Anti-Semitism and Anti-Vaxxer Statement

Faith leaders and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page called out anti-Semitism in recent St. Louis County Council meetings today, August 16. Those involved were Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation; Rori Picker Neiss, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis; and Dr. James Croft, Leader with The Ethical Society of St. Louis.

Here is the statement James made at the press conference:

“Good morning. I’m James Croft, the Leader of the Ethical Society of St. Louis, and my grandfather Captain Fred Croft fought the fascists in World War 2. He was a gunner with the Royal Artillery, a legendary shot, and while fighting on the North African Front, in Libya, he was captured and sent to a Prisoner of War camp.

The treatment of prisoners of war in World War Two tended to be better than that of those the Nazis sent to concentration camps, but they too had their systems for categorizing captives, including badges they sewed to the prisoners’ uniforms to dictate their status. My grandfather was not Jewish, so he escaped the Yellow Star of David. He was not gay like me, so he escaped the pink triangle too. But he was a repeated escapee. He was not content to sit out the war in a Prisoner of War camp, so he tried, multiple times, to escape. For his efforts he was identified with a red circle on his prison garb: a symbol which meant “Shoot on sight”: if he tried to escape again, they weren’t to bother trying to recapture him – my grandfather could just be shot.

I tell this story because when I saw anti-vaccine protesters in Springfield City Council last week turn up wearing yellow Stars of David pinned to their clothing, I thought of my grandfather and everything he sacrificed to fight the regime which used that symbol. Let me be clear: these symbols mean something. They are part of our history and our present: there are people still alive today who were forced to wear that yellow badge in concentration camps. These badges were used to denigrate and demean people, to strip them of their individuality and reduce them to just numbered members of a type, marked for slaughter: this one is a political prisoner; this one is a homosexual; this one is a Jew.

These are symbols of dehumanization, reminders of some of the worst parts of human history, and they are not to be used in a game of political dress-up. You may believe very passionately that the government should not promote the vaccine, but you should not use these symbols – or references to the Holocaust in general – to make your point. To do so defames the memory of those, like my grandfather and like so many US service people, who fought against Fascism. To do so completely undermines any political point you might be trying to make. And to do so brings disgrace upon you. So to those making these wild comparisons between the encouragement to wear a mask or to take a vaccine, and the holocaust: shame on you. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

As for the vaccine itself, I know many of you are skeptical. My friends and colleagues will tell you that I am a skeptical person. Rabbi Talve and Maharat Picker Neiss will tell you that I like to ask critical questions, I like to see the evidence. In that way, although I come from another country, I am a Missourian: I want you to show me. So I understand the desire some of you have to see the evidence that the vaccine works and is safe before getting it yourself. I understand the skepticism.

I understand, too, that is a lot of confusing, conflicting information out there,  It can be difficult to know who are the experts, what to believe.  So I, like most Missourians, try to use my common sense.  I listen to the advice of doctors with expertise in infectious diseases.

The truth is that the results on wearing masks, social distancing, and frequent hand washing are in. We asked “show me”, and the studies and the research have shown us that these measures help stop the spread of COVID 19.

Results of the vaccine are also in.  All of the COVID 19 vaccines reduce the chances of contracting COVID 19.  In addition, if you are vaccinated and do catch COVID, even the severe delta strain, you are significantly less likely to have a severe illness.  Over 95% of those dying from COVID 19 have not been vaccinated.

I want you and your family to be safe. I have lost family members and members of my congregation to the virus, and I don’t wish that on anyone. I also want this to be over. I hate wearing a mask, I hate not being able to go to the movies, I hate not seeing my friends. The Ethical Society has been closed for 17 months now, and I’m anxious for our community to get back together. So I understand your impatience.

But I also understand that the quickest and safest way for us to get life back to normal is to get the vaccine, and – for the time being – wear a mask. So I ask all of you to do your part.  Wear a mask.  Use social distancing.  Wash your hands. And, please, get vaccinated.”