This week the hashtag #卐卐卐 got its 15 minutes of Twitter fame as a trending topic, but also stirred up a lot of bad feelings and raised some difficult questions. How could tens of thousands of people sophisticated enough to use a computer allow themselves to be crude enough to joke about genocide? Is this tasteless and sophomoric humor really a reflection of a rising tide of antisemitism? As a Jew, how do I respond to this type of behavior?
So, first off, I reject this type of humor; it numbs the soul to the reality of the evil, pain and horror of the Holocaust and genocide, but at the same time, I don't take it so seriously. I don't think its just a joke to be dismissed but I also don't think a productive response is to get reactive, fearful and start to hate. I think the solution is to "uplevel." Albert Einstein said, "No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it." So the consciousness we have here is a subtle level of fear and hatred of the "other," expressed as Twitter users "hating" on Jews by making bad jokes about the Holocaust and worse. Hating haters is only going to make more separation and hate. That's staying on the same level of consciousness. I would rather focus on what I am for rather than what I am against. I'm a Jew and I'm proud, and I would rather increase the consciousness of loving my tribe and the rest of world and make that bigger as the solution to the problem.
So let's start with Jewish pride. Mark Twain, a gentile and one of the greatest writers of the 19th century, wrote an essay entitled "Concerning the Jews," in which he penned some of the truly best words of love written about the Jews ever:
If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world's list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvellous fight in the world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?
Mark Twain wrote this more than 100 years ago, in 1899, and it's still true. According to more recent statistics in an article by Luana Goriss: "Of the 750 Nobel Prizes awarded worldwide between 1901 and 2007, at least 162 were awarded to Jews. While Jews are approximately 0.25% of the world's population, Jews make up approximately 22% of all Nobel Prize laureates worldwide." This a staggering statistic and affirms Twain's words. Apparently, Adolf Hitler didn't read Mark Twain when he tried to murder the entire Jewish people, because we are still here and changing the world and while the Nazi's and the swastika are a bad joke on Twitter.
Speaking of what happened on Twitter keep in mind the term "Nazi" is also a meme, sort of like an intellectual "gene." It's an idea that morphs and evolves as if it has a life of its own. In many ways the term Nazi has lost so much of its potency -- it has become so far removed from the evil and horror that used to define it, that it has developed new meanings. One of the most popular skits on the "Seinfeld" was the "soup Nazi" bit. As a result of this evolution, "Nazi" is being used in a new context and therefore has a new meaning. In much of mainstream popular culture, "Nazi" has become slang for "psycho-control freak." When people are making this joke, I don't think they are fully realizing what they are referencing. This hashtag on Twitter and the jokes are just the next step. That doesn't mean it's not a problem -- because it is, and I believe that the root of this phenomenon is cynicism. In my mind, cynicism is a mask for burnt-out idealism and a yearning for real change. The consciousness, the solution, which is going to uplevel this phenomena, is once again Love.
Rabbi Abraham Issac Kook the first chief Rabbi of Palestine under the British Mandate, and one of the great spiritual luminaries of the past century, wrote in his book "The Lights of Holiness":
It is an art of great enlightenment to purge anger from the heart entirely, to look at all with a benevolent eye, with compassionate concern, without reservation. It is to emulate the eye of God that focuses only on the good. This should also include the works wrought by the wicked, even on those most thoroughly immersed in wickedness. It means to pity them for being sunk in the mire of wickedness, to find their good aspects and to minimize the scope of their guilt ... Whoever reflects on divine ideas in their purity cannot hate or despise any creature or talent in the world, since everything manifests the grandeur and might of the action of God. ... It thus turns out that the hostility and disparagement are to be directed at not at what is present in any movement or culture but what is absent in it.
For Rav Kook everything is spiritual and all sin and folly including fearful jokes and comments are a reflection of a disconnect from the One. That all of creation wants to move toward the One. That there is a spark of goodness that can be found in all things that desires the the highest ideals.
In this case, if I dig underneath the muck of this trending topic on Twitter, the spark of goodness I can find is twofold: One is that people are actually yearning for true depth, and making light of the Holocaust is actually (dare I say it in the face of so much cynicism) a shrill spiritual cry for help to connect to something real and substantive. The second point of goodness is that in this gallows humor is a desire for life, a desperate desire to laugh even in the face of the deepest darkness.
I see swastika symbols trending on Twitter, and a need to increase what Krista Tippet of OnBeing calls "civil conversations" in order to heal the divisions that create this type of behavior and to reveal our Oneness. May we blessed with conscious dialogue that dispels fear and small mindedness and creates a world which we laugh with the joy living our highest ideals.