A few weeks ago, I submitted the text of remarks I am giving this week at the Russian Jewish Congress anti-Semitism conference. In the speech I wrote, “the United States Jewish community is the most secure Jewish community in the history of the diaspora.” In the midst of so much mourning, grief and disbelief those words seem particularly inappropriate.
It’s all a bit surreal. Eleven Jews are murdered on Shabbat in a synagogue in Pittsburgh and I am sitting here in Moscow. Rather than focusing on the plight of European Jewry as planned, we are talking about what will happen in the United States.
Is this a harbinger of the end of the golden age of American Jewry? Are we now no safer from violence than our brothers and sisters in Western Europe?
According to our tradition, prophecy died over two millennia ago. However, I think it’s still reasonable to make a few cautious observations. In terms of security this is a watershed moment. For the foreseeable future, for the rest of my lifetime, our synagogues, our day schools and our community centers will be less accessible, less open to world than in the past.
Yet I still believe what I wrote to be true. Maybe everything is too raw, but sometime soon we must make an honest assessment of what we face. Levels of attitudinal anti-Semitism in the United States remain low—both from a historical perspective and compared to the levels other diaspora communities face. According to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey, Judaism along with Catholicism are the religions Americans admire most. Jewish communal organizations remain strong and Jewish participation in, and influence on, the American political process remains significant. Civil society in the United States is robust and still capable of countering hate by ostracizing the haters.
There were also warning signs before Pittsburgh. We all see that the polarization of American politics is undermining democratic norms. There has been an increase in anti-Semitic incidents over the last few years. There is some evidence that there has been a deterioration in the taboos against openly expressing hate.
Ultimately, what protects religious/ethnic minorities, what protects us all, are our democratic institutions and the healthy civil society that supports them. This is where our efforts must be focused.
And finally, in our fight against anti-Semitism we must, at all costs, avoid partisanship. The threat comes from both extremes of the political spectrum. Anyone who tells you it is simply a problem of the far right or simply a problem of radical Islam or simply a problem of the left is either ignorant of the problem or selling us a lie.
3 thoughts on “Thoughts From Russia on the Meaning of Pittsburgh”
How naive! J. Safe Jewish communities have communal security. They do not depend on others to protect them. The problem is not political. It is a security problem. American Jewry needs to wake up to that reality.
Count me as naive as well. Democratic institutions and civil society have served us well (we Jews, AND we Americans), and I will continue to invest my efforts in restoring and strengthening those values, largely through the political process.
There is a pattern…it has proven true, from the Biblical records (the origin of Jewry) and throughout the ages. The Jewish people have depended on whatever society they dwelled in or, in the case of the Babylonian deportation, whatever “Egypt” might be around at the time. For some reason, the word, “Zachor” doesn’t always ring a bell. Anne Frank believed that mankind was basically good…the Jewish King David addresses this in Psalm 14. It is sad, but true, that hate exists; it is because we live in a fallen world and evil thrives in corruption. Evil has a source, and that, also, is in the Bible. Looking for answers outside of the truth will lead to frustration and self-delusion. The result is that history repeats itself. The citizens of Germany learned that the hard way…some escaped early to Palestine, later becoming the resurrected Israel. Many stayed behind, believing the fatal lie. America is not the promised land anymore…the pilgrims did their part, but there is a new ideology surfacing. Democracy is not the answer…government by the people: look to the statements of the nation’s founding fathers…only the fear of God and obedience to His laws make and keep a people free. Look around the world…what once was built on these beliefs has caved in and crumbled in many places. Individuals can make their own choices, as always…there will come an end to it all and the Bible holds the keys to the ultimate outcome.