A transcript of my imaginary conversation with Stephen Spielberg:
“Hi, Stephen (if I may): Jeff Salkin here…Rabbi Jeff Salkin….yes, of “Martini Judaism fame”….listen, really sorry about ‘The Fabelmans.’ I thought you were a shoe-in for best picture, maybe even best director…But, don’t worry: I have a new idea for you. This is going to be huge.
“Opening shot: a photo of earth from outer space. Zoom in on this huge brown mass on the globe….close up: it reveals itself to be a huge mass of seaweed, the size of a continent. It is heading towards Florida, about to devour the entire state, and the only person who can save Florida is the Swedish environmental girl, Greta Thunberg. I think that we can get Julia Louis-Dreyfus to play her…OK, yes, too old, but…”
It’s actually not funny. It is actually true. Florida is in danger.
Why? Because a gargantuan, tangled mass of seaweed called sargassum is heading towards the Florida beaches and other places along the Gulf of Mexico. Once it hits the beaches and starts to rot, it will create not only olfactory unpleasantness (i.e., it will stink), but also massive pollution and other environmental hazards.
Yes, this is my movie: “The Blob That Ate Florida.”
But, alas: This is not the only thing that threatens Florida.
There is another creeping hazard that is wreaking havoc in my state, and we need the open eyes and the political will to notice it.
I am talking about the rise of authoritarian politics in the Sunshine State.
Item. The banning of gender affirming care, which I believe is a decision that needs to be between patients, parents, and physicians.
Item. The hatred towards anything that smacks of transgender, including drag shows. This has become the singular obsession of Governor Ron DeSantis.
Item. The push to ban abortion after six weeks. When this trend completes its expansion to other Southern states, it would mean that, say, a scared teenager in Sarasota — or any woman — would have to travel as far north as Virginia. That is, if she even knows that she is pregnant by the six week mark.
Item. The prohibitions against teaching about Critical Race Theory and gender. Activists in Florida are now scouring school textbooks, including math textbooks, for “prohibited topics.”
To invoke the word of the coming Passover season: dayeinu. These forays into the culture wars would be enough, and grimly sufficient, to raise our ire and our concern.
But, it gets worse — and this is where Jewish alarms should be going off.
Item. State Senator Jason Brodeur has proposed a bill that would require bloggers who receive money for writing about any Florida elected official to register with a state agency. Registered bloggers would then need to submit monthly reports disclosing any posts, including their compensation. Failure to report would result in a fine of up to $2,500, in addition to other penalties.
It is unclear as to whether Sen. Brodeur has ever read the Constitution — with that pesky thing about freedom of the press.
There is a word for this, and the word is totalitarianism. We Jews were the canaries in the mines on that one. We saw it up close and personal. There is scarcely an ethnic group or a faith group that has suffered from various forms of totalitarianism to the depth that the Jews have suffered.
From whom else will the outcry come?
Item. In Martin County, just north of where I live, the county school library system has removed dozens of books from the shelves.
Among them: books by Jodi Picoult, including “The Storyteller,” a novel about the Holocaust.
Why? In the case of Picoult’s book, because one parent complained — a woman who happens to be the head of the local chapter of the conservative Moms For Liberty.
Understand, please. One loud parent, and one activist group that masks itself as activists for liberty — that is all it takes to ban a book, or books.
But, have you taken a look at the list of books of the books that are being removed from Florida libraries? Many of those books are about Jewish subjects, including a children’s book about Shabbat, banned in Duval County (Jacksonville).
When you realize that Jacksonville was one of the places in Florida where extremists projected swastikas onto office buildings, you start to wonder: Is there a connection between local hysteria about a book on Shabbat, and raw Jew-hatred?
And, what happens when Florida libraries ban books about the Holocaust? What is the probable outcome of such enforced ignorance?
Why do I write about this? Why do I speak out, again and again?
Because I simply can’t not do so. Because there is a blob — of ignorance, and of totalitarianism — that is heading towards Florida.
Year ago, I heard this story from the late Holocaust survivor and moral witness, Elie Wiesel.
A righteous man went to the biblical city of Sodom, which was known for its massive evil and callousness.
The righteous man sat in the middle of the town square, and he put his head in his hands, and he screamed.
Someone approached the man, and asked him: “Do you really think that your screaming will change anyone?”
“No,” he said.
“But, at the very least, I know that they won’t change me.”
While I like that story, I do not like it as much as I once did.
Once, I believed that it was sufficient to scream, so that the world would not change us.
I no longer believe that this is enough.
Rather: What we need in Florida is a broad-based, multi-religious, multi-ethnic coalition that will stand up to the encroachments on our intellectual and personal freedoms — before it is too late.
Who will start?
Because, yes. Another hazard is drifting towards our state. It is the fetid face of fascism, which some of us might welcome with open arms, in the erroneous belief that it is protecting our individual liberties and the ideological purity of our families.
We will not be happy with what we get, because like the rotting sargassum, it will produce its own stench.
My fellow Floridians: This is our state.
What are we going to do about it?