Many friends are sharing posts that rail against the rise in racist hate crimes in Britain. I share their abhorrence, but I can’t help noticing that most will not share posts about the increasing number of attacks on Jews in particular. I can sort of understand their reluctance. When Gentile friends share a post deploring anti-Semitism, their friends either ignore it completely or they become apoplectic with indignation and launch blistering diatribes in which they condemn the article and pillory their friend for sharing it. Several friends of friends have said how furious it makes them when Jews point out anti-Semitism, because Jews always get it wrong. What we claim is anti-Semitism is nothing of the sort, and Jews who speak out are simply part of a secretive and malevolent Zionist lobby which aims to corrupt and control the world (presumably using our nasty Jewey tentacles). And so on.
Many of us are now questioning whether we actually want to have friends who have so many anti-Semitic friends, but if you try to eliminate every hostile individual from your wider social circle, for many of us there will be almost no one left. Some of my friends tell me they’ve reached a compromise: they stay off the subject of Jewish life, Israel and Judaism, and so preserve peace in their friendships. By rendering their Jewishness invisible, they are able to maintain friendships with Gentiles. This age-old tradition of being someone’s ‘exception Jew’ isn’t very comfortable; I know many people who have tried it, but erasure of one’s self in order to appease others is not a good basis for a close friendship. It’s not very dignified, either.
Other friends tell me that such self-censorship is intolerable, and over the last few years I have heard countless stories from stunned, lonely and isolated Jews. All are wondering how much intolerance we should tolerate. Our families assimilated, thinking the new world was safe and that we would not need the comfort of a Jewish community to support us through hardships. Now we are isolated, our communities are scattered, and now that we need each other, we find we have grown apart.
This experience echoes rather horribly the experience of German Jews in the 1930s. As the social ostracism increased, they formed new, Jewish social groups, with assimilated secular Jews coming together with shul-goers to form walking groups, social clubs, and places where Jews could be together to provide friendship and moral support. For those of us who live in the cities, this is still possible, but many of us are the only Jews in our communities, because we have scattered far and wide. We are suffering a Diaspora within a Diaspora.
I have read that social media provides us with an echo chamber in which all our friends share our views. Such conviviality sounds heavenly, but also wholly unattainable– at least for Jews. Our Gentile friends are often silent or hostile, but our Jewish friends are not exactly forming an ‘echo chamber’ either. Some time ago I wrote about ‘two Jews, three opinions’ and went on to say that I wouldn’t have it any other way– but I’m not sure I believe that anymore. I would like nothing better than to have a group of friends who share my commitment to Israel, AND to women’s rights and equality, AND to essential social welfare services such as nationalised health care. I would like to see justice for ALL groups of people, but I am no longer welcome in the Leftist political circles that used to espouse these views. I no longer feel that I have a political ‘home’. My friends have scattered, and the New Left has broken my heart.