I have a new faithful e-mail correspondent. He started a few days ago with the subject line on his account, “Hi, I’m from Israel and I have to tell you something.”
I opened the e-mail. It was the vilest, most obscene hate-filled e-mail I have ever read. Hitler should have killed all of us Jews. We were all kike bastards making Americans die to protect Israel and performing lewd acts on George Bush. It was like acid on the computer screen, like a stench that made me gag. Naturally, it was unsigned.
The sad part is that I get this kind of mail — not as vile as this one — fairly often, always making the same points: that Jews are not worthy of living, that we’re scum, that we’re in with George Bush on ruining America for our profit and Israel’s. Naturally, they are all unsigned, because what they do — they know — is insane and also against the law and spirit of Amerca. It’s subversive and sick and they know it.
Always, and I mean always, they link their hatred of Jews and their hatred of Bush. Always.
Are they Arabs? Nazis? Writing from mental hospitals or prisons? Obviously, they never say.
Now this fellow writes me every day. I don’t open them, of course, and soon I’ll get his account shut down, but I don’t like his insanity (maybe hers!) reaching across the Internet into my life, my wonderful life.
I thought about this man as I read The New Yorker review of a new movie of Oliver Twist. The reviewer, an absolute genius named Anthony Lane, quoted a paragraph from Dickens about Jews. It was as bad as what the crazy man had sent me this week, or almost. Jews as inhuman, as vampires, as eaters of corpses and dung.
It made me shiver. This quote was from one of the great men of letters of all time. It was from a man who specialized in catering to cliches. Obviously, his characterization of the Jew was faithful to the cliche in England of the mid 19th century– a time we think of as high minded. Dickens did sign his name. So did Goebbels and Streicher. They were within the currents of propriety of their time and place.
So, I read this, and I had a sudden access of giddy happiness. I thought:
“This way Dickens thought was the way mankind treated the Jew until the last greatest miracle of mankind: the United States in the modern world. In this world, we get to eat at the same tables as everyone else, to listen to the same music, to be equal in every way. In this world, I get to fly on a plane and the man next to me, named Petersen, treats me courteously. So does the flight attendant. So do the pilots, who invited me to the cockpit to gossip about the world. So will the people at DFW and the people at The Mansion hotel in Dallas.
“In America, we get treated with dignity. We are, as Martin Luther King’s dream went, judged by the content of our character — no, better than that — not by the prayers we say at night or who our ancestors were.
“This is a miracle. In all history, it’s a miracle beyond telling. This is the central fact of my existence. This is the central fact of all human existence: that in America, people respect each other despite race, religion, sex, age, despite all conditions of birth and heritage. This is a MIRACLE!
“If we don’t realize it, if we are not on our hands and knees with gratitude about it, we are insane. And if I do not feel grateful about my life, about the way I live as a Jew and an American, or as an American and a Jew, I am pitiful and lost.”
I thought that, and of how my beloved father-in-law Colonel Denman put his life on the line to make it so, and now sleeps at Arlington next to the tens of thousands of others who did the same, and I thought that just to be in America is the gift beyond telling, beyond words, only able to be whispered about in thanks to God. All thanks to the men and women who have worn the uniform, their families, their loved ones, who made the miracle happen and make it happen day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute.
In America, it is the hater, the writer of insane e-mail, who is the outcast, not I. And a writer who wrote as Dickens did in this country would be a candidate for prison or a hospital’s locked ward. Miracle. Oh, happy day.
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