David Chinitz
David Chinitz

An Open Letter to Bari Weiss

Dear Ms Weiss,

It may provide you some professional satisfaction to know that a group of Jerusalemites frequently alert each other to your articles. Your recent piece, “Everybody Hates the Jews,” was forwarded to us by one of our group at the tail end of his visit to our previous, and for you current, motherland, the US. It was kind of slipped in among messages about Major League Baseball scores and pennant races, head scratching descriptions of the latest wokeness capers at US academic institutions such as Brandeis and Columbia, among the alma matres of the members of our group. Before Covid, we would bandy about reactions and jovially cross swords over single malt scotch on Friday evenings about the trends you so ably and passionately write about that impact on our former Jewish communities in New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Los Angeles, San Francisco and your own hometown of Pittsburgh.

I think I speak for the group, US expats who moved to Israel at different points over the last 40 years, when I say that few have so persistently and skilfully captured in writing the current condition of the Jews in the US as have you. Though, to be honest, most of us are a couple of decades older than you, and let’s just say the pathology you seem to be examining as if it were a new rash that just broke out, namely American Anti Semitism, was not unknown to us when we were growing up in the zip codes mentioned above.

My own father, a distinguished scholarly Rabbi, had his own awakening in the 1960s, when the Black Panthers rewarded US Jews, who had visibly and in unison supported the Civil Rights Movement, by attacking Jews and synagogues in retribution for demonized Jewish landlords depicted by Richard Wright, and as part of the ideology of the Nation of Islam that somehow overlooked Muslim persecution and enslavement of blacks over the centuries. A fiery speaker, not afraid to address politics openly in his sermons, my father turned overnight from castigating McCarthyism and Barry Goldwater, to openly supporting the Jewish Defense League created by Meir Kahane. Aside from the Black Panthers, there were also SDS, the Weathermen and Breira, an early precursor of J Street, all so concerned with social justice and so disappointed in the State of Israel’s usurping and occupying of the Palestinians. You see, Bari, what you are wrestling with is pretty much a bunch of chickens coming home to roost, and, actually, not from very far off.

In your book, How to Fight Anti-Semitism, and in subsequent writings, you have diagnosed the problem accurately, if a bit overladen with disillusionment about the decline of American pluralism and civic values. Your prescription for dealing with the problem seems to be mostly to recognize reality, continually point out the nature of the danger, and keep the American faith. Your own decision to leave the New York Times because you felt persecuted for bringing up these issues and hemmed in by spineless editors afraid to offend the woke warriors who casually and toxically wave away anti Semitism because Jews are white, put you in a tough, thankless trench.

Tragically, as much as you must struggle against the anti Semites, you also face an uphill battle in getting your fellow American Jews to raise the standard and charge into battle using all the material, legal, media, public protest, and political means at their disposal. Sadly, the vast majority of US Jews are not only not woke (I will be accused of cultural misappropriation for sure) to their predicament, they are soundly in an escapist sleep, confused, ignorant and lethargic. Except for the Jews of J Street and the followers of Bernie Sanders, who think that Israel is the problem, not the solution. Not coincidentally, your piece came out the same day that the Squad in Congress succeeded in eliminating, probably temporarily but still  a wake up call,  funding of Israel’s Iron Dome  missile system from the Federal Budget. In Israel politicians and pundits woke up and we will have to deal with the implications. We have no choice, but American Jews, by and large, can, and will, despite your best efforts, continue to sleep.

Which, as we sip whiskey in Jerusalem, draws our attention to the one solution you so adeptly ignore in your all your writings. All of us made aliya to Israel, mainly out of feeling that we, and more importantly, our children, should be part of what Tel Aviv Professor and Knesset Member Yossi Shain, has labelled in his recent book The Israeli Century. We didn’t make aliya out of fear of anti Semitism, but, rather, to correct something deficient in our own Jewish lives.  Perhaps somewhere in the corner of our minds the possibility that one day Jews might feel uncomfortable in the US was a consideration, but only after all the positive reasons. Indeed, following Israeli author AB Yehoshua, we thought that by showing the world that Jews want to live in Israel not due to persecution, we would be actually striking a blow against anti-Semitism.

And it doesn’t have to be all of the US’ Jews. How about a meaningful half a million, led by you? Imagine the attention that would draw. Bari Weiss figured out that the best way to fight the Squad is to move to Israel and try to improve the way it handles the peace process with the Palestinians! American Jews would wake up to the fact that there is an option, and their connection to Israel, since almost all of them would have siblings or cousins living in Israel, would strengthen. Like the French in the wake of a significant uptick in Jewish emigration to Israel due to Muslim terrorism, the US elite would wake up and say, hold on a minute, we can’t afford to lose all our Jews, they are too much part of the fabric of what makes America great. Too bad we lost Bari Weiss, but let’s stem the flow.

Bari, I get that you have decided to sacrifice yourself to the battle against anti Semitism in the US, and admire you for it. This is just a suggestion that you could do more with less sacrifice by moving to Tel Aviv, where you have already indicated that you feel very comfortable for a number of reasons.  I myself have just moved to Tel Aviv Jaffa from Jerusalem, and it is truly one of the world’s great cities, created by and run by Jews! And guess what? There are serious issues, like housing for poor Arab families in Jaffa, that I am involved with and to which you could put your shoulder. You deserve it and owe it to yourself, and, believe me, you’ll strike a bigger blow against anti Semitism by moving here than all the valiant lonely soldier battling you’re engaged in.

As an additional draw, I’ll be happy, in the near future when Covid in Israel will be a non issue, to drive you up to Jerusalem to join us US expats for drinks.

About the Author
David Chinitz is Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Braun School of Public Health, Hebrew University-Hadassah