Raymond M. Berger
Real Bullet Points

What the Heck is Wrong with American Jews?

She started off by telling everyone she is a supporter of social justice groups.

Volumes have been written about American Jews—-their history and beliefs; their cultural and religious institutions; intra-community conflicts and debates; attitudes toward their fellow Jews and toward Israel; as well as their future in America.

This post is an account of my often-frustrating experiences with my fellow American Jews and my reflections on those experiences. I believe they tell a story about an American Jewish community gone astray.

Rabbi Cautious

After a pleasant social event at a Conservative synagogue I found myself alone in the building with the synagogue’s rabbi. I could sense that the rabbi had something on his mind. I noticed that he was cautious, uncertain. Then he asked me a surprising question.

“How do you think this congregation would react if I introduced the topic of Israel in my sermon?”

I immediately understood why he asked this question. Among the congregants—-and more widely, among the Jews in my town—Israel had become controversial. Many Jews had voiced their disagreement with “the way Israel treats Arabs.” Some even questioned the wisdom and necessity of having a Jewish state at all. Others felt that Israel routinely “overreacts” in response to Arab attacks. I would commonly hear “I support Israel” from Jews who never seemed to have anything positive to say about the Jewish state.\

Rabbi Righteous

The new rabbi of our congregation was lively and often peppered his presentations with humor and exaggerated emotion. I first met him when I served on an organizing committee for a Jewish educational conference. The rabbi was leader of the committee.

About half way though our meetings, a crisis erupted in the group.

The rabbi had invited the director of a social justice group to piggy back on our event. We would provide a venue for their own conference. Now we learned that the director of the social justice group had a history of anti-Israel activism, and we feared that we would end up facilitating an anti-Israel presentation.

In the end, both our event and that of the social justice group passed without incident. But I was left wondering, was the rabbi not aware of the social justice group’s anti-Israel position? Why in heaven’s name had he invited these people to share our space at an educational Jewish event?

Months later I had another encounter with Rabbi Righteous. It was just a few days after Hamas’ October 7 attack in Israel. I told him about my concern that the Biden administration was pressuring Israel to curtail its defensive actions against Hamas.

To my surprise, the rabbi turned defensive and harsh. He told me that I was wrong about the Biden policy toward Israel, which was one of unequivocal support.

Then the rabbi said something I knew to be untrue. He complained that Israel was “causing too many casualties in Gaza” and that this had caused international condemnation. I knew this was the narrative presented by the mainstream media. But this narrative made no sense to me. This accusation was leveled against Israel well before the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) had entered Gaza, and thus before any significant Gazan casualties.

I had also listened to Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, discuss the Israel-Gaza war. According to Kemp, Israel’s civilian-to-combatant kill ratio was far less than that of other countries’ war operations. And he was certain that the casualty numbers reported by the Gaza Ministry of Health were exaggerated. This is especially commendable because Gaza terrorists violate every rule of warfare, including the Geneva Convention. They fight in civilian clothes, making it almost impossible for Israeli soldiers to distinguish between terrorists and civilians. The terrorists also use civilians as human shields by launching attacks from schoolyards, mosques, hospitals, and densely populated areas. Even when Israel advised Gazans to evacuate prior to an Israeli operation, Hamas often prevented them, at gunpoint, from leaving.

I knew that hundreds of thousands of Arabs had been killed in the US military interventions in Mosul and Fallujah. Many more thousands of Arabs died at the hands of Arab militias and dictators in Darfur, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Yet none of these mass killings of Arabs had aroused much of a stir. Anyone who paid attention would know that the unusual outpouring of anti-Israel condemnation was because Jews—that is Israel—was the putative culprit.

Yet the rabbi had decided to adopt the narrative of our enemies.


Jewish Community Center: Who is it For?

My community is known for its popular weekly downtown Farmers’ Market. About once a month, shoppers at the Farmers’ Market will notice a booth sporting a large Israeli flag. This is a pro-Israel education effort diligently pursued by a local member of the Jewish community.

Several years ago I decided to petition our local JCC to endorse the booth as a sponsor. I did not ask for money or support of any kind. The JCC Board of Directors turned down my request.

I had a hard time understanding why a group of Jewish leaders would oppose pro-Israel education. So I asked the JCC director. Her answer was: “The JCC is for everyone.”

I have puzzled over that explanation ever since. I guess it is an acknowledgement that at least some local Jews oppose the Jewish state. Or perhaps they oppose the current government of Israel…or some such thing.

Before the October 7 massacre in Israel, the JCC’s promotional literature, event announcements, and website made no mention of Israel. Since then, the JCC has added a page devoted to Israel. Did it take 1,200 dead Israeli Jews on October 7 to bring this about?


Vickie Virtue

At the first meeting of the synagogue’s new Israel-Jewish discussion group, Vickie addressed the group. She started off by telling everyone she is a supporter of social justice groups. She named a few such groups, including Black Lives Matter. She explained that she supports social justice groups for every segment of the community. But none of the groups she cited worked for any Jewish organization or cause.

I wondered if Vickie knew that in a city not too far from our own, Black Lives Matter rioters had carried out a pogrom against Jewish owned businesses. The mob attacked only Jewish-owned businesses, breaking windows and causing other damage.

Vickie wanted us to know how much she opposes Israeli checkpoints for West Bank Palestinians entering Israel. Checkpoints are terribly unfair to the Arabs. Even ambulances must endure inspections. She was horrified to learn that, due to the checkpoints, some pregnant Palestinian women did not make it to the hospital in time to give birth.

I wonder if Vickie knows that Palestinians have used ambulances to transport weapons, explosives and terrorists to carry out attacks against Israeli Jews. I wonder if she knows that Israel has invested large sums of money to make the checkpoints so efficient that typically it only takes five to seven minutes to pass through. Does she know that the checkpoints help to reduce the number of dead Jews?


Bottom Line

I don’t think my experiences are unique.

American Jews have lost their way. Their Jewish identities are weak and fall apart when stressed. They are often disconnected from their Jewishness and know little of Jewish history, ethics and religion. They have never read the Torah. They don’t know that ideas pioneered by Jews over 2,000 years ago underlie modern democracies, something that America’s founding fathers discussed explicitly. Unwittingly, they side with Israel’s enemies in order to virtue signal and to secure their status with members of groups they lead, with work associates and with friends who are critical of Israel.

American Jews have lost the recipe for the secret sauce of Jewish identity and survival: Jewish pride.


Note: The names of the persons described in this post have been changed to protect the guilty.






About the Author
The author is a life-long Zionist and advocate for Israel. He believes that a strong Jewish state is invaluable, not only to Jews, but to the world-wide cause of democracy and human rights. Dr. Berger earned a PhD in Social Welfare from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has twenty-seven years of teaching experience. He has authored and co-authored three books as well as over 45 professional journal articles and book chapters. His parents were Holocaust survivors.
Related Topics
Related Posts