Pence to the rescue

The number of reported anti-Semitic incidents in North American cities keeps rising. At last count, among other things, there were more than 60 bomb threats called in to JCCs in the United States and Canada, a bomb threat called in to the ADL office in New York and several Jewish schools and the toppling of more than 100 headstones each in Jewish cemeteries outside St. Louis and in Northeast Philadelphia. So far, no one has been hurt in these scares, nor have there been any arrests for these actions.

It is unfair to say that this wave of hate was ushered in by the inauguration of President Donald Trump. But, for whatever reason, we are experiencing a disquieting uptick in anti-Semitism in North America that hasn’t been seen for quite some time. And it was natural to look to the new administration for an appropriate reaction.

We were dismayed and dumbfounded by what appeared to be an early blasé attitude toward these developments from the White House. First came the president’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement on Jan. 27 that omitted mention of the Jews, who were the chief victims of Nazi genocide. Then came Trump’s nonresponsive news conference “answer” to a softball question about anti-Semitism in the United States that he apparently misunderstood, wherein he insisted, “I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life.”

So when the president finally did condemn anti-Semitism — coming on the heels of the Jewish community practically begging him to do so — we were grateful. “The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,” Trump said on Feb. 21.

We agree with the words. But it wasn’t until we saw Vice President Mike Pence pick up a shovel and get to work fixing the vandalized cemetery in St. Louis that we felt there was action to back up the words. And it is clear that Pence gets it.

“From the heart, there is no place in America for hatred or acts of prejudice or violence or anti-Semitism,” he said on Feb. 22 at the Chesed Shel Emeth Society Cemetery, where the vandalism occurred and where he made a surprise appearance with Missouri’s Republican governor, Eric Greitens, who is Jewish. After listening to a rabbi say a prayer, the two politicians cleared some brush as part of a beautification project. Their presence at the cemetery took place just days before the Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia saw more than 100 of its tombstones toppled by unknown vandals.

While the cemetery event with Pence may have been standard political fare, it was uniquely refreshing in the current political climate. The vice president of the United States showed up, spoke directly and sincerely about the scourge of anti-Semitism and then followed up his words with actions. There was no ambiguity. We welcome and applaud that kind of leadership.

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