The passions and intensity of the unusually strident and bitterly divisive presidential campaign brought out the anti-Semitic sentiment that had until now laid dormant under the suffocating blanket of political correctness. Not that this most ancient of hatreds did not previously exist in America. We sensed it in the decisions of The Obama administration and witnessed it in the pronouncements and actions of the ascendant radical left wing of the Democratic party. Now we observe it in the actions of the extreme right.
Only, now Jews, especially young Jews, who unlike their parents and grandparents have not before personally experienced anti-Semitism — they see it, they feel it, they are discomfited, surprised and shaken by it.
The anguish is deep and personal. Identifying themselves as Americans first and Jews second, thinking of themselves first as citizens of the world and only secondarily and accidentally as members of the tribe, many who felt themselves as family in America, who assumed that their advocacy on behalf of the poor, downtrodden and disenfranchised and their Jewish background, prophetic morality and ideology of Tikkun Olam will earn them respect and appreciation, instead find themselves beset by base anti-Semitic agitation. This rejection hurts and hurts deeply.
But, it is not the first time that it happened. French Jews are a few years ahead of us in dealing with a similar problem. German Jews too, in the few years after Hitler came to power and before Kristallnacht, struggled to redefine themselves as Jews of German background rather than Germans of Mosaic faith. Russian Jewish assimilationists, shocked by the 1905 pogroms and the explosion of hatred from precisely the Russian peasantry and working classes on whose behalf they struggled and whom they naively and romantically idealized, turned inward, revitalizing Yiddish culture, raising the flag of Zionism and emigrating to the Land of Israel and to America.
It is better that we know who our friends are and who are our enemies. Once out of the bag, overt anti-Jewish expression is not going to go away. This cat is not going back into the bag of political correctness.
Jewish historical experience has always included dealing with anti-Semites of various kinds. Some want to kill us and we must fight them. Others dislike us and would do us harm. We must dissuade them and show them that they will pay a price for doing so. We should not sit silently by. Neither should look for coalitions and expect others to defend us. The anti-Trump demonstrations across America are designed to show that there is a price for harming minorities. We must also make it clear. On the other hand, genteel anti-Semites just want Jews to stay in their places, but do not wish to harm them. We can persuade such ones or negotiate with them.
Jews have a long history of surviving and even thriving in less than hospitable environments. We must identify those who support us and work with them, and deal with others accordingly and effectively. The bottom line – we can manage the re-emergence of anti-Semitism in American culture, and we can do so successfully. Let’s not lose heart. Let’s ask Zeide!
Maturity requires recognition – of who we are, where we are, who does what around us, how we are connected and how we are different. Maturity demands that we see things as they are, not as we would like them to be. Anti-Semites were always there, only we did not recognize them, we were taken in by false grins and pretty words. We didn’t appreciate our friends and did not recognize our enemies.
Jews are inextricably woven into the fabric of this great country, but ours is a different and more ancient destiny. Perhaps, it is a great gift that snarls replace false smiles, the masks have come off and that reality intrudes upon our comfortable fantasy. Now let us deal with it.