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Kunin: Anti-Semitism

When my daughter and I visited the Jewish cemetery in Gross Gerau, Germany, where my father’s family is buried, we were shown where to look for my grandfather’s stone by the German cemetery keeper. He proudly told us that most of the gravestones had been repaired by his Christian community - an act of redemption.

We thanked him again and again and then stood in front of my grandfather’s tombstone, reciting Kaddish, the Hebrew prayer for the dead.

This cemetery, like so many throughout Germany, was vandalized on November 9, 1938, the same night that 200 synagogues were burned, many Jews were murdered, and thousands of Jewish owned stores were destroyed and their windows shattered. That was Kristallnacht, the night of shattered glass – and the beginning of Hitler’s campaign to exterminate the Jews.

I never thought anything like that could ever happen here. But in recent weeks, cemeteries in Philadelphia and St. Louis have been vandalized, and more than one hundred Jewish institutions have received bomb threats. The response from members of the Muslim community sending the message that bigotry cannot flourish here. It included a Muslim activist - Tarek El-Messidi – who raised funds to repair the damage, both to the cemeteries and to our belief that people are basically good.

Still, a tremor of fear has hit many Jewish communities - most experiencing overt anti-Semitism in this country for the first time. And Jews are not the only targets. Two Indian immigrant engineers were shot, one killed and the other wounded in a Kansas hate crime.

The President has condemned these actions, but more is needed to cleanse the body politic.

During the 2016 campaign, political correctness was mocked and incorrectness was cheered - whether aimed at women, the disabled, or the Muslim community. We must again draw a bright line between correct behavior and dangerously incorrect behavior - and punish hate crime perpetrators.

My Jewish grandfather’s tomb stone fell in Germany in 1938 and years, later, was restored by a Christian. Every tomb stone destroyed in America today, must be restored by each and every one of us.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont, and author of "The New Feminist Agenda, Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work and Family," published by Chelsea Green.
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