It was a mixture of amusing and disturbing when Washington, D.C. Councilman Trayon White Sr. used social media to share his unusual thoughts about a recent sudden snowfall in the area, attributing it to members of the Rothschild family — a common stand-in among anti-Semites for “wealthy Jews” — who, he asserted, possess “climate control” abilities. Members of the family, the councilman contended, “create natural disasters they can pay for to own the cities.”
Critical thinking and immunity to conspiracy theory are not, unfortunately, requirements for public office, and Mr. White, after being informed by both Jewish and non-Jewish colleagues, including D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, that he had apparently swallowed an old canard about the Rothschilds being puppet masters of the World Bank and various governments — and given it a new twist — apologized for his bizarre post.
Less amusing and more disturbing, it later emerged that Mr. White had voiced similar imaginings just the previous month, at a gathering of city officials, when he told those present, “There’s this whole concept with the Rothschilds — [they] control the World Bank, as we all know — infusing dollars into major cities … They really pretty much control the federal government, and now they have this concept called resilient cities in which they are using their money and influence into local cities.”
The two D.C. councilmembers of Jewish ethnicity duly registered their protest of the ignorance of their colleague, as did several other of the council’s members. And City Administrator Rashad M. Young patiently explained that the Rockefeller Foundation’s “resilient cities” initiative was about helping communities prepare for disasters.
Inexplicably, though, some other councilmembers — Anita Bonds and Vincent C. Gray — didn’t respond to inquiries about their colleague’s unhinged remarks or declined to comment.
One, who initially didn’t comment, Councilmember Robert C. White Jr., later released a statement in which he said that Trayon White’s comments had led him, Robert C. White Jr., to learn about anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that he hadn’t known existed, despite the fact that he works closely with Jewish colleagues. He called his colleague’s apology “heartfelt” and said he hoped the episode would renew historic ties between African American and Jewish communities, alluding to their partnership during the civil rights movement.
That is a healthy sentiment, but it’s deeply disconcerting that any educated adult living in the United States today would be entirely unaware of the sort of lies about Jews propagated over the centuries.
We rightly worry about the denial of the scope of the Holocaust by contemporary ahistorical anti-Semites. But we should worry, too, about the ignorance of many more people of the wild fabrications and horrific libels about Jews that set the stage for the Holocaust and its predecessor pogroms and massacres — and that still persist, tragically, in some places today.
In his apology for his senseless posting, Trayon White called it and the reaction that ensued a “learning experience.” At least he learned. The fact that many people have yet to learn that lesson and easily fall prey to the rantings of neo-Nazis and Louis Farrakhans is frightening.
Ironically, though, Mr. White was, in a way he likely never imagined, in a manner right. No, we Jews don’t control the weather, but we do have some input into its workings. And, although inadvertently, the clueless councilman gave us a timely opportunity to reflect on that fact.
Because l’affaire Trayon White came as Klal Yisrael was busy with Pesach preparations. On Pesach we will be saying Tefillas Tal, and ceasing to say Mashiv haruach, “Who causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall.”
And when, in the winter, the precipitation, so essential to human life, is present, it is not unconnected to our tefillos. As we remind ourselves every time we recite Krias Shema, Hashem’s blessings of abundance, so dependent, especially in Eretz Yisrael, on rain, are empowered by our actions. V’hayah im shamoa …
The verb l’hispallel, “to pray,” exists only in the reflexive form. Harav Samson Raphael Hirsch, zt”l, explains that what that implies is that tefillah is essentially an act upon ourselves. When we change ourselves for the better, it makes a difference in the very forces of what we call nature.
So, while he was absurdly focused on one Jewish family and saw a sinister hand, Trayvon White wasn’t entirely wrong about Jews — through prayer — having some say in the weather. He just didn’t quite appreciate the holy mechanism through which that happens.