Growing up in Atlanta, I was, of course, exposed to some degree of anti-semitism. A cross was once burned on the lawn of my synagogue. I was frequently approached by people who wanted to save me. A friend of mine went to a school in rural Georgia and was beaten up frequently and harassed endlessly just for being Jewish.
The astonishing thing, however, was that this was a gentle breeze compared to what Atlanta had been like just decades before. Most of what I encountered was polite ignorance: people who wondered where we made sacrifices; a Boy Scout troop that had never had a Jew before, classmates who wondered why I was out of school so often in the fall. I never faced the kind of threats and mistreatment that, say, my grandparents did. The Dead Shall Rise is an excellent chronicle of the Leo Frank case, which was a watershed event and not a good one. Not only did an anti-semitic crowd lynch a likely innocent Leo Frank, the despair this produced in the Jewish Community could be felt seven decades later. My grandparents, who were in Atlanta when Frank was murdered, refused to talk about it; refused to talk about any of the treatment they’d endured.
And, as an academic, I’ve never encountered anything close to what my parents’ generation experienced. This week, Emory University apologized for some of the awful things that went on in their School of Dentistry in the 1950′s. Emory was the worst bastion of academic anti-Semitism but they were not alone. Every doctor of my dad’s generation encountered it: quotas on Jews, professors who would tell them Jews were unsuited to medicine, patients would refuse to see Jewish doctors. It was pervasive.
I’m glad to see — six decades after the fact — Emory acknowledging this. And I am personally pleased because one of the dentists recognized — Perry Brickman — is a friend of my father’s and my uncle’s, pulled my father’s wisdom teeth and mine and is an all-around good doctor and a good man. To see him vindicated after all this time is wonderful and a reminder that things can change for the better.
Update: Related — maybe it’s a generational thing, but I’ve never held to the Wagner thing. Wagner was anti-semitic; Hitler liked Wagner; both have been dead for a very long time. Neither invented anti-Semitism. And I do not judge art by the behavior of its maker or the vileness of its admirers.