduate music education program.

While Ellen pursued her career in law, Jay used his urban planning degree in partnership with shopping center developers and then as developer of affordable housing of projects in NY, OH, PA, and Puerto Rico. During that time, Jay served on the house committees of Temple B’rith Kodesh and Temple Sinai in Rochester, sharing his extensive experience with building maintenance, affordable housing development and property management. 

By 2005, Jay was thinking ahead to his retirement. Wife Ellen encouraged him to find a productive way to spend his spare time, especially during Rochester’s long cold winters. Although he had always loved listening to classical music, he had never played a musical instrument. He considered the violin, but decided was too difficult to begin learning in his seventies. He thought briefly about playing a trumpet, but the idea of “tooting his own horn” quickly dissipated.

One day, while listening to “The Moldau” the second movement of a six-movement suite, Má vlast (My Country), by Czech composer Bedrich Smetana, Jay found himself imitating the finger movement on the flute, which is used prominently in the piece. It was a revelatory moment for Jay, leading him to decide to pursue learning to play the wind instrument. Although he was still working full time, his boss was very supportive of Jay’s new avocation, giving him the time off needed for his lessons. He rented a Yamaha student flute from a local music store and began lessons with a doctoral candidate from the Eastman School.

From the beginning, Jay was aware he faced a steep learning curve. “When I began with the flute,” recalled Jay, “I knew nothing about reading music, much less how to play it.” 

After a year of lessons, Jay attended a tryout session at the Eastman Music School’s New Horizons. The music program, which is part of wider umbrella of programs that are offered throughout in the United States and Canada, provides experience for seniors who played at any of three levels of proficiency: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. The person who was responsible for the tryout, however, was unwelcoming and dismissive the aspiring flutist. He pointed to a small room and told Jay, “That room is for the newbies. Go in there.” Jay walked out.

However, Jay did not give up on the flute. Although his first teacher was an accomplished musician, he realized that teaching was not her forte. He began taking one-hour lessons twice a month with an adjunct professor  of flute at Nazareth College.

Three years after his negative encounter, Jay tried out again for the New Horizons Music Program and was, as he said, “more politely invited to participate” as one of the 150 seniors involved the three levels of bands. Jay described the diversity in experience.”There are many who played their instrument in middle or high school, put it away until they retired and wanted to have something to do,” said Jay. “Then there were quite a few who, like myself, had zero instrumental musical experience.” Jay started in beginner band and gradually worked his way up to intermediate level band. The band practiced one hour a week and provided not only a musical but also a social experience. 

For several years, Jay played on his rented Yamaha student flute until he recognized that his teacher’s flute sounded so much warmer. She told Jay, “If you can distinguish the difference in how my flute and yours sounds, you’re ready for a better instrument.” So Jay purchased a Wm. A. Haines “Amadeus” flute, which he now plays every day. “It is an absolutely beautiful instrument and a thrill to hold and play,” he said, proudly adding that the first and second chair flutes of the Rochester Philharmonic play the Haines flutes. 

After seven years, Jay left in New Horizons November 2021. He explained that the program’s repertoire focuses on more popular music, including Broadway show tunes, movie themes, and songs by The Beatles and Billy Joel. As his first love is classical music, he made the decision to “play for myself.” He has continued his twice a month one-hour lessons. Although he never was able to master Smetana’s Moldau score—“it is quite beyond my ability,” Jay mused—he has enjoyed playing many other classical pieces including several sections of “The Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi.

At 85, Jay is still learning. Along with his monthly one-hour flute lesson, he also is studying German thorough Oasis, an adult learning program. Every Thursday, he takes back to back classes in both intermediate and advanced German. Jay noted that the advanced class is especially difficult in that students are required to translate from sections of a German language biography of Alexander Von Humboldt, one of the most influential scientists and thinkers of the nineteenth century, into English. Students are also required to speak the passages out loud, a test of pronunciation and diction.

This past month, Jay and Ellen extended their time at a destination wedding in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, by five days to celebrate their 46th anniversary. Even though they did not look forward to returning to snow and cold of Upstate New York, Jay is looking forward to continuing his musical journey. He is also adjusting to some of the challenges of an octogenarian musician. Jay stated that the most important element of playing the flute, beside knowing what fingers to put down for what note, is embouchure. “The older I get the more difficult it becomes to keep my lips supple,” Jay said. “Nobody said it would be easy, but at least I don’t have arthritis to slow me down.” 

