Blacklisting is familiar to many American Jews. Both Robert Naiman and I are “red diaper grandbabies”: his Jewish grandfather was blacklisted, as was my Jewish great-uncle, and my Jewish grandparents were terrified former Communist Party members in rural Indiana. When I was a child, my mother sternly warned me never to say her parents were Communists out loud – she had grown up in a climate of terror and silence.
Many American Jews have been Communists. Many more have been deeply committed to Civil Rights, particularly Free Speech. I understood better why on a recent trip to Poland, where I met not a single Pole who had ever attended a Passover seder. This included Poles descended from Jews, who are legion. In Seder-Masochism, I wonder aloud why my father, an atheist, raised us observing Passover. In Poland, I got my answer: Because he could. Because in America we were free to do Passover — to not only be ethnically Jewish, but to say out loud what Jews were forbidden to say in Poland. This meant an annual Passover seder without fear.
While today’s ACLU is a disgrace, in its better days its membership was disproportionately Jewish. American Jews understood the importance of Speech, including – especially – speech you disagree with. Although the ACLU no longer understands this, some of us American Jews still do.
We wanted to screen Seder-Masochism during the week of Passover. Robert signed a contract with the Art Theater and made a deposit, but when the Art’s Executive Director realized the film was by local witch/scapegoat Nina Paley, she cancelled the contract. I’ve been blacklisted in Champaign-Urbana for saying the forbidden: that women don’t have penises. For this, my screenings have been cancelled, my voice silenced, and my life threatened. Those responsible may think this has nothing to do with Jews, but they are re-enacting patterns very familiar to Jews indeed. Patterns that never end well, for anyone. Patterns that resulted in most Poles having no idea what Passover is.
Blacklisted by the Art, Robert turned to the only centrally-located theater left, the 1,463-seat Virginia, a beautifully restored movie palace owned and operated by the Champaign Park District. As a government enterprise, the Virginia must respect the First Amendment. (It also helps that, unlike the Art, the Virginia is not run by repressive ideologues.)
The theater is truly gorgeous, and huge. It will be a struggle to fill all 1,463 seats. Can you help? Admission is FREE, you need only get to Champaign, IL. If you can’t make it, you can still support the event’s GoFundMe. (Donate $250 or more, you get to have dinner with me and Robert in downtown Champaign (restaurant to be determined) before the screening. A donation of $1,463 gets you this beautiful Goddess quilt.) But the greatest gift would be to see you at the Virginia Theater on May 8, because Free Speech is priceless.