Them Versus Us

Donald Trump scares me. He perceives the universe as Them Vs. Us.

As a Jew, I have mostly been on the “them” side. Beginning with the immediate family, it was the Russian Pogroms when Cossacks on horseback hunted down and murdered “them.” Later, Hitler’s final solution was to identify “them” with yellow stars on their clothing and tattooed numbers on their forearms before exterminating them. And that’s just the Jews. What about the others including homosexuals, the disabled, Roma (Gypsies), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Afro-Germans, Soviet prisoners of War? They were “them,” too.

Official Japanese Evacuation Document signed by FDR. © Norine Dresser Photo collection, 2015.
Replica of official Japanese Evacuation Document dated, May 3, 1942. This act declared that both alien and non-alien Japanese be removed from their homes and sent to Relocation Camps. © Norine Dresser Photo collection, 2015.

When I was in second grade, I became friends with a Japanese classmate. I loved going to her house after school and playing hop scotch in her garden. One of my strongest memories is of her mother who, one day, invited me inside their dimly-lit dining room to see a display of dolls in traditional Japanese costumes encased in glass as part of their Girls Day celebration. I felt so excited and honored.

Soon after, I moved to another school district and in 1941, when Pearl Harbor Day occurred with the ensuing edict of evacuating the Japanese, I imagined my girlfriend’s house darkened and boarded up. How this saddened me.

After my marriage, we lived on the same block as the Ito family, parents and grandfather of Lance Ito, the judge who presided in the OJ Simpson double murder case. The senior Ito family was evacuated to Heart Mt., Wyoming, where Lance’s parents first met. After the war, this family was among a minority who was able to return to their homes due to the generosity of the elder Ito’s friendship with a co-worker who protected the house while they were gone.

In the documentary film, “Witness: the Legacy of Heart Mt.,” Judge Ito discloses that he keeps a painting of the Heart Mt. internment camp in his judicial chambers to remind himself about what might happen if the public is not paying attention.

As an anthropologist/folklorist, I am familiar with the concept of xenophobia, fear of the other. It is a dangerous yet universal notion that divides people. Trump is good at inflaming fear of one group of people against another. This is dangerous. His rhetoric fans the flames of bigotry. It encourages the fringe people to act out their hatred towards “them.”

In his campaign for Republican Presidential nominee, Trump began by bad-mouthing Mexicans. His current “them” is Muslims. How can one not partially connect his vitriolic words against “them” with recent attacks, including arson, upon mosques in North Palm Beach, Florida, Coachella and Hawthorne, California, Macon, Georgia, and Houston, Texas?

Now as the 2015 Christmas Season draws to a close, we see this inspiring message everywhere: Peace on Earth; Good Will Toward Men. In Trump’s view that sentiment appears to be, Peace on Earth; Good Will to Those Men of My Choosing.


Norine Dresser is a folklorist who deplores “him” and not “them.”





celebrations, music, religion, Uncategorized

“When You Get to the Word ‘Jesus,’ Just Sing ‘Hm, Hm”

Those were the instructions my mother gave me after I told her that I had been chosen to be a sixth grade Christmas caroler. She felt that I would be betraying my Jewish heritage if I sang the name of “Jesus.” I didn’t agree with her, so I didn’t obey.

Anonymous group of Christmas carolers. Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Anonymous group of Christmas carolers. Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

For me, music trumps all, and I’m not talking about Donald. Other Jews don’t have a problem paying tribute to the birth of Jesus. Look at Irving Berlin. He composed the iconic two tunes associated with Christian holidays: “White Christmas” and “Easter Parade.” High-profile Jewish vocalists have joyfully sung Christian holiday songs, such as Barbra Streisand with one album of Christmas melodies and Neil Diamond with three different Christmas albums.

In 1994, the First World Sacred Music Festival occurred in Los Angeles and was a spectacular event. Because Los Angeles has so many different religions, the event lasted for two weeks in many sacred as well as public venues. However, the most exciting program occurred at the Hollywood Bowl. First of all, the Dalai Lama blessed this gathering of almost 18,000 audience members. To protect him, all of us had to pass through metal detectors before being seated.

After his blessing, the performances ensued. Because there were so many musical acts, the concert began at 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon and ended at 10:00 p.m. As each group sang, the excitement heightened until we reached the last act, a renowned choir from the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles.

The pianist slowly played some chords and then intoned: “You may have AT & T, but sometimes your call doesn’t go through.” She played some arpeggios and continued. “You may have Sprint, but they, too, have problems and sometimes you can’t get through.” After playing more chords and arpeggios, she dramatically mentioned more phone carriers, all with connection flaws, leading to the climax: “But there is one person who will always be there to answer your call, and his name is…” In the spirit of the moment the entire audience shouted, “JESUS!” Then the choir began and we rocked on throughout their set until we left the Bowl on a high note.

By singing the name “Jesus,” did that negate my religious or spiritual beliefs? Did it change who I am? I don’t believe so. For me, the music transcended the words.

Is it bad/evil/or disloyal to sing the name of another one’s God?

I have never felt so, but I speak only for myself.

Oops! I have much more to write about, but it’s time to leave for my Las Cruces Ukuleles rehearsal for our four upcoming Christmas concerts. And when we get to the word “Jesus” I will have no problem belting out his name.

The author in her Las Cruces Ukes performance costume. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
The author in her Las Cruces Ukes performance costume. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.


Norine Dresser is a folklorist who delights in music of all kinds, religious and secular, Western and Eastern.