The flexagon pages of “Passing” include 64 hand-painted portraits representing a broad cross-section of society, but when the reader manipulates the paper, the smiling faces move to reveal a collection of 64 antisemitic quotes, tropes, and jokes. The contrast between the bright colors and welcoming expressions with the hidden malevolence is intentionally surprising and hurtful. “Passing” provides the viewer with an experience akin to suffering antisemitism firsthand, while highlighting the scope and impact that antisemitism has on individuals as well as the course of history. The epilogue provides additional perspective. All quotes are attributed.
I do not typically pair my work with explanatory passages, but this work requires special care. Its form is metaphoric; like the paper of these pages, the words reproduced herein can be folded and manipulated to represent something false.
Fold the flexagon pages and slide the layers in order to reveal what lies behind the smiling faces. Behind every portrait can be found an antisemitic quote, trope or joke, in much the same way that these words arise in life – in casual conversation, in idle remarks made on television, by religious leaders at their pulpits, or anywhere, really. The comments always sting and the pain is often augmented by a sense of betrayal and surprise. The hurt can come from unexpected quarters, from anyone. The comments pass as acceptable, and are often made in the presence of Jews who pass as members of the dominant culture, or with the presumption that Jews can successfully pass as integrated while maintaining a separate identity.
With the exception of a few common jokes and standard antisemetic questions that often get asked in casual conversation, I chose only antisemetic quotes that could be traced to their source. It is often said that “People don’t say or think those things anymore,” so I wanted to make it clear that people really do say and think these things, historically, currently and with great frequency. In fact, I had so many traceable options that I had a difficult time narrowing the number down to 64. Thus I opted to not include the most recognized and committed antisemites such as Adolph Hitler and Richard Wagner.
This collection is directed at those who minimize the scope and impact of antisemitism. This collection aims to enlighten those who do not understand the main origins of antisemitism. This collection addresses those who do not understand how this insidious ideology blazes a trail throughout 2000 years of history right up to the crematorium doors at Auschwitz, and that Auschwitz was not the final destination, and did not even institute a pause in the construction of this road to hell.
I worried about collecting this much antisemitism from such a broad array of sources under the auspices of one work. Some viewers may take it as a manifesto, or a blueprint. Am I drawing attention to the injustice? Or am I reinforcing the unjust messages I highlight? As I worked on this project I came to the conclusion that there is nothing hidden. This problem is already in the public eye, it is just not properly labeled as a problem.
The purpose of this work is not to “cancel” anyone. I am merely pointing out how pervasively acceptable it is to harbor antisemitic thoughts and express them freely, from the full spectrum of political leanings. I think it is important to listen to these speakers and to understand that there is no perfection in this world. All people, all ideologies and all faiths are flawed to some degree. Acknowledging the flaw allows us to create newer less flawed iterations.
Some of the people quoted in this book have since apologized for their words. Some have not. I have not taken a person’s remorse into consideration when including their words. In every generation antisemitism rises in response to the evils of the past, infecting those it touches. And, in every generation, the poisonous presence of antisemitism must be actively addressed, no matter where it appears. This is not about absolutism. This is about good people saying and doing bad things as much as it is about bad people saying and doing bad things. It is possible for a person to be good in one way and bad in another, and if we were to let the presence of evil invalidate the good, the world would be poorer for it. But the converse is also true–if we ignore the evil simply because someone has honor, goodness or talent that seems to outweigh their flaws – we allow the infection to persist, and the person who might have lived a healthy life remains poisoned and poisons others. For every person who gains self-awareness and recognizes their own bigotry and feels remorse, there are dozens who never do, or who never see the retractions. So here the words of the remorseful remain, in acknowledgement that even retracted words have a lasting impact.