The Longest Hatred

Respectable Virtues Off 14

You may have heard people say that you can always count on death and taxes. I would like to add a third thing—antisemitism. Rightly dubbed the “longest hatred,” it has been around since the time of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov.
Like a bad play that never seems to end, in each generation the nefarious cast of characters continues to troop across the global stage. Despite the diverse backgrounds of these bad actors, there are some things that seem to remain constant. You may remember the story told by Lieutenant Meyer Birnbaum, a frum Yid who served in the US Army during World War II. Birnbaum had a reliable friend by the name of McVay who stood by him through thick and thin, even sharing his private quarters with Birnbaum and providing him with kosher food.
One evening while they were sitting together, McVay began to drink and soon became inebriated. Birnbaum watched in horror as McVay unleashed a torrent of curses aimed at Jews. Another soldier piped up and said, “But McVay, your best buddy Birnbaum is a Jew!”
“Oh, him!” McVay replied. “He’s different.”
Lieutenant Birnbaum recalled that at that moment, he knew he was witnessing pure, unadulterated anti-Semitism. Despite his friendship with a “good” Jew, McVay harbored a blind hatred for others whom he didn’t even know.
This story came to mind when I was reading about one of the most notorious antisemites in American history, Henry Ford. The auto mogul used his vast enterprise to disseminate his hateful views. In 1918, his company purchased a newspaper called The Dearborn Independent, and every Ford franchise in the country had to distribute the paper to its customers.
Not surprisingly, Ford’s publications were very popular in Germany, where Hitler kept a portrait of Ford on his desk because he regarded him as his “inspiration.” Mr. Ford also holds the ignoble honor of being the only American mentioned favorably in Mein Kampf. In a letter written in 1924, Heinrich Himmler described Ford as “one of our most valuable, important, and witty fighters.”
What is less known about Ford is that he lived on the same block as a prominent Reform leader named Leo Franklin. Ford often stopped to chat with Franklin on his way to work, and Franklin was invited to Ford’s home for social events. In 1913, Ford presented Franklin with a new customized Model T, a practice he continued for several years.
When Ford’s newspaper began running antisemitic articles, Franklin was both shocked and hurt. He approached Ford and asked him to stop, but the articles continued. When a Ford worker arrived later that year with Franklin’s new car, he sent it back, along with a letter of protest.
A few days later Ford called Franklin, expressing surprise that a “good” Jew would be upset at attacks aimed at all the other Jews who were to blame for the world’s problems.
Franklin’s failed attempts to convince Ford to stop his rants led to a frosty relationship, and the two did not speak directly again for many years. However, Ford was forced to close down his publication due to a lawsuit filed by a Jewish lawyer and businessman from San Francisco named Aaron Sapiro. Ford had accused Sapiro and several others of exploitation and monopolization.
In 1927, the richest man in America stood in court to face charges of hate speech and defamation, the first such case in US history. Due to complications, the case was declared a mistrial, but Ford realized that another trial would raise more ugliness that would only do further harm to his industry. Instead of going back to court, he closed down The Independent and issued a written apology for his statements.
Henry Ford’s very public display of his radical views gives us an opportunity to reflect on the nature of the hatred that consumed him. Like McVay, his friendship with a Jew had no effect on his deeply held convictions that Jews were untrustworthy and perpetrators of fraud. Such behavior further supports what countless researchers and professors have already concluded: Antisemitism is not linked to any factual evidence and is irrational at its core.
While scholars scratch their heads in an attempt to unlock the mystery of the longest hatred, Chazal tells us that this phenomenon is a fixture of our long galus. To most of the world, Henry Ford was a respected, successful multi millionaire with global influence. But to us, he was just another pawn who reminds us that we will always be foreigners in a foreign land, until Moshiach comes to take us home.

About the author / 

Rabbi Sholom Friedmann

Rabbi Sholom Friedmann is a Talmid of Rabbi Leib Bakst זצ"ל, of Yeshivas Ateres Mordechai, Detroit, Michigan. After learning in the yeshivah and kollel, Rabbi Friedmann moved to the British colony of Gibraltar and studied in the Gateshead Kollel for three more years, at which time he received rabbinical ordination. From there, Rabbi Friedmann moved to London, England. In London, Rabbi Friedmann taught in the Menorah Grammar School, and was appointed the communal Rov of Kehilas Kol Yaakov, Edgware, London. Rabbi Friedmann was awarded Qualified Teaching Status by the British Board of Education in 2002, and a diploma in educational psychology by the Tavistock clinic (London) in 2006. In 2005, Rabbi Friedmann was accepted as a Fellow in Holocaust Education by the prestigious Imperial War Museum, London. Rabbi Friedmann relocated to New York in 2008 to become the Director of Zechor Yemos Olam, the Holocaust education division of Torah Umesorah. While occupying that position, Rabbi Friedmann created teaching materials, videos, and teacher training programs, including the ZYO Holocaust education fellowship program. In April 2012, Rabbi Friedmann was appointed as the director of the Amud Aish Memorial Museum. The museum founded by Elly Kleinman will carry on the legacy of holocaust history. For more info about when it is expected to open read this article.

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