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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Jeffrey L. Falick


During a recent adult class conversation, I asked participants for their best guesses about the number of Jews who lived in Germany in 1935. That was the year when the Reich Citizenship Law and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor—better known as the Nuremberg Laws—went into effect. It was the beginning of the end for German and, ultimately, the entire European Jewish population.

After revealing that the total 1935 German population numbered 67 million, most participants threw out Jewish population numbers of millions or more. It’s natural that we should think that the Jews had a large presence in Germany, at least large enough that German antisemites could call their entire nation’s attention to them. In fact, the population of German Jews in 1935 was approximately 505,000. That’s a bit under three-quarters of one percent. The very largest Jewish community in Germany was Berlin with a whopping 160,000.

Aside from being a significant statistic from Jewish history, what relevance does this have today?

It’s a reminder that when populists seek to manipulate a people’s fear, distrust or discomfort with some minority it is not even necessary that any of their audience know or have ever had any contact with a member of the targeted minority. I was reminded of that this morning when I learned about yet another attempt to manipulate fear by targeting transgender people. It happened just last week when Kansas state legislators voted to enact an almost complete ban on any recognition of or related medical care for most trans people, including those well into their twenties.

Using the admittedly faulty logic that generated incorrect guesses about the German Jewish population in 1935, one would think that there were millions and millions of trans people in the United States. The correct answer is actually that there are just under one million adult Americans who identify as trans. That’s two-tenths of one percent.

I want to be very clear. It should not matter whether there are one or one hundred million trans people. Their numbers do not determine whether they should enjoy full human rights and dignity. Hate is never acceptable, regardless of the population size of victims. That should go without saying, but in 2023 I feel it needs to be said. I choose to bring it up because there is something to be learned from the outrageous disproportionality between the smallness of the trans population and the never-ending focus on the threats that they supposedly represent. 

Just as in 1935 Germany, these are the kind of numbers that should enable any thinking person to easily unmask the real motivations of those who are ginning up the atmosphere of fear and suspicion around what is actually a tiny and extremely vulnerable population. This manipulation of hatred—in exchange for power—should be so crudely obvious that no one could buy into it. 

And yet so many do.

Their fear drives them to cheer on (and support at the ballot) the performative pearl-clutching of politicians and preachers who, in turn, crush the dignity and imperil the lives of real human beings. How easily they swallow the obviously manufactured fear of the Other. Very quickly, anti-trans rhetoric spreads from leaders to hate groups to violent individuals bent on physical harm. Just check out the statistics on violent crimes against trans people, especially trans people of color.

The battle cry of the new right is “anti-wokeism.” It will take current and future scholars lifetimes to unpack the various layers of this dangerous nonsense. But really, we already know what it’s all about. Whether the “anti-woke” are racist, antisemitic, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic or any other variety of hater or manipulator of hate, what unites them all is their easy defiance of the supreme ethic of humanism, that every person is entitled to freedom and dignity.

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