Yosef Fruhman

Casually hated: The future of American Jewry

On the Shabbat before last, Nazis rallied at the University of Wisconsin Madison. On that same day, a campus organization at my university (Rutgers) reposted a rant claiming that Jews in America worried about rising antisemitism were experiencing “psychosis”.

Susan Sarandon, a famous American actress (who is neither Jewish nor Muslim) recently said that now American Jews get to feel what it’s like to be Muslim in this country. According to FBI statistics, Jews are consistently the single most targeted religious group in the United States. That number has been on the rise for years, and has gone to the moon since the war started.

I recently read an excellent op-ed called “Dear diaspora Jews: It’s over” making the argument that it’s finally time for Australians to “give up” and move to Israel. For those who aren’t familiar, there’s a common mentality in the diaspora that we will only make Aliyah when our countries become so hostile to Jews that it is no longer safe for us to stay. I hate this mentality personally, but it’s the same mentality that has fueled Aliyah for centuries. The Jews who built Israel were mostly refugees or the children of refugees, who fled to Israel before being immediately attacked. 

It’s always made more sense to me to just beat the rush and make Aliyah before it gets too bad. We have a country that will protect us, why should we wait until we need that protection? But I guess even I waited too long. 

I want to explore this a bit, and flesh out why I think we’ve reached a tipping point for Jews in America. The article above does a good job of explaining the unique situation of Australian Jewry, and we’ve known that Jews’ days in Western Europe were numbered for years. But the US has always been seen as that last bastion for diaspora, the place that had the potential to break the 2,000 year long trend of hating Jews until 1) they leave, 2) they are kicked out, or 3) they are killed.

When I was younger, I really believed that the US was the exception. All four of my grandparents came to the US as refugees, and although the country gave them some abuse when they got here, they all managed to succeed. This gave me a lot of hope- maybe this country would actually be different for the Jews. After all, there’s no way a country whose founding myth is based around a religious minority seeking refuge could still hate us. 

But antisemitism is old, and its tendrils run deep everywhere. All the immigrants who came to the US carried their beliefs about the Jews, and the whites that built the country never quite overcame that Old-World hatred. Of course, things here were better than they were in Europe, and even the MENA/SWANA region. The first President of the United States told us that antisemitism would have no place here. That’s the kind of guarantee you couldn’t dream of.

In an ordinary essay, this is where I’d go through a history of antisemitism in the United States, and show how the country has failed. I could talk about Leo Frank, the Nazi rally in Madison Square Garden, the Klan, the Turner Diaries, the links drawn by antisemites between Jews and immigrants and “the gay agenda”, the left’s diatribes about dark Jewish (sorry, Israeli) money governing US politics, the right’s obsession with George Soros, the lizard people, the Deadly Exchange theory, the Women’s March, the Black Hebrew Israelites, the Nation of Islam, Nick Fuentes, Kanye West, the Squad and so on.

But honestly, even mentioning any of those worries me. For all I know, some reader is going to Google one of those antisemitic stories or conspiracy theories, find that it agrees with their politics, and start to believe in it. This isn’t because they are an antisemite, it’s because these things are ingrained in the cultural consciousness in the United States. There’s a reason that some of those are considered “progressive”, some are considered “fascist”, and some defy classification. Antisemitism is older than the left-right political divide, and it’s found a comfy home on both sides.

And again, normally this is where I’d say “so make sure to study up on antisemitism and be sure you aren’t using harmful rhetoric!” But I’ve given up. The game is over, we lost, time to go home.

Even after I realized that America wasn’t this mythic land of opportunity where all the world’s problems would be solved, I still believed there were pockets that could do it. I would guess other American Jews also went through this denial phase. In fact, many of my personal friends have described this exact mentality. The feeling was, even if large parts of the United States will hate me for being Jewish, this group/ideology won’t, so I just need to stick with them.

What’s funny about this is that I know liberals, progressives, and conservatives that all came to this conclusion. I guess we see what we want to see.

Unfortunately, I don’t think any of us were right. Depending on where you as a Jew fell politically, you could either experience racial antisemitism, religious antisemitism, or national antisemitism. But you were going to get one. 

There was a span where we all just kind of put up with it. Thankfully, the antisemitism was never so loud, and it was usually kept at the fringes of whatever ideology we thought had our backs. I personally assumed that, although there were plenty of Jew-haters on the left, nobody I knew was like that, so I’d never find myself directly facing it. 

But that was a gross misunderstanding of how ideologies of hatred work. Nobody has to hate you for the ideology to spread. It’s not like there are mostly normal people and there are a few antisemites and the game is about sticking to the normal. These categories don’t exist. 

There are no antisemites, there are only antisemitic ideas and attitudes. This was the truth that we were missing, that let us believe that we had a place in our circles. 

This realization is what made me give up. Because now, there really is no safe corner for Jews. If we recognize that there is rampant antisemitism baked into most of the dominant ideologies in modern America, and realize that anyone could accept these ideologies into themselves without obviously changing their actions, we come to the conclusion that all parts of the United States are primed for an explosion of Jew-hatred at any point. As soon as something crazy happens that makes those beliefs actionable, American Jews are in danger.

If you still don’t get it, let me explain in a hypothetical. Let’s imagine a standard American college campus, with standard American college campus vibes. For the sake of our example, this means it also has the standard American college campus antisemitic attitudes (and yes, for those unaware, American college campuses have a unique antisemitic subculture that is distinct from most of the wider world). Many of the people on this imaginary campus, Jews included, hold beliefs that are influenced by the antisemitic tropes that have infected their cultures for over 2000 years. 

All of the sudden, war breaks out, and these passive beliefs are transformed into active ones. Now, the college students (whose beliefs have not changed at all) are acting against the interests of Jews. They aren’t “antisemites” per se, but their previously latent antisemitic beliefs are coming to the forefront. 

Even if we assume 99% of these college kids are completely peaceful, that still leaves a lot of people running around with dangerous beliefs and a desire to harm Jews. If you’re curious how such a world looks, look up Jewish on Campus

I think in a few weeks the storm of antisemitism that has engulfed America will calm down. Most people who have called for violence against us will “go back to brunch”, and their hate-inspired attitudes will become latent again. And I’m sure plenty of American Jewish leaders and institutions will celebrate how we overcame a “temporary” surge in antisemitism.

But the beliefs that got us here haven’t changed. The hatred festering under the surface of American culture will still be there if there’s a permanent ceasefire, if the war ends, if Palestine becomes a state, even if Israel is destroyed. 

This is why the Jewish community here has reached a tipping point. We’ve woken up to the fact that we have been building our lives on a powder keg for years, and that actions out of our control can blow it up at any second. Personally, I don’t think our community can survive like this. 

For the first time in 2000 years, we have the luxury of not waiting around until antisemitism corrupts our host countries and gets us killed. Let’s not waste it.

About the Author
Yosef Fruhman is a second year student at Rutgers University in New Jersey, studying Political Science and Jewish Studies. He works as a research assistant studying international borders.
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