Cops, Jews, and American Culture

I want to start off writing this post by saying that i hope that I am not embracing sensationalism, or being overdramatic. I know that these days we have enough of that as it is. However, from my limited experience, I want to write about a certain worry that I have had for a while now, and that it is slowly grown over the past few weeks.

Before going into it, I want to share a little bit of my story. When I graduated college, I applied for the job of becoming a police officer. After the week that I began the academy, I met with a rabbi from the conservative movement to begin my conversion process to become Jewish (Since then, my views and beliefs have become more of an orthodox, and I have since converted “again” under the Rabbinic Authority in Israel. I believe that what I did was the true and correct way, but without going any further, I’ll say that this is obviously another story for another time). It was an invigorating time, and I feel that I learned a lot… perhaps in some ways more than I ever learned in college about real life and human nature.

One of the things I learned, both as a Jew and as a police officer, and later as a Corrections Officer (I should state here that I was only in a department for about six months before I became a Corrections Officer/”Prison guard”), that we were essentially targets. Obviously anyone who knows anything about Jewish history in the world knows that there has not been a country in the world that Jews have dwelt in that they have not been oppressed at least to some certain extent.

On the other hand, I want to delve into the nature of police officers being targets, and how it relates to Jews. I hope the reader will understand that this is not meant in any way to cheapen the pain of what has gone on in the Black community, because it truly is difficult to comprehend the scars left from the 20th century and further back. G-d forbid I should cheapen another people’s pain. Nevertheless, I wish to make an assertion in this blog post of what I see as a potential problem in the future.

Despite the recent (And accurate) portrayal of a four police officers using excessive and completely unnecessary force on Floyd George,  police departments in the US are primarily meant to keep good law and order. Now of course, that’s obvious. But I just want to remind everyone who may have forgotten what a police officer at his or her best is meant to be. Law-enforcement. If there is a law, they are meant to keep it preserved and protected. They draw a line that is not meant to be crossed. In other words, in many ways they are the embodiment of the lawful boundaries and the consequences if those boundaries are crossed in any country.

I want to stop here for a moment and talk about American culture now. If you turn on the radio, go on facebook or any social media platform, any celebrity, any artist with a voice, you’re probably at some point going to hear about what the world needs. “Love.” Everybody needs love. Beatles? “All you need is love.” Nothing matters as long as there is love. Indeed, America’s primary religion claims that “God is love!” It seems that for some time now, American/Western culture has been fixated with this idea of love being the answer. And yet, is it possible that too much of a good thing is… not such a good thing? What happens when love becomes so extreme, that there are no more boundaries? Is love as a universal agenda such a good thing? Because usually when an agenda becomes universal, it also becomes imperialistic. And imperialism, even if the ideology be love, is nothing short of rape–whether it be political rape, physical rape, or emotional rape–it’s forced on the other. I certainly believe that American culture has embraced this universal love ideology–without understanding the repercussions. To me, it would explain a lot about where we are at.

Now let’s back up a minute. In American culture, who stands in the way of this universal love ideology? Pretty much anyone who maintains a strong moral boundary that makes no sense, at least on the surface. Thus, the people with the strong moral boundaries get watched scrupulously. Religious leaders. Political leaders, (Yes, even if they are corrupt, they can still maintain a platform of moral boundaries), and any adherent to an ideology, faith, lifestyle, and/or religion that while perhaps not harmful to anyone, maintains a certain exclusive distance from everyone else around. Once that moral boundary is made, the popular thing to do will be to expose the adherent to hypocrisy, because there is no better way to destroy the adherent and his/her ideology than that kind of exposure. And of course, we are all human, so we will all trip up eventually. And the universal love idealists will be there to whistle-blow and expose when that happens.

So these days, who is the first line of defense in drawing the boundaries that are hated so much? Police Officers. How do you delegitimize law enforcement in America? Catch a few very bad officers on camera (Who are in the extreme minority of all cops by the way) in an act of evil and corrupt power, and let that video go viral. Chain reaction. Riots. Innocent people getting hurt. Police Departments themselves attacked, and not given back-up by their superiors. Chaos. Protests are justified. Riots? Innocent people getting hurt? Can we truly say that those things are justified and that if they came and burned down your house, that it would be justified? In any case, whether we like it or not, it has happened. 

Now let’s turn to the Jewish community in the US. We Jews have a great many laws and traditions that really aren’t meant to be explained by human reason. While as a convert, I personally need to work on certain aspects of self discipline, sometimes I am truly amazed at the self discipline that Jews maintain. The moral boundaries, and the fantastic Halacha. While this may be a stereotype, it’s honestly no wonder to me that many Jews a very good lawyers. It’s truly amazing to me. The state of Israel has also shown itself to draw lines in the sand with those who would attack it and see it harmed. And we must certainly remember that whether American Jews like it or not, all Jews are connected to Israel. Even if an American Jew may not sense the connection at all  and deny any affiliation whatsoever, it’s not a bad thing to assume that pretty much every gentile is going to know the connection that Jews have to the modern day country of Israel. Even if an American Jew may not draw a boundary, Israel already has drawn quite a few boundaries against it’s enemies many times (Often times in which its enemies has labeled such boundaries as persecution), just like any healthy country should.

Thus we should ask ourselves… what might happen when US culture comes to see Jews the same way that it sees law enforcement? It’s not that hard to imagine. Anti-Semitism comes in many masks. Already, Black Lives Matter claims solidarity with the Palestinian cause. According to journalist Osama al-Sharif, “BLM has found an ally in pro-Palestinian activists, including the BDS movement.”

So let’s imagine a scenario in which American Jews in America are already watched closely by all. And then suddenly one day for… An American Jew messes up. It could be a big mistake, it could be a small mistake. But we all know that every group and organization has its bad apples. He/she makes the mistake at just the wrong place at just the wrong time with just the wrong person. People riot, and it’s easy to find out where the Jewish neighborhoods are. Law enforcement’s response time is reactionary, not pre-emptive. G-d forbid to all this, but what happens?

I believe it to be worth contemplating for American Jews today. Rioters don’t care about claims of solidarity, especially when the envy kicks in and they see the wealthy family living in fine houses while they live in the under-privileged hood.

If you’ve read to the end of this, I want you to know that I appreciate this. Perhaps this was not to your liking… but if you are an American Jew, please know. Perception can go from good to bad within a heartbeat.

Thus I beg of you to ask yourself this question:

Given the kind of rioting that has happened in America in the past couple of weeks, and given anti-semitism’s so very dark and cruel history that has raised it’s disgusting head in the most good, decent, and civilized of countries, would you want to stay in the US if America’s cultural perception turned against American Jewry? 

About the Author
Yehonatan was born in Dover, Tennessee, US. After converting to Judaism under the conservative movement, he made Aliyah, and converted again in Jerusalem under the Rabbanut at Machon Meir. He works in the City of David, and lives in Jerusalem with his wife and daughter.