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My Son, the Nazi

Profile asks how a Bar Mitzvah ended up a Neo-Nazi

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Today’s necessary reading is a profile of Ian Baron as seen through the eyes of his parents and teachers. Two years ago, he was taking pictures at the Western Wall during a Birthright trip. Today, he’s in prison with an SS tattoo, facing six years for defacing a synagogue.

There’s a lot that should disturb you in this story, like Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, explaining “It is not uncommon for Jewish kids to get involved with Nazi or white supremacist groups. ‘It happens much more often than people expect.’” Or, Rabbi Daniel Sikowitz, who has visited Ian eight times in prison, and acknowledges that, “He knew what he was doing, but was angry at the world and himself. He hated the Jewish part of himself and was looking for something that symbolized that hatred.”

Those are just the end products of Baron’s sad journey; what kicked me in the gut is how he got on that path.

Classmates would regularly harass Ian, who has dark skin and Hispanic features [He was adopted from Panama], according to his parents. They would call him “kike” or “spic,” but would also shout, “You can’t be Jewish” because of his physical appearance, [his parents] recalled.

Feeling estranged from the Jewish community because of his looks—and from the Hispanic community because of his faith—Ian became isolated, explained Rabbi Sikowitz.

Earlier this week, the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding set off a wave of hand-wringing with a poll suggesting significant amounts of prejudice between the Jewish and Latino community. Predictably, and perhaps understandably, the focus of most of the statements and editorials in response were about combating Latino Anti-Semitism, and trying to build a political coalition between the two minority groups. Those are admirable goals, but what they didn’t address was 30% of Jews with Anti-Latino beliefs. Not only is it ridiculous to only discuss how to make sure Latinos are Good For The Jews,” but Baron shows that Jewish prejudice doesn’t only hurt others, but our own community as well.

Ian Baron has issues beyond the bullying he got in school, but somewhere along the lines those kids—Jewish kids—were taught what a Jew looks like, and that it wasn’t Baron. I don’t want to overly connect the poll with Ian Baron—but somewhere between his Bar Mitzvah and jail, something went wrong in his life that took him towards incredible choices. We need to do some soul-searching on what drove him there, if it is systemic, and if we can fix it.

A few weeks ago, after the Census was released, the L.A. Jewish Journal wrote a great long article on the Latin-Jewish coalitions in L.A. and their political clout. It ended, however, on what should be a cautionary note, with a quote from State Senator Alex Padilla of San Fernando. He had Jewish friends growing up, he said, but “The first Seder I got invited to was when I got into office.” It should always come sooner.

‘What Went Wrong’? – Profile of a Jewish Shul Desecrater [WJW]
Many Latinos See U.S. Bias Towards Israel, Poll Shows. [JTA]
Latino-Jewish Challenge [Jewish Week]
The New Power of a Latino Jewish Coalition [Jewish Journal]

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Check out the 2001 film “The Believer”, which centers on a Jewish neo-Nazi.

Also, I recall reading somewhere that the leader of the Nazi march in Skokie, IL was Jewish. This is not all that surprising. As a Tablet contributor just wrote about “Citizen Kane”, a lot of American anti-Semitism comes from Jews.

I’ll never forget the two strangest of the “weird kids” (myself included) I hung with in high school back in the very early 60s (OK, the late 50s). Both were Jewish though neither came from a religious family. One came from a German-Jewish background withillustrious forebears (a yekke with yikhes). The other’s father was a self-proclaimed Communist Party member of the Stalinist persuasion. Neither was ever a Bar-Mitzvah. Both grudgingly admitted to their Jewish identity.
Their recreation of choice was playing Nazi. This usually took the form of mock torture/interrogation scenarios enacted (or at least planned) with unwilling, semi willing, or simply clueless fellow misfits in the role of Jew or Allied spy. I observed one or two of these twisted fantasies before bailing on the guys. As far as I know their Nazi fetish never progressed any further, and from hearsay, I surmise they both outgrew it. Who knows, maybe it even had some positive value in their own shadowy journeys toward maturity. It certainly taught me that in this crazy world, even something as unthinkable as a Jewish Nazi can exist.

JCarpenter says:

Does Groucho Marx’s quip “I’d never belong to a club that would have me as a member” fit somehow in this situation?

I think it’s an example of personal grievance elevated to the level of ideology, which is the case with so much antisemitism. It’s certainly never the product of dispassionate analysis.

Lisa Kaiser says:

Bravo for Rabbi Sikowitz. Like the sons of Aaron in this week’s Torah portion, he works to welcome the “leper” back to the people of Israel

Robin Margolis says:

Dear Dan Klein:

Thank you for the thoughtful article. From my own experience running the Half-Jewish Network, I have listened to many half-Jewish people and also to adoptees reporting negative comments from other Jews about not “looking Jewish.”

Rebecca says:

This is an unfortunate ending to what could have been a success story. Unfortunately though, it shows the level of ignorance that there is here in the US Jewish community, which is dominated by Askkenazim. I too have been asked if I’m Jewish, what kind of a last name is mine or simply ignored. It is racism and it isn’t. It really is more a level ignorance that has been set in the mind of most Jews here, that if one’s family didn’t come through Ellis Island, then they can’t possibly be Jewish. This can be solved very easily, by teaching ALL Jews that there are Jews in every part of the world and that as with all cultures, they come in varying shades of color. This isn’t a “Latino-Jewish” problem, it’s an American Jewish community problem. Latinamericans are taught from birth that Jews are evil. That’s not about race, it’s about anti-Semitism and it goes back centuries to Spain and the catholic church. What happened to this child is due to lack of showing him that the Jews from Yemen or Iraq ma look more like him than someone from South Africa or NYC. It’s a shame that he ended up in jail, it could have been avoided.

justicegirl says:

Well said Rebecca! You’re so right.

Racism has always existed among American Jews – just as it has in American society at large. This sometimes comes as a shock to those who identify with the liberal, progressive elements in the American Jewish community who have fought for civil rights. It was a shock to my daughter when she enrolled in a nonsectarian Jewish high school where she met for the first time a large number of Jewish kids from sheltered, orthodox backgrounds. Whereas she had many African-American and Hispanic friends from public school, these kids had never known any people outside their community and were quite prejudiced in their views of non-white minorities. However, as I write this, I have to remind myself that this monochromatic image of Jewishness is not confined to orthodox Jews. A few years ago our extended family attended services at my in-laws’ Westchester County reform temple. As my half-Asian children and their half-Jamaican cousins walked in, we created a bit of a stir.


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My Son, the Nazi

Profile asks how a Bar Mitzvah ended up a Neo-Nazi

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