Barry L. Schwartz
Rabbi, Author, Teacher

What Did Oct. 7 Change for American Jews?

Many of us in the diaspora cannot stop talking and writing about Israel since Oct. 7. That is not about to change, with the war against Hamas still unfinished, with so many hostages still captive, and with the worldwide verbal assault on Israel still ongoing. But in this column, I want to consider not so much what is happening in Israel but rather what is happening here in America.

Some prominent thinkers are now arguing that we have reached a turning point in American Jewish history. They posit that the remarkable seventy-five-year period from the founding of Israel to the present, which saw the extraordinary rise of American Jewish prosperity and influence, is over. Rather ominously they predict that the recent spike in anti-Zionism and antisemitism is here to stay.

I’ll be honest- it’s hard to argue with such pessimism.

Just when we thought that antisemitism was confined to the far-right, we now see it is mushrooming within the far-left.

Just when we thought that the criticism of “woke” ideology in American universities was unwarranted, the failure of three Ivy League college presidents to unequivocally condemn calls for genocide against Jews, and what is transpiring on campuses around the country, is unnerving.

Just when we thought that overt antisemitism was waning, the covert kind that lurks just below the surface is bubbling up even, believe it or not, among people pledged to human rights and humanitarian assistance.

As a community our well-being is bound to decline as democracy declines. And while there are a number of highly visible threats in that regard, one that is easily overlooked is the widespread “quiet” prejudice that is now discernable when ostensibly worthy people or organizations fail to condemn evil, when they speak half-truths, when they neglect to give context, and when they are willfully ignorant of history. I call this the “banality of the new antisemitism” (more on this in my next post).

I’m stunned that a Harvard CAPS-Harris poll recently found that two-thirds of voters between the ages of 18 and 24 believe Jews as a class are oppressors and should be treated that way. While we can be grateful that 73 percent of all voters said this notion is false, what does this say about the future?

As Jews, May 14, 1948, was our most joyful moment. Oct. 7, 2023 was our most tragic. The former ushered in a golden age; the latter a dark age…unless we heed the warnings.

About the Author
Barry L. Schwartz is director emeritus of The Jewish Publication Society, rabbi of Congregation Adas Emuno in Leonia, New Jersey, and author, most recently, of Open Judaism: A Guide for Believers, Atheists, and Agnostics (JPS, 2023).
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