(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CHABAD.ORG)
The International Jew, the four-volume, virulently anti-Semitic tract, written and self-published by Ford Motor Company founder, Henry Ford Sr. in the early twenties and said to have inspired Adolf Hitler (may his name be erased) to write Mein Kampf, is partially true. And though I’m certain it wasn’t the intention of the author, I must tell you, the ‘partly true’ part of the book left me feeling more proud to be Jewish than anything I’ve read since… well, perhaps since Leon Uris’s Exodus.
It’s a well-established idea in Judaism that nothing can exist if it doesn’t contain at least a modicum—some homeopathic dose—of pure truth. This past summer I spent a Shabbat at a friend’s house in Minneapolis and it was by complete surprise that I happened on a bit of that truth. As they always do in the northern latitudes of Minnesota, that mid-July Shabbat day seemed like it would never end. Sometime around 7:00 p.m., with the sun still high on the horizon, I reached up and discovered a dog-eared copy of The International Jew on a crowded bookshelf.
I grew up in Minnesota, a place that for all its liberal leanings was the original home of the National Socialist Movement in 1974. Knowing this fact, and having felt acutely the effects of anti-Semitism as a boy, I was curious.
For historical context, just think what it might have felt like to be Jewish if Apple founder, Steve Jobs, had used his economic power and social standing principally to spread Jew-hatred. Like Steve Jobs, Henry Ford was wildly popular and a much-beloved figure among most Americans at the time The International Jew was first published. And imagine if Steve Jobs had written a similarly anti-Semitic screed and put a copy of it on every new iPad!
As frightening as that sounds, Henry Ford did much the same thing in his day. Ford used his money and influence to finance The Dearborn Independent, a nationally distributed newspaper, dedicated in large part to the propagation of his anti-Semitic worldview, in which he first published excerpts from The International Jew. With a circulation that reached 900,000 by 1925, it was second only to The New York Daily News in scope. The effect of Ford’s widespread hate mongering on Jews, both in America and worldwide, was so devastating it is nearly impossible to overstate.
The International Jew is rife with outlandish proclamations such as:
Jazz is a Jewish creation. The mush, slush, the sly suggestion, the abandoned sensuousness of sliding notes, are of Jewish origin.
But alongside them, and the malevolent ignorance of the book’s overall conceit, in which a mysterious cabal of super-Jews are using their devilish ingenuity and international reach to destroy the world—there was one idea that Ford kept coming back to:
There is lacking in the Gentile a certain quality of working-togetherness of intense raciality, which characterizes the Jew. It is nothing to a Gentile that another man is a Gentile; it is next to everything to a Jew that the man at his door is another Jew.
It was as if that very notion had pained him, not just in some general or academic sense, but personally. Ford couldn’t seem to wrap his head around why Jews—Jews who’d never met one another, Jews who didn’t share a common language or a cultural heritage, could be so immediately at home with one another. How was it, he wondered, that the Jews, a people that had been in exile for thousands of years and virtually cut off from each other, could create such an immediate sense of trust and familiarity?
What Ford could never fathom was what we Jews know as “Ahavat Yisrael,” the innate love a Jew has for a fellow Jew. This, of course, is not to say that a Jew doesn’t have, or is not capable of having, G‑d forbid, love for others. In the same way that I love my brother more than my closest friend, and my closest friend more than a mere acquaintance, this hierarchy of loves is actually instructive in how to love in a larger sense.
But what is the glue that binds one Jew to another? Is it a cultural or culinary connection like a love for the stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer or gefilte fish? Or is it a shared language—Yiddish or Ladino, for example? What I have come to understand is that the Torah itself is at the root of the deep, almost mystical affinity of one Jew for another.
Now some might say they don’t accept its Divine origins, some may dispute the present-day relevance of certain of its laws, still others may consign the entire Torah to mere historical artifact. But one thing is indisputable: Unlike any other people on the planet, the Jewish nation has remained intact throughout its 2,700 years of diasporic existence. I believe it is only possible because we were given the Torah, a Testimony of laws, and highly specified codes of morality, that we have been able to accomplish this miraculous feat.
But even with all our differences, whether political, religious, or cultural, when the Torah is removed from the ark on the holiday of Simchat Torah, the day we celebrate having been given this precious and unifying document, we will rush as one to kiss it, to embrace it, and to dance with it—as if the Torah were a beautiful child.
In that moment we won’t be holding parchment scrolls; we will be carrying history itself. We will dance, not just with our friends and community members, but also with our grandparents, many of whom died to uphold the Torah.
And when we raise our voices to sing on Simchat Torah, we will sing for our children, those born and those yet to be born, and for brothers and sisters so distant it’s unlikely we will ever meet them—and perhaps most of all, we will sing for departed loved ones who can no longer sing for themselves. On Simchat Torah, we will celebrate the joy of having been given nothing less than the embodiment of God’s Will.
Throughout the millennia it has been our shared sense of mission to that “Will,” along with the connection to one another that sense of mission inspires, which has been the cause of so much enmity among our adversaries.
But on Simchat Torah, and during the coming year, I won’t be dwelling on hatred. Instead, I will focus my mind and heart on kindness, on unity, and on a renewed sense of Jewish pride —a pride that emerged from the unlikeliest of sources —the unadulterated animus of The International Jew, among the most ruthlessly anti-Semitic works of the 20th century.