Nor does much else slow Jay Golden down! He, like many others after their retirement, has found a wonderful “second act.” May he go from strength to strength!

First published in (Capital Region NY’s) The Jewish World, February 2, 2023.

We cannot stand silent in the face of anti-Semitism

The following article was published as a guest commentary in the Orlando Sentinel on January 8, 2023.

On December 19, 2022, President Joe Biden used the White House’s Chanukah celebration to call out the rising anti-Semitism in  the United States. “Silence is complicity,” he stated. Biden joined Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff in lighting the first ever official White House menorah. “Today, we must all say clearly and forcefully that anti-Semitism and all forms of hate and violence in this country have no safe harbor in America. Period,” Biden said.

Biden reiterated his stand one day after Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, announced “I like Hitler” during an anti-Semitic rant on right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ InfoWars show and five days after Donald Trump dined with Ye and white supremacist and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes at Mar-a-Lago. “The Holocaust happened. Hitler was a demonic figure,” stated Biden. “And instead of giving it a platform, our political leaders should be calling out and rejecting anti-Semitism wherever it hides.” 

Some Republican leaders were swift in joining Biden in his condemnation of Trumps’ actions. “Trump was wrong to give a white nationalist, an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier a seat at the table,” stated former vice president Mike Pence. “ And I think he should apologize for it, and he should denounce those individuals and their hateful rhetoric without qualification.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell echoed Pence.”[A]nyone meeting with people advocating that point of view, in my judgment, are highly unlikely to ever be elected president of the United States.”  In Florida, Senator Rick Scott stated there was no room for anti-Semitism in his party, adding “Republicans should all condemn white supremacy.”

Then-House Minority leader  Kevin McCarthy denounced the ideology but avoided invoking the former president’s name. The Republican from California stated  that the white supremacist “has no place in this Republican Party,” but followed up with blatantly untrue statements supporting Trump.  “I think President Trump came out four times and condemned him and didn’t know who he was.” According to CNN and other reputable news sources, Trump, who infamously stated that there was “good on both sides” when the  white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017,  has yet condemn the views of his dinner guests or apologize for his action. 

Senator Marco Rubio decried the actions while trying to protect Trump from criticism. “I hope [Trump] will [condemn Nick Fuentes]. Because I know [Trump] is not an anti-Semite.” When PBS reached out to  57 Republican lawmakers to condemn the meeting, two-thirds never responded. Those that did called the meeting a “bad idea” and stated antisemitism can’t be tolerated but stopped short of condemning Trump directly.

Governor Ron DeSantis  stands almost alone among prominent Republicans in refusing to denounce white supremacists and anti-Semitism. In January 2022,  a small band of pro-Nazis converged in Orlando, where they chanted “White power!” and roughed up a Jewish student. He remained silent while his press secretary suggested on Twitter that the individuals  were actually Democrats pretending to be Nazis. He remained silent when a confederate flag was flown TIAA Bank Field, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars, in November and December 2022. He remains silent about the Trump/Ye/Fuentes debacle. 

In comparison, Congressman Darren Soto was much more forceful in an 11/29/2022 tweet. “In Central Florida, diversity is our strength, and all are welcome to live, visit and pursue the American Dream.I strongly condemn Fmr Pres Trump for associating with these un-American bigots.”

Many more refuse to be silent, including the immediate and unequivocal response from the Anti-Defamation League. “Former President Trump’s dinner with anti-Semites Ye and Nick Fuentes underscores the ugly normalization of extremist beliefs — including anti-Semitism, racism and other forms of bigotry,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, its national director and CEO.  He went on to warn that the dinner further emboldened extremists. 

Another powerful but sadly diminishing group that continues to bring the reality of the anti-Semitism to the forefront: Holocaust survivors.Through the efforts of Steven Spielberg , the Shoah Visual History Foundation has recorded over  55,000 testimonies of Holocaust survivors. Events such as the International March for the Living and venues such as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and other similar museums across the country and world also bear witness. And there are those that recount their stories despite the pain, including an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor from Colorado . Estelle Nadel has talked to groups hundreds of times and still cries every time. “I re-live the whole scenario,” Estelle said. “There’s so much denial, that every time I get a chance to tell my story, I feel like I’m doing something against it.”

Silence is complicity. President Biden, Mitch McConnell,  and Stephen Spielberg know this, as should all who wish to push back agains hate.