Friday, May 6, 2016

My Remarks at the City of Carmel’s 2016 Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony

On Friday, May 6, 2016, I was honored, once again, to be one of the speakers at the annual Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony conducted by the City of Carmel, Indiana. I was asked to speak in my capacity as a member of the Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Human Relations (I was incorrectly identified during the program as the chair of that Commission; I am simply the member who has been asked by the Commission to speak on its behalf at this ceremony). I believe that the program will be shown on the Carmel public access TV station (Channel 16 on Brighthouse in Carmel, but I’m not sure of the schedule for showings; I’ll post a link or the video when it’s available). My remarks followed a moving presentation from Tibor Klopfer, the son of Holocaust survivors, who spoke about his family’s experiences during the Holocaust.

As you will see in my remarks, I decided to start with a bit of a punch to the gut. Not surprisingly, a few people in the audience didn’t quite understand what I was doing or the point that I was planning to make, thus there were a few chuckles. Thankfully, the realization quickly set in for these people that what I was discussing was not a laughing matter.

I will tell you that the response that I received after giving my remarks and during the lunch that followed were all very positive mixed in with an overwhelming sense of shock and disbelief.

What is the best way to pick up Jewish girls? With a dust pan.

Sorry, we can’t heat up your sandwich. There isn’t any room in the oven. It’s full of Jews.

You’re going to a Jewish summer camp? Cool. Is it Auschwitz?

On Valentine’s Day, I’m like Hitler and I want you to be mein.

Really funny jokes, right? Well, we can all be proud because those are jokes heard this year at Carmel High School. Here, in the heart of America, in a place that prides itself on being welcoming, this sort of anti-Semitic drivel, couched as coarse humor, has achieved a level of acceptability.

And it isn’t just jokes. No. Jewish kids have been told that they are pretty … except for their big Jewish noses. Others have witnessed classmates giving a straight-armed “Heil Hitler” salute that morphs into an innocuous “high five” when the Jewish student looks.

What in the world is going on?

This sort of rank bigotry may not be intended as a sign of hate; perhaps it is simply a sign of disrespect or perhaps it is a sign of a complete lack of understanding or empathy. But some things, to put it bluntly, simply are not funny. And at the top of the list of the things to which it is very, very difficult to attach humor is the Holocaust.

Know too that Carmel isn’t unique in the rise of the frequency and seeming acceptability of these sorts of jokes. Apparently, Jewish organizations have been witnessing this phenomenon across the country.

I’m sure — no, maybe I’m not sure — rather I hope that those sitting here today would object if they heard racially insensitive jokes aimed at African Americans, Asians, Latinos, or any others. I hope that you would object to offensive jokes aimed at Muslims, Catholics, or atheists. I hope that you would object to offensive jokes aimed at members of the LGBT community or toward any other minority. And of course I hope that you would speak out if you heard an offensive joke directed toward Jews.

As we gather today to remember the millions upon millions of victims of the Holocaust, first subject to ridicule, then discrimination, and eventually death merely because of who they were, I hope — no — I demand that you take a stand when you hear people in our community making offensive jokes about others within our community.

If you are a student, think about the hurt that those sorts of jokes cause to your classmates. Ask if you would tell a similar joke if it was based on race or disability or any other attribute of your classmates. Think about how you feel when someone ridicules you and then try to understand the pain that offensive religious or racial “humor” causes to others. And think of how that pain might be magnified knowing that what you may find humorous involved the death of members of your classmate’s family.

If you are a parent, take the time to talk to your child. Ask if your child has heard those sorts of jokes and how they responded. Ask your child if they’ve told those kind of jokes and why they think they are funny. And, perhaps, most importantly, ask your child where he or she got the idea that demeaning and ridiculing others was ever acceptable. But before doing so, be sure to look in the mirror to be sure that your child isn’t simply emulating your example. And be sure that you are not rewarding demagogues among us who use demeaning, divisive, and even hateful rhetoric to gain power.

The Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Human Relations is working hard to be sure that Carmel is a community that welcomes and values diversity. We are working to broaden exposure of our community to the breadth of diversity that can be found in our neighborhoods. And we want all people to know that Carmel is a welcoming, friendly community.

But so long as children in our schools are subject to these sorts of “jokes” we are all falling short of those goals.

Updated May 9, 2016: Corrected typo.

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At Saturday, May 07, 2016 4:06:00 PM , Blogger Charles said...

It was spoken remarks, so it doesn't matter, but for the transcript, "course humor" should be "coarse humor."

At Monday, May 09, 2016 10:46:00 AM , Blogger MSWallack said...

Thanks for pointing that out. Fixed. Sigh.

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At Thursday, July 21, 2016 2:02:00 PM , Blogger MSWallack said...

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