Dear Sean Spicer,
You had to do it, didn’t you? You had to play the Holocaust card. With Steve Bannon watching smugly from his perch on the president’s shoulder, you held Hitler up as a model fascist, because at least he didn’t use chemical weapons. You said this on the first day of Passover. And then you made it worse, somehow: “[Hitler] was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing,” you said. Wrong again.I know that you know that you messed up. You know because the backlash was immediate, vitriolic, and nothing less than you deserved. Nancy Pelosi called for you to be fired immediately. And you’ve apologized. But it’s not okay. And there’s a laundry list of reasons why. But you’re a busy man with a minimal attention span, since you clearly zoned out for the majority of your 9th, 10th, and 11th grade history classes, so I’ll keep this short.
Your comment was not okay because of the monumental hypocrisy it takes to use the Holocaust as justification for bombing Syria while simultaneously turning away Syrian refugees at our borders. It’s not ok because your “not-a-Muslim-ban” is outrageously offensive to me and many others in the American Jewish community. Jews have centuries of experience with persecution (maybe you heard about that), and the Islamophobic rhetoric spewing from your podium and your White House is oddly reminiscent of the hatred directed at Jews in early Nazi Germany.
It’s not okay because after your little slip-up, the only person you called directly was Sheldon Adelson. Never mind the 32 Jewish members of Congress. Never mind the American Jewish community. Sheldon Adelson is not a moral or religious leader. He is a rich, conservative casino owner who wrote your boss a bunch of fat checks. And there is nothing more pathetic than making the biggest mistake of your career (so far) and then rushing past the millions of people who deserve your apology to prostrate yourself in front of money.
It’s not okay because I am afraid. I am afraid because your administration has emboldened anti-Semites and neo-Nazis worldwide to come out of their dingy hidey-holes and speak their minds, because during the first several months of Trump’s tenure in office, three Jewish cemeteries were desecrated. Dozens of Jewish community centers and synagogues received bomb threats. I am afraid because the public middle school I attended was vandalized with swastikas, because you are teaching children that they do not need to understand the historical significance of their words or actions. I am afraid because I am losing faith that my government will continue to protect my rights because of my religion.
And it’s not okay because I’m angry. I’m angry that I have to think twice about wearing a t-shirt with Hebrew letters on a run because I don’t know who will drive past, even though I go to school in a very safe place. I’m angry that you still have a job. I’m angry that you called concentration camps “Holocaust Centers.” I’m angry that I worry about writing for this magazine, which reveals my Judaism to anyone with Internet access. And I’m angry because, however badly I feel on any given day under this presidency, I know there are so many other people who feel so much worse – worse for their religions, gender identities, sexualities, skin colors. I am angry for them, too.
I’m sure you don’t know this, but Yom Hashoah is fast approaching. It begins on the evening of April 23. This is the Jewish Holocaust Remembrance Day where we mourn the loss of six million Jews who were killed for their beliefs. We light candles and sing prayers and listen to survivors tell their stories. We teach our small children about the unspeakable horrors of Nazi death camps, an education you obviously managed to escape. And for this holiday, I have a request. (Well, actually, since your administration already managed to stir up controversy by not mentioning Jews in your commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, it’s really more of a suggestion.)
For Yom Hashoah, please go to a service, but not for publicity or to mend fences. Just go and sit quietly. Go and listen to survivors’ stories. Go and pray with us. Go because sometimes, in order to understand other people’s oppression, you have to stop talking and listen instead. Go and learn something about other people’s lives, about how their identities are different than yours. And if you make a statement, please remember to think before you speak. Remember that your words have consequences.
And if you decide you want to actually talk to a Jewish person about what you intend to say before you say it, I’ll be right here, waiting.
Sarah Asch is a Middlebury College student graduating in 2019 with a major in English and creative writing and a minor in Spanish.