Why the Synagogue Desecration Matters

Posted on: July 30, 2018, by :
By Michael Joseph Brown

When an Israeli Jewish immigrant visited his beloved Synagogue in Carmel on one summer’s day, the congregant walked over to discover both an Iron Cross and a swastika, two of the most recognizable symbols of the Nazi Party, who attempted to wipe out world Jewry only 75 years before. The first person to see the symbol of hate was a descendant of survivors himself. He never saw Anti-Semitism with his own eyes growing up in Israel.

The swastika is allowed in America under the laws that guide free speech. However, in Germany this symbol is banned because of the symbols dark history. Many Germans know the extent of its deepest meanings that reflect a destructive ideology of genocide and white supremacy.

I once prayed in this Synagogue, remember when it was in Broad Ripple. The synagogue still had several survivors from Romania and Germany, one of which I bonded with years ago. He taught the prayers according to the German Jewish traditions. He was a Cohen, or an ancestor of the high priest. The survivor told me “Symbols have meaning. Symbols have power, never underestimate this.”

Indiana is an interesting place for Jewish history. In fact, it is one of the few states with a smaller Jewish population today than it had in the 1890’s. Shaarey Teffila was the amalgamation of several Eastern European Ethnic Synagogues that were originally on the South Side. One was called the “Peddler’s Shul” because it was the synagogue for roaming Jewish merchants. The other two Synagogues that merged as one came from populations that originated in Poland and Russia. As American Jews assimilated, these ethnic differences subsided traditions merged. Jewish Immigrants had children who wanted more modernity and American culture.

In the next few decades the Jewish community suburbanized and moved north. My Rabbi, Arnold Bienstock, once told me you can tell what decade Jews were in Indianapolis by the streets. In the 1910’s, Jews lived on 10th Street, in the 1930’s on 30th street, and so on, until Jews reached 86th street, largely in the 1980’s, and into Hamilton Country at the turn of the century. Shaarey Tefila moved to be closer to the trends of the Jewish Community

Despite trying to blend into the American melting pot, it was not without its bumps along the way. Great Rabbis, such as Maurice David, fought for civil rights for African-Americans and Jews both locally and nationally in the 1960’s. He even joined President Lyndon Johnson’s commission on equal opportunity.

We also cannot forget Rabbi Morris Feuerlicht, who fearlessly fought against the Klan in the 1920’s. He formed an interfaith committee to halt the Klan’s activities in Indiana at a time when the Klan controlled the corridors of the statehouse its self.

Indiana is one of five states without hate crimes legislation, although it did have such legislation at one time. Indiana did have hate crimes laws on the books as late as the 1970’s. Since then Indiana has sadly become home to several hate groups, such as neo-Nazis and the Klan. We have also witnessed a re-branding of hate in the form of the Alt-Right. According to the ADL, Anti-Semitic incidents increased in America by 60% in 2017. Jews are the single most targeted religious minority group in the United States, according to the FBI.

We should all write to our legislators to consider putting hate crimes legislation back on the books in Indiana. We should all heed the wisdom of the survivors of the Holocaust and those who fought for civil rights in the past in Indiana to protect all vulnerable communities. It is our obligation as citizens to do so, to protect future generations of Hoosiers from such despicable acts.

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