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Liberal New Yorker does well in ND

When former State Representative Eliot Glassheim came to North Dakota in the early 1970s to teach literature at the University of North Dakota, he had three strikes against him:

He was from New York.

He was liberal.

He was Jewish.

Any of these could make him a target of conservative anti-Semitists. But the parade of speakers at his memorial used every positive adjective in Webster’s Dictionary to praise him.

As his friend, I had written a list of virtues in the event I was asked to make a few remarks. This was a habit from the days of being lieutenant governor when one was about to be called on for a few extemporaneous remarks if recognized by the emcee.

By the time Emcee Mayor Mike Brown finished a brief introduction, he had already used up half of my list and by the time the next three speakers finished, my list of adjectives was used twice over and I was left speechless.

Statesman, humble, public servant, hard-working, creative, compassionate, humorous, kind, hopeful, unrelenting, activist, generous, patient, respectful, leader, author, poet, caring, genuine and more. Any professing Christian would have been envious.

However, many who could honor Eliot in person could hate Jews in the abstract, North Dakotans not excepted.

Reinhold Niebuhr, in his brilliant book, Moral Man and Immoral Society, points out that attitudes are radically different between personal relationships and people at a distance. The better we know people, the less we hate them.

Nevertheless, in the past few years anti-Semitism has been on the rise.

In 2013, there were 751 anti-Jewish hate crimes recorded nationally. By 2018 there were over 900 incidents and assaults, the worst of which was the killing of 11 and wounding of six in Pittsburgh.

Many of these anti-Semitic hate crimes were performed by ordinary people, according to authorities. Only the one in Pittsburgh could be attributed to extremists.

“I think each and every individual should look in the mirror and ask themselves, ‘Do I harbor any of these forms of bigotry? Am I believing any of these ideas about the Jewish people or about any racial groups of people or ethnic group of people?” suggested Professor Ibram Kendi, director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University.

Kendi’s questions were framed to go beyond just the Jewish people. “Any racial groups” would include the refugees from the Middle East who are trying to start a new life as did my Norwegian grandfather in Minnesota. It would also include the Native-Americans who live in our midst as aliens on their own land.

It seems that we never run out of folks who love to inflame the public with unfounded rumors about the alleged lavish lifestyles of newcomers. They forget that many of their parents got their start with 160 acres of free land from the government. They have no memory of history.

This brings us back to Eliot Glassheim. The anti-Semitists loved Eliot because they got to know him. He became identified as a person rather than an abstract ethnic.

By his life, Eliot was teaching those of us who are still teachable. If we get to know Native-Americans, we would find them likeable. We would also find that to be true about Moslems, African-Americans and any other group we love to hate.

Getting to know the victims of bigotry would be one way to reduce the corrosive hate that is ripping our social fabric in this generation.

Lloyd Omdahl is a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota and former political science professor at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks.

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