Composure Despite Antisemitism and COVID Politics

Judy Stone, MD


November 15, 2021

This week I've been triggered by several events. One of the biggest is the Charlottesville trial of the wannabe Nazis who marched through town with tiki torches chanting, "Jews shall not replace us," and who murdered Heather Heyer, an innocent young woman demonstrating for peace.

Then I received a disturbing piece from Lancaster, Pennsylvania: "A group of notorious white nationalists met secretly⁠ in an historic Lancaster County barn." The author asks, "Why here?" But one might equally have asked, "Why did it take more than a year for this to come to light?" What is happening in other rural, conservative communities throughout the country?

I was also surprised seeing that in multicultural Washington, DC, a Torah scroll was defaced at a George Washington University fraternity house.

I have also been discouraged by coming back to my home in rural Maryland. We have less than a 50% vax rate, and very few people mask at the stores. The Virginia election tactic of screaming "critical race theory" and "parents' rights" will play well here.

Politics are so polarized that it is hard to get anyone not aligned with that to run for school board. Our "leaders" are so concerned with profiting off the environment that they recently proposed that the three westernmost counties secede from Maryland and join West Virginia. This was partly because we successfully blocked fracking in Maryland and have better environmental protections and education than West Virginia.

These right-wingers also just proposed privatizing the area state parks — taking the public beaches at Rocky Gap and making it a water park, for one. Their idea of economic development is minimum-wage concession stand jobs. They also want to privatize and build more cabins at Rocky Gap. None of these will improve life for the average citizen, but it will help their crony developers profit. It's part of a pattern I've seen here over the decades.

Discouraged this morning, I was searching for some healing music on YouTube and came across a version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Why did this speak to me?

First, I had only recently learned the history of that song and its composers. The lyricist, Edgar Yipsel "Yip" Harburg, was born Isidore Hochberg, the son of Russian Jews. The composer, Harold Arlen, was born Chaim Arluck and was the son of a Lithuanian cantor. The song was released on New Year's Day, 1939. A third lyricist, Ira Gershwin, also the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, helped with the song's ending, adding the plaintive question, "If happy little bluebirds fly/Beyond the rainbow/Why oh why can't I?"

Kristallnacht, the looting and destruction of 7500 schools, synagogues, and businesses in Germany, had occurred shortly before, on November 9-10, 1938. Mob attacks on Jews killed 91, and 30,000 Jewish men were sent to concentration camps.

As Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg and others have since explained, the song takes on a very different meaning from Dorothy in Oz when viewed in the context of the repeated pogroms and the struggle for Jewish survival and desperate escape from Europe as the Holocaust unfolded.

Sadly, my parents were not able to escape in time. They both miraculously survived concentration camps, as did some of their siblings. Many family members were murdered. I tell their disparate routes to survival and emigration in Resilience: One Family's Story of Hope and Triumph over Evil. My cousins and I all became highly educated, and most went into the caring professions of medicine/nursing and teaching or computer sciences.

Rabbi Cantor Angela Warnick Buchdahl sang the particular rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" that I discovered. She was born in Seoul, Korea, to a Jewish American father and a Korean Buddhist mother. Since Jews traditionally follow a matrilineal line, Buchdahl's Jewishness was challenged by some. Not "looking" Jewish, being Asian-American, also fueled that. Over time, Buchdahl has risen to become Senior Rabbi of Central Synagogue in New York City and is the first woman to lead Central's Reform congregation in its 180-year history. She's also considered one of the most influential rabbis in the country.

Watching her filled me with a sense of wonder and some hope, both for the progress women have made in a patriarchal society and for the multiculturalism and acceptance she is emblematic of in a time of growing racism.

Until this summer, we spent the prior 15 months rarely leaving our home and property because of concerns about COVID. Our local vaccination rate is dismal, as are the attitudes of many of our officials towards public health.

In Maine this summer, it took me a while to acclimate to seeing people as we went for our daily walks about town. People there have a much higher vaccination rate (~70%) and, with few exceptions, wore masks in stores. I ate outside a couple of times but still avoided indoor get-togethers.

Home now, I'm going back into semi-hibernation as it is simply not safe to resume public activities. Our county's COVID positivity rate is 5.53% (vs 2.92% for Maryland) and number of cases per 100,000 is 25.56 (vs 11.34 in Maryland). We've had a steady stream of deaths. Very few wear masks in stores, so it will be back to Instacart or donning an N95 for a quick grocery pick-up.

While at times I get discouraged about resuming my self-imposed isolation, I remind myself every day about how lucky I am to be able to afford to do so. We have our own home and can walk outside and see nature every day. It is a far cry from my mother's village life, without electricity or running water, or her survival in the crowded, pestilent ghetto and then Auschwitz. My family epitomized resilience. Surely, I can learn to regard COVID with respect, but given vaccination and masking, now as mostly an ongoing nuisance to learn to live with.

Note: All proceeds from Resilience: One Family's Story of Hope and Triumph Over Evil go to Holocaust/anti-hate education.

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About Dr Judy Stone
Judy Stone, MD, is an infectious disease specialist and author of Resilience: One Family's Story of Hope and Triumph over Evil and Conducting Clinical Research: A Practical Guide.

She survived 25 years in solo practice in rural Cumberland, Maryland, and now works part-time. She especially loves writing about ethical issues and advocating for social justice. Follow her at or on Twitter @drjudystone.


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