Though America’s white population must continually be reminded that racism – overt, covert and systemic, still pervade American life, Jews need little reminder of pervasive anti-Semitism, mostly below the surface in America but openly expressed virtually everywhere else.
H.L. encounters it as he travels and often because his funny Welsh/Greek-Russian Romanian name allows him to “pass for white” (as Jews used to say) and initially cloaks his ethnicity and religion.
Last week at Roland Garros in the expensive seats, snacking on champagne and sushi, and awaiting a Nadal match, a young wealthy Brazilian entrepreneur declared his dislike of Rafa’s “ugly brutal” style and said “I even will root for the Jew Argentine [against Nadal] and Del Potro” [against Marin Cilic]. It’s hard as an American to measure which concession was greater for the Brazilian named “Christian” rooting for the Jew or for two Argentinians, Juan Martin Del Potro and Diego Schwartzman. I think the latter, knowing something of the ferocity of the Brazil/Argentina sports rivalry, most intensely in “football.” What struck me about Christian’s formulation was that Juan Martin retained his name – Del Potro. Not so for Diego Schwartzman. He is the second ranked Argentine and second ranked player in all of South America. Diego is 11th ranked in the world and rising. He is the only player to take a set off Nadal at Roland Garros since 2015. At 5’7” he is the David-like recent conqueror of 6’6” Marin Cilic at the 2017 U.S. Open and 6’8” Kevin Anderson last week in Paris. But he was nameless. First, foremost and only the “Jew” or in this case the double epithet of “Jew Argentine.”
As most of the world dissembles each day that their condemnation of Israel’s response to Hamas-led protests and attacks at the Gaza border have nothing to do with anti-Semitism, woke Jews know better. Christian was a good guy – friendly, intelligent and knowledgeable about tennis and sports in general. But he partakes of an ancient worldwide hatred. It is just below the surface in some places, but generally and increasingly overt. As an American Jew (let’s now pause to celebrate the life and work of recently deceased Philip Roth, who brilliantly explained how Jewish Americans became American Jews) unlike a Jew Argentine or Jews in a hundred countries where their religion would precede nationality or be their only identifier, I don’t believe I or my children will need to make Israel home.
This is one of many reasons why I fight Trump & Co., who are trying to make America white and Christian again. The former it once was and the latter never – as the Constitution and its framers (most eloquently Jefferson) clearly expressed. But my encounter with Christian at Roland Garros – like a thousand experienced in my life, reminded me why Israel must survive as a Jewish state and home for Jews, where they have names and identities beyond their religion and ethnicity.