It’s been almost two months since the murder of 11 Jews praying on the Sabbath in Pittsburgh.
It’s also been nearly two months since I received the biggest postcard the United States postal service allows, from the Republican Women of Juneau. You may remember: “If you give Jesse Kiehl your vote … you may as well give him your wallet.”
It has the picture of a man with a wad of $100 bills he’s putting into his jacket. It’s black and red and white. Press reports shortly before the Nov. 6 election documented similar fliers in North Carolina, California, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Every single one targeted a Jewish candidate and people suggested to me that this was part of the “Republican playbook.”
In fact, in a Washington Post article on Nov. 6, Scott Kendall, a Jewish Republican and chief of staff to former Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, said he phoned the group that created the flier — the Republican Women of Juneau — and asked what they were thinking after he was flooded with calls and emails.
“I’d like to believe it wasn’t intentional,” Kendall said he told them. “But whatever you do, you need to put out a statement that you condemn anti-Semitism.”
I understand that while Jewish people recognize the anti-Semitism in the graphic and words, many others don’t. For those unfamiliar with anti-Semitic tropes, the ones used in the mailer are reminiscent not only of World War II German government propaganda, but also of anti-Semitic imagery used in modern history. This is why it seemed so important to me that the Juneau Jewish Community (JJC) ask for a meeting with the Republican Women of Juneau; if they are non-Jews, they may be unfamiliar with the tropes. In particular, we addressed our request to the Republican Women whose contact information was readily available on its website and the Alaska Public Offices Commission website.
Chava Lee, board chair of our community, reached out and was initially referred to another member of the RWJ (whose name was not listed publicly), who spoke to Lee in early November and assured her that a meeting would occur as soon as some of the members were back in town. They also assured her that “the flier was not anti-Semitic and that no one in the RWJ was prejudiced.
After weeks passed with numerous requests unanswered, Lee sent an email advising the RWJ that we had picked a date and time to meet at the synagogue and looked forward to seeing them then. Each time the door opened, Lee hoped for a member of the RWJ, and each time she was met with a member of the JJC — Norman Cohen, Trish Turner Custard, Keith Levy and myself. Together we waited and ate the lunch Lee had prepared, and then we talked about feeling disappointed and disheartened. We had hoped for openness, conversation and an opportunity to connect. We had hoped to listen and understand — to find common ground. And we still hold these hopes.
None of us can know what the women who comprise the Republican Women of Juneau think or feel about the mailer or about Jews or about the Juneau Jewish Community. We only know the non-responsiveness for over six weeks, in arranging a time to meet. I’m not sure what separates us, because it’s not of my creation. Our country and community are experiencing attacks against Jews like never before in United States history, and it seems critically important that we create bridges for communication and understanding.
I know that representatives of the JJC hold an open invitation to the RWJ to sit and share coffee if they decide they’d like to do so. Meanwhile, we continue to #LOVETHYNEIGHBOR (No exceptions). This is unconditional. It requires nothing of anyone else, only of ourselves, to live with love and compassion, to live without judgment and to challenge ourselves to live our values every moment of every day.
• Saralyn Tabachnick is a member of the Juneau Jewish Community. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.