Since the election of Donald Trump, American Jews have seen a rapid rise in anti-Semitism. I understand how frightening and heartbreaking the attacks on our community centers, cemeteries, schools, and synagogues have been. I understand that the immediate reaction is to hope that this trend will not continue, and to work hard to make it clear to others and to ourselves that we are American; that we belong here and that this is where we will live out our lives; that fear and violence have no place in America.
This reaction is a grave mistake and the logic behind it is dangerously flawed. Anyone who opens a history book can clearly see that we have never been welcomed by any country. Despite our greatest efforts, we are never considered part of our host societies. Even when our community played an integral role in the building of new kingdoms, empires, and nation-states, we were never rewarded with acceptance. Jews have helped govern dozens if not hundreds of states, including but not limited to Iraq, Spain, Germany, and Egypt. The descendants of those indefatigably patriotic Jews were all either killed or exiled.
And the biggest tragedy is that people have deluded themselves into believing that America is different. That here, Jews are welcomed and loved and accepted. And that if we only try hard enough to invest ourselves in the betterment of this country, its promise and opportunities will be extended to us and to our children. We tell ourselves that the lofty ideals of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights make American Jews immune from the anti-Semitic sickness that has plagued mankind since the dawn of time.
German Jews felt the same way about their beloved Deutschland, a country which had witnessed a Jewish cultural renaissance and that gave birth to Freud, Einstein, and Reform Judaism. Before the 1941 pogrom that took 200 lives, Iraqi Jews were committed to their country which had been a center of Jewish life since the Babylonian exile and which had a dramatic overrepresentation of Jews in its first independent government. We cannot make the mistake that German, Iraqi, Russian, Moroccan, or any other Jews have made: We cannot delude ourselves into believing that our host country is the promised land. It is not.
Now, I’m not alluding to an impending genocide or mass expulsion- rather I’m suggesting that America is no different from any other nation. As history has always proven, this country that stretches from sea to shining sea will one day force us to surrender either our identities or our lives.
This isn’t to say that our widespread delusion isn’t understandable: it’s an age-old defense mechanism. For the past 2,000 years of Jewish existence, we didn’t have a place to go: returning to Israel wasn’t an option. We forced ourselves to believe that we were safe because the alternative was accepting the crippling reality that everything, our homes, our communities, and our lives were contingent on the approval of those in power.
We must remember that our promised land is nestled on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. On that gorgeous land bridge between Africa and Asia our forefathers developed our civilization and defended our right to exist. There, and only there, in the sovereign State of Israel, are we free.
I hope and pray that the hate crimes against the Jewish community will serve as a wake up call for the millions who have not yet returned to our homeland. History tells us that we cannot afford to linger.