American Apathy & The Rise of Anti-Semitism

What the play Rose Colored Glass by Sue Bigelow and Janice Goldberg serves to remind us today, in 2020.


Catch our radio production of Rose Colored Glass (Act 2!) on November 14th at 2pm here.

Written on 11/6/20 by Shelby Pickelny 

ap·a·thy

/ˈapəTHē/

noun

  1. lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern.

Activism fatigue is real, but so is American apathy (and one implies a basic regard for another person’s fundamental rights).

When prompted with the phrase, “everything going on in the world,” some immediate kickers come to mind:

To name a few.

The difference is whether or not you were active about resolving any of these issues: Do you wear a mask in public? Did you have a basement party for Halloween? Do you actively denounce prejudiceness – even if the words are uttered from the mouths of your family or friends? Did you donate money to bail out the POC wrongly jailed during peaceful BLM protests? Even if you were vigilantly posting on your Instagram story every day about the need for change, you may start to feel discouraged when you’re supporting a movement that has lulled in momentum – or is no longer trending on Twitter.

If your answer to those questions is, “Kinda…” bear this in mind: In order for you to have activism fatigue, you need to have been advocating. 

This seems like a no brainer, but when most of the American population doesn’t vote, like in the Presidential election of 2016, it’s indicative of a greater problem. 

Visual data of voter turnout in the Presidential election of 2016 where “Nobody” had the most votes, taken from the hyperlink above.

You’re not an activist; you’re apathetic.

What do I mean by American Apathy?

Due to a lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern, you let society’s problems – or the problems of another group in society – be solved by someone else – because you misleadingly believe that your own best interest is satisfied, and therefore so is the interest of the greater good.

The problem is this: the greater sect of the American population – that with the ability to vote but don’t – is showcasing their privilege and lack of concern for the human rights of others by, in essence, saying: “I am not affected nor benefited by this, so I am making the choice to not care.”

This apathy only enables history to repeat itself.

In the mid- to late 1930’s, the American public turned a blind eye to the millions of Jews seeking asylum from German dictator and Holocaust-perpertator Adolph Hitler. “In 1933, only 8,220 quota immigrants arrived in the United States, a ninety-five percent decrease in immigration compared to the years prior to Hoover’s instruction,” according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Word about the developing atrocities in Europe leaked to America. Jewish families with loved ones abroad began to put the pieces together. Unsure of why their letters were going unanswered, many Jewish Americans were left with the fear of the unknown. And, “Still, the vast majority of American people hoped that the United States would remain isolated from foreign conflicts. In 1937, 67% of Americans polled believed there would be another world war, and 73% agreed that a national vote should be required before the US could declare war.”

A view of a Jewish-run shop in Germany, after being vandalized by Nazis and covered with anti-Semitic grafiti, on Nov. 10, 1938.*

Yet, in the evening of November 9th and 10th in 1938, the Nazi regime destroyed and burned down numerous synagogues and Jewish-owned shops across Germany. Kirstallnacht, the night of broken glass, is a name that resonates – or should resonate – around the globe, as Americans and Europeans alike honor the upcoming 82nd anniversary of the warning sign that was mostly ignored.

Granted, in America in 1938, the horrors of the Holocaust were hard to wrap your head around. If you’re going to work, like normal, or making dinner, like normal, or putting your children on the bus, like normal, it’s hard to imagine that someone like Adolph Hitler was successfully planning and then executing a systematic annihilation of millions of people. 

But that’s the thing. By nature, comprehension of the Holocaust is nearly impossible. There are little words that can compare to the horror and injustice carried by the word holocaust. Jewish people lost their business, their citizenship, their homes, their families, and their lives. Though this number should be known by the reader, I’ll say it for those who need to be reminded: Adolph Hitler and the Nazi regime killed 11 million people: 6 million Jews and 5 million non-Jews were murdered before and during World War II. (Non-Jewish people included the Roma and Sinti gypsy people, people from Poland, captured Soviet soldiers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and gay men.)

So why didn’t the American public (meaning, those who aren’t Jewish) do anything?

They were apathetic.

A Jewish woman and a Christian woman are neighbors in Chicago in 1938. Both strong-willed matriarchs of the time, the two women cling to their social perceptions of the other. Their worlds are separate. Their properties are not. A shared alleyway behind their kitchens acts as a physical and emotional boundary between the two. 

What will it take for their worlds to collide? (Dare we say, a lack of apathy?)

Peg O’Riley, granddaughter of Lady O’Riley, has just that. After getting word of what’s happening in Europe, and how it is impacting her neighbor Rose Fleishman’s family, Peg urges her grandmother to reach across their alleyway. Despite the women’s cultural differences, they realize the greater importance of what they do have in common: family and faith. Realizing that what they have in common is greater than what separates them, the three women learn to overcome their own sense of pride to become friends in a world that needs to work together.

A photo from the 2007 Off-Broadway production of Rose Colored Glass.

Sounds a little bit like now, right?

Rose Colored Glass reminds us of important themes that we can bear in mind today, both during and following the results of the 2020 Presidential election. Janice Goldberg, co-author and director of RCG, reflects that, “We live in a divided country… Now, it’s really about how we can overcome our own prejudices.” 

Voter turnout in the 2020 presidential election is on track to break century-old records. As a nation, we are headed in the right direction, but the need for action – and not apathy – does not stop after our new president is announced. 

Continue to ask yourselves:

  • How do we get past our own prejudices?
  • At what point do you concern yourself with the injustice of others? Is that point too late?
  • What do we have in common with someone else, rather than what separates us?
  • Does our society and/or government reflect what I believe to be true?

In the words of presidential nominee Joe Biden, “Once this election is finalized and behind us, it will be time to do what we’ve always done as Americans… to see each other again, to listen to one another, to hear each other again, to respect and care for one another, to unite, to heal, [and] to come together, as a nation.”

——————————-

Want to listen to Act 1 of our radio production of Rose Colored Glass? Click here, and be sure to listen to it before Act 2 premiers tomorrow, November 14th at 2pm!

*Image and caption from “Bearing Witness to Nazi’s Life-Shattering Kristallnacht” by NPR.org

Other Resources:

https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/mosaic-of-victims-an-overview

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/11/04/election-live-results-updates-trump-biden.html

http://rosecoloredglass.net/Home.html

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One thought on “American Apathy & The Rise of Anti-Semitism

  1. hi hi. This is really really good. Very well thought out and delivered. Just two questions. not sure if you can change. you refer to Joe Biden as nominee…could you change it to President Elect Joe Biden

    and in the last sentence you say tune in tomorrow November 14th…tomorrow is the 11th.

    Like

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