We did not realize it at the time but those of us whose lives spanned the 70 years from 1946-2016 were truly the “blessed generation” on every level.
Growing up in America in the period following the end of World War II everything was possible. The war left the United States as the undisputed strongest country in the world economically, victory was nothing less than an aphrodisiac for industrial growth, and freedom had been won and, as a result, was both valued and cherished, not taken for granted.
The Jewish community in America for a few years after the war was still not quite sure of its place in society. However, the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 gave American Jewry the boost it needed to publicly express its formerly suppressed pride. The manifestation of that pride resulted in the growth of Jewish communal organizations and the construction of synagogues, community centers and day schools which proudly, and sometimes too loudly, proclaimed the rightful place of the Jew in American society along with the other two mainline religions. As the publicity often read, Protestant, Catholic and Jew as the three religions of America. (By today’s reckoning that, of course sounds exclusionary. But it was what it was.)
There was also the remnant of the value system of the founders of America that was still a core aspect of American society. Cursing in public was unacceptable except in places most of us did not frequent, mutual respect even for people with whom you disagreed was the norm, and propriety remained the order of the day. Even in politics which, while always somewhat of a dirty game, after an election the loser would make a public statement in favor of the winner and the good and welfare of the political construct involved, whether that was the county, city, state or federal government.
Best of all, people could plan. A person could get a job at a major company and plan on staying with the company 20 or 30 years until retiring at which time he or she could collect a pension on which one could live. And that actually was possible and was achieved by so many.
In retrospect it was nothing short of idyllic although few of us realized it at the time because that was all we knew.
For Jews living in America, that was the best time in history. Never before had any country opened its door so wide so that Jews could live safely, with no fear of pogroms or “actions” and in relatively good relations with their non-Jewish neighbors. That’s not to say that there was no anti-Semitism, of course, there was. But the laws of the country were there to protect us even if sometimes those laws did not work 100% as they were intended. Say what you will but no one can deny the change that occurred from the time Justice Brandeis was almost stopped from joining the Supreme Court because he was Jewish to today where a full third of the court’s justices (i.e. three of the nine) are Jews.
Those of us who grew up in those years were truly part of a blessed generation.
Today most of what has been described here is either gone or at risk of disappearing. Long range planning is nigh unto impossible given the state of world politics. Joining a company and working there until retirement is a virtual impossibility today. People change jobs every 4-5 years, companies get bought and sold, pension plans disappear and exorbitant medical costs eat up people’s life savings.
For Jews, intersectionality in the social justice milieu makes any Jew who supports Israel unwelcome at demonstrations about topics totally unrelated to Israel. Israel itself which, for so many years, was a strong unifying factor among Jews worldwide is now often more of a divisive factor than one that unifies. Young people who never had to fight a war to earn their freedom and whose parents also did not have that experience, take freedom for granted and often seem to have no sense of the obligations attendant thereto.
As for language, propriety and mutual respect, that too seems to have gone out the window as well. After all, if the political leadership of democracies have no problem using gutter language (that’s what we used to call it) to describe others, what should be expected of the normal bloke just trying to live life from day to day? People have become so insensitive to the ramifications of negativism in language that they are even ready to sacrifice their careers in order to make their point in what they perceive as the most forceful way. Earlier this week we witnessed two well-known personalities lose their professional positions for using negative language to describe other people.
Given all of this I remain so grateful to be living in Israel. For sure, many of these issues are present here as well. But we have our health costs under control, our military is a regional powerhouse, and our technological expertise is the envy of the world. And amazingly, our birth rates are the highest of any OECD country even among the secular population where it is close to 3.5 per family (well beyond the 2.1 replacement levels). Could we be destroyed by the 100,000 rockets pointed at us from the north or the insanely jealous regime in Iran, possibly, But we know the risks and we know the costs, both of which we are willing to bear. And that makes us very special.
As we now enter our 71st year of independence let’s hope that everyone living here retains these values for many years to come.