A Grain Of Mama Saul: Why Steve Bannon Is Scary To Me

"Anti-Semitism is not only on the rise, but it is out of the shadows and legitimized."

There's no getting around it: Steve Bannon as chief strategist is scary to me.

I grew up in a fairly typical middle-class Jewish family in the '50s and '60s. All things German were off limits, and my mother often warned us about anti-Semitism lurking in the shadows. The Jewish community in my town was fairly close-knit and, while it wasn't exactly a segregated community, I certainly felt a sense of "other."

In elementary school, there were other Jewish kids around, but I remember being chased around the playground while a classmate called me "RosenJew" (my name before marriage was Rosenblatt). Prayers were said before the Pledge of Allegiance and my second-grade teacher had us take turns reading from the Bible each day. Every winter, our class sang in the Christmas assembly and I remember being afraid to sing Jesus' name out loud for fear of some kind of divine retribution. I don't remember any diversity in the programming, even though there were at least one or two Jewish teachers in the school.

The local yacht club was restricted and the dances that they hosted for teens were off limits to me, along with any kids of color. As I moved through the teenage years, I began to feel less different as my world in general began to be more diverse. The civil rights movement was making strides and my school was desegregated. 

As I moved on into the world as a young adult, I began to surround myself with like-minded people. I remember thinking my mother had it all wrong, that she was paranoid and would always see anti-Semitism, whether it was there or not. 

In my late 20s, I was in a room full of people — many who were friends — when someone commented that they could "smell a Jew if they were in the room." I remember being shocked, but also thinking it was a very isolated incident. In my 50s, one of my kids was harassed in high school for being Jewish, and while I complained to the school administration, I still remember thinking it was, again, isolated.

And now I am in my 60s. My mother's words come back to me as I read Steve Bannon is being named chief strategist for the new administration. Anti-Semitism is not only on the rise, but it is out of the shadows and legitimized. 

Part of that legitimization has been pushed by the website Bannon used to run, Breitbart, and many fans of the site who express overtly anti-semitic beliefs in the comments section. In one particular article, Bannon seemed to think it was OK to label Bill Kristol a "renegade Jew," as if his opposition to Donald Trump was defined by his religion. 

I was naïve to think that I was part of mainstream America; regardless of how I see myself, there are many in my world and beyond that still see me and my family as "other." 

The fear and isolation one feels when they are relegated to being outside the norm should not be underestimated, whether it is religious beliefs, lifestyle, race, ethnicity or any other circumstance. I encourage everyone to speak out against the legitimization of Steve Bannon and the alt-right movement he represents. Call your state representatives and let your president-elect know that a non-inclusive America will not be tolerated.

Disclaimer: Baru Saul is a family member of Isaac Saul, A Plus' Opinion editor and author of the weekly column "A Grain of Saul."


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