“The Jew” as “Other” in America

My original title for my blog was “Antisemitism and Jewish Denial.” I cannot remember why I changed it to Antisemitism and Jewish Survival, but one long-time blog participant, “Moishe,” vociferous in attacking non-Jewish participants as unwelcome on “our Jewish blog,” recently expressed the underlying pain motivating his sometimes harsh attacks on Christians and Christianity. Perhaps resulting from his involvement in the blog he finds himself at a psychological disjuncture, denial in face of the increasingly obvious: Jews are, have always been Other in America.

Maybe that’s what denial really is. I like it and I don’t really understand why “it” doesn’t like me back.”

Let me begin, “Moishe,” with the heart of your response, your sense of “not belonging,” that “it” doesn’t like you back. From your participation on the forum from the start, your aggressive response to those who do not; or perhaps those who do “like us too much” and try to convince that we too can be loved if only… For you this personal, asymmetrical, phony. In your gut you know this, and react.

I believe we all sense this conditional acceptance, a sense of being just the other side of acceptance. And so “Other.” Which of course we are, unavoidably: “America Is a Christian country” is not just a fact, but a statement affirmation repeated by politicians, by neighbors. And, as I have written previously, as the “Melting Pot” integrates most comers, that which the “comers” have in common is Christianity. So the better the “melt” succeeds, the more “Other” are the Jews, and the more alienated do we feel.

Of course we Jews, perhaps more fervently than other religio-ethnic groups, have a deep desire for acceptance, to assimilate. We discussed Jewish efforts to achieve this while remaining Jewish when we discussed “emancipation” and Haskalah. Previous to the 19th century the solution of assimilation failed horrifically, usually spearheaded by forced conversions beginning with the 4th century marriage of Church and Empire. But the first full indication of conversion as failure was the Inquisition in Spain. Rather than welcomed as New Christians the Conversos, (Marranos, Spanish for “pigs”) where the converted were burned at the stake for their efforts; where Limpieza de Sangre, purity of blood first showed its terrible face. The Nuremberg Laws brought Mala de Sangre, “bad blood,” into the secular world, and the Holocaust put paid to “conversion” and assimilation forever as “acceptance,” as escape for Jews.

We have no realistic “home” in our adopted Diaspora homelands, regardless how deep our love, our patriotism. This is reflected in our over-cautious community response to confronting President Roosevelt’s hands-off policy regarding persecution, the industrial murder of Europe’s Jews between 1933 and 1945; it is the explanation for why the trial and execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg raised far more outrage among American non-Jews, our community, sensitive to the charge of “dual-loyalty,” were more likely to attack than defend Jonathan Pollard until recently when high profile non-Jews are questioning his incarceration, as wondering at governmental antisemitism.

What are we to make of Roosevelt’s pithy warning to Henry Morgengthau, his treasury secretary, when his good friend and life-long-time Jewish neighbor finally pressed the president to do something regarding the Holocaust,

You know this is a Protestant country, and the Catholics and Jews are here under sufferance.”

Damned if we do or not, “Moishe”: however our heart and eyes deny, we are Other, and we have always known it.

Maybe that’s what denial really is. I like it and I don’t really understand why “it” doesn’t like me back.”

And, as if a final weak effort,

Truly though, it’s hard to see concentration camps over here…”

Despite knowing that concentration camps existed Japanese-Americans in the United States during that war? Despite more than one hundred years of Indian reservations, concentration camps by definition even if granted nominal sovereignty-in-poverty, complete with their own police force?

I’m not trying to convince, “Moishe,” and certainly not to convert. I know that nothing I’ve written above is denied by you. It’s just that, as it is for me and all of us; it’s just hard to accept.

But what is the alternative?

About the Author
David made aliya in 1960 and has been active in Jewish issues since. He was a regional director for JNF in New York, created JUDAC, Jews United to Defend the Auschwitz Cemetery during that controversy; at the request of Jonathan Pollard created and led Justice for the Pollards in 1989.