Steven Windmueller
Where Jews and Judaism Meet the Political Road!

On the Street, in the Board Room: Experiencing a Different Jewish Moment

Since the 7th of October, so much has undergone change within and around the Jewish community.

Based on my meetings and experiences with different Jewish audiences, here then are some specific threads or themes that seem to reflect a Jewish community in a fundamentally different place than we were nine months earlier:

  • Jewish liberalism is being tested and challenged as never before, but so are traditional Jewish boundaries around Zionism, Israel, and Diaspora politics. This war against the Jews is designed to tear apart the identity and character of who Jews are and what they believe, whether as political liberals or as conservatives.
  • While many Jews are feeling “politically homeless,” others are finding sanctuary within two camps, for those on the Center-Right, the conservative political scene is providing support, and for those within the Jewish Left, the progressive camp is representing their interests. The Jewish “middle” remains for the most part disconnected and uncertain concerning its political home.
  • While Israel, Zionism, and even Judaism have been vilified over time, this moment marks the first occasion since the close of the Second World War where Jews and the symbols of contemporary Jewish life are being publicly labeled, physically attacked, and ideologically discounted in a shared, concerted effort. The goal for such discrediting is to deny the legitimacy and integrity of each of these concepts.
  • The terms “Zionism” and “Israel” are being appropriated by the enemies of the Jewish people, where our opponents are giving new and problematic meaning to these concepts. The goal here by our enemies is to discredit not only Israeli actions but the very identities, terms and historic principles that have defined us over time.
  • If historically anti-Semitism was directed against individual Jewish behaviors, then contemporary anti-Jewishness is targeting the collective Jew, (Israel, the Jewish People, Zionism). The shift here is from the personal to the universal, as the very ideas of Jewishness, Judaism, etc. are being discounted. This represents a fundamentally different form of Jew-hatred. This transformation of hate represents the most significant transition in strategy in the war being waged against the Jewish people in modern history. Yet, the communal system continues to measure, treat and react to this new anti-Semitism without taking note of its fundamentally different focus and character.
  • Considering the deep divisions among Jews,  how ought we to define the idea of  “community”?  Who then is “a part of ‘the’ Jewish community,” and how ought we to establish the boundaries of acceptance and engagement?
  • There appears to be a form of institutional rejectionism taking place on the Jewish street. Whether out of frustration, fear, or ignorance, communal audiences are simply not comfortable with the organizational performances that they are witnessing, and most of this has to do with post October 7th, involving the loss of “allies”,  the rise in campus protests and community-based hate, and  the broader more generic concern that the “American Jewish story” that had been historically aligned with our security, success and access to this nation is now coming undone. A type of political anomie seems to mark the Jewish communal space, where there appears to be the absence of a shared leadership perspective on how as a community we should respond.  The impact of such a paralysis has resulted in a loss of confidence in communal organizations and the public Jewish space. In this moment Jews are in search of both meaning and messages and in finding none, has led them to begin to push back!
  • Adding to this vacuum has been a growing criticism of what some funders and activists perceive as a glaring failure of established leadership to have anticipated the political collapse experienced by the community, post October 7th.  This criticism is also being directed at the inability of the communal apparatus to have more effectively managed the “political fallout” and to have anticipated the heightened and extensive anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism experienced over these past nine months directed against Israel and the Jewish community. With this concern comes the loss of confidence in and support for the established communal order.
About the Author
Steven Windmueller, Ph.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. Prior to coming to HUC, Dr.Windmueller served for ten years as the JCRC Director of the LA Jewish Federation. Between 1973-1985, he was the director of the Greater Albany Jewish Federation (now the Federation of Northeastern New York). He began his career on the staff of the American Jewish Committtee. The author of four books and numerous articles, Steven Windmueller focuses his research and writings on Jewish political behavior, communal trends, and contemporary anti-Semitism.
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