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Kirk Douglas Headshot

On Jews and Justice

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I was six-years-old when I had my first contact with anti-Semitism. I came home from school one day with a bloody nose, crying to my mother -- "Yanak hit me!"

"Why?" my mother asked.

"He said I killed Jesus Christ."

"What? You killed who?"

"I didn't kill him. I don't even know who he is."

My nose stopped bleeding and soon I was playing again with Yanack as if nothing had happened between us. It wasn't his fault, because that was what he had been taught to believe by his father. And come to think of it, it wasn't Yanack's father's fault either because he'd certainly been taught the same thing by his father. Maybe none of them could read, because if they had actually studied their New Testament, they would have learned the truth: that the Romans were the ones who crucified Jesus. Only the Romans had the right of public execution. The Jews were a tiny people subject to the laws of the Roman empire.

Rodgers and Hammerstein dealt with the subject of learned prejudice when they wrote the highly successful musical comedy South Pacific. South Pacific was a hit on Broadway but when they started the tour in the Southern states they ran into trouble. The state of Georgia introduced a bill outlawing South Pacific because it contained "an underlying philosophy inspired by Moscow." The claim was based on one song, "You've Got to be Carefully Taught." Here are the lyrics:

"You've Got To Be Carefully Taught" (Lyrics from South Pacific)

You've got to be taught to hate and fear,
You've got to be taught from year to year,
It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate.

The Southern legislators maintained that this "song justifying interracial marriage was implicitly a threat to the American way of life." Rodgers and Hammerstein fought stubbornly against them and the song stayed in.

I've lived a long time. Almost 97 years. I've seen a lot of fear-mongering, bigotry and discrimination. But now I'm also seeing a modern generation of children who view the world very differently than their parents and grandparents. For them, no amount of teaching will make them hate people simply because they're different. That gives me hope.

Meanwhile, I will never forget my first bloody nose. It always reminds me of why I'm proud to be a Jew. As Mark Twain wrote, "[the Jew] has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him."