Jennifer Moses

The Jew in the Middle

As the Jewish holidays were coming on last fall, my younger son and I were discussing the plight of British Jews during the 2019 election that pitted the corrupt, immigrant-bashing Boris Johnson against the antisemitic, left-leaning Jeremy Corbyn. I came to the (theoretical) conclusion that if I were a Brit — and though my own political values aligned more with Corbyn’s — I couldn’t vote for either. My son said that for him it was a no brainer: he’d vote for Johnson, explaining that though Johnson’s policies, attitudes, ethics, and behavior repulsed him, at least he wasn’t an antisemite, adding that “we are historically a tiny and vulnerable people, and we need all the friends we can get.”

Welcome to America, circa now. Our college campuses are exploding with anti-Israel and antisemitic venom, Representative Ilhan Omar recently suggested that some Jewish students at Columbia University are “pro-genocide,” and though President Biden has stood firmly behind the American commitment to Israel and on Yom HaShoah clearly chastised antisemites on both end of the political spectrum, the Jewish community is wondering whether the “Golden Age” of American Jewry is coming to an end.

And what, exactly, is this so-called Golden Age? Basically, it has encompassed my own lifetime, though not the lifetime of my parents, let alone of theirs. I was born in 1959, a time when country clubs, certain neighborhoods, resorts, and some hotels were off-limits to Jews. The Ivy League had only recently disbanded its quotas limiting Jewish attendance (Yale didn’t rescind its own quotas on Jewish enrollment until the 1960s.) When my sister was 3, I was old and my mother was pregnant with my brother, my parents went shopping for a house to accommodate their growing family in Washington, DC. Too bad so many swaths of our nation’s capital were closed off to them on account of their Jewish heritage. It was worse for other minorities, especially Black people, but then again, back during the dawn of the Age of Aquarius, most Jews weren’t considered white to begin with.  No matter that, as in the case of my parents, they socialized with the elite of well-off, well-educated, WASPY Washington. As far as restrictive covenants were concerned, Mom and Dad were considered to be of a non-white sub-category of lesser-than and therefore couldn’t buy the house they wanted.

We moved to the suburbs.

It was during this same time that my father, a lawyer, attained his great goal of becoming a partner at Washington’s storied, white-shoe Covington & Burling. From that day on, he liked to recount how he got what he called the firm’s “Jewish seat,” after one of the firm’s few Jewish partners retired. My father also made it a point not just to “make it” as a Jew among blue-bloods, but to do so as a public, visible Jew — the kind who goes to synagogue, studies Hebrew, and tosses Yiddishisms around.

And with that, we were — all of us — off to the races. By the beginning of the 1970s, as my siblings and I were arguing over whether the Rolling Stones or the Beatles were the better band, the barriers that had kept Jews out of so many swaths of American life essentially disappeared. Places and institutions that had looked askance at Jews opened their doors, even put out the welcome mat. My entire generation, freed from the “polite” antisemitism of our parents’ time and not so polite antisemitism of our grandparents’, ventured out into the world as boldly as giants.

What happened? Ah, but we know what happened. Intersectionality happened. Identity politics happened. Grievance became a public performance. The Right went so far right they fell off the continental shelf. The Left seemed more concerned with non-binary and trans rights than jobs. And with every microaggression or perceived slight on both the right and the left, the internet supplied gasoline and matches.

I’m not going to get into the complexities and politics of the current conflagration in Gaza. My point is that it is astonishingly painful for me, a liberal Jew, to live in a time when the loudest voices condemning antisemitism come from the right, often from politicians whose policies and values I do not support. Like others of her MAGA bloc, Elise Stefanik is vehemently anti-immigrant, and has been a vocal supporter of the push to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas — political grandstanding writ large. And yet, regarding antisemitism on college campuses, she nailed it. Mike Johnson was no doubt pulling a political stunt when he confronted pro-Palestinian protesters at Columbia, but, unlike his colleagues on the other side of the aisle, at least he drew a clear line in the sand when he said: “A growing number of students have chanted in support of terrorism, they have chased down Jewish students, they have mocked them and reviled them, they have shouted racial epithets.”

Since the 1930s, the majority of American Jews, (fluctuating between about 70 and about 80 percent) have supported the Democratic party and its liberal values, including fighting for the underdog, voting rights, and economic justice.  After all, we are rooted in Torah, with its injunctions that we seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

That’s Prophets for you. We sure could use one now.

About the Author
Jennifer Anne Moses is the author of seven books of fiction and non fiction, including The Man Who Loved His Wife, short stories in the Yiddish tradition. Her journalistic and opinion pieces have been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, The Newark Star Ledger, USA Today, Salon, The Jerusalem Report, Commentary, Moment, and many other publications. She is also a painter.
Related Topics
Related Posts