What Ten American Jews Learned About the United States Over the Past Year

Since the summer of 2019, Moment’s Jewish Political Voices Project (JPVP) has followed 30 politically engaged Jewish voters from 10 battleground states. A few share their reflections on the state of America today. To learn more about our voters and their views, visit momentmag.com/jpvp.

Alan Zimmerman (NC-I)
When I see my kids and their friends, or when I see the things that young people in America and around the world are doing these days, I see a generation coming up that values tolerance and expresses compassion and understanding for the feelings and experiences of those who are different from them. It is easy to lampoon these attitudes and the sensitivity that comes along with them, and sometimes this “cancel culture” does go too far for my taste, but at its core it comes from the right place, and it represents a culture of decency that too many in my generation lack, and that bodes well for the future.

Mark Goldhaber (NC-R)
More and more today, people talk past each other, and if you are not in total lockstep with the views of a particular group, you are shut out and even shunned. This phenomenon is infecting the Jewish community as well as the nation. As a society, we are going to have to relearn the art of compromise and move beyond an environment where if you do not get 100 percent of what you want, it’s considered a failure.

Andrew Smith (OH-R)
We remain an extremely polarized polity, extreme voices are getting louder from both ends, consensus seems impossible to achieve, partisan objectives outweigh the common good, and the reservoir of goodwill for those we disagree with has dried up.

Hannah Rosenthal (WI-D)
I am a former diplomat, focused on combating global anti-Semitism. I have been a Jewish professional at the local and national levels. I have headed a feminist foundation working to end all sorts of bigotry. And even I, with all that experience, am shocked at how normalized hatred has become. From violent neo-Nazis and white supremacists to politicians’ rhetoric and legislative efforts, we have seen absolutely disgusting activities around our country. I used to come back to the U.S. after visiting a foreign country as a diplomat, smiling as the plane landed—happy to be home in a country where the kind of anti-Semitism and hatred I dealt with elsewhere couldn’t possibly happen. Where I saw U.S. patriotism, love of our country, our constitution and the institutions that run our country, other nations were experiencing right-wing nationalism and hatred of “others.” That could never happen here, I would say. Well, it has happened here—in a few short years. I haven’t been to other countries for a while (thank you, COVID), but if I had, when the plane landed back home I would not have had that same pride in my country, where hatred and violence are now so prevalent. The election may be in the rear-view mirror, but the hatred and divisions will be with us for a long, long time.

Eliot Strickon (WI-D)
I believe that the key challenge festering in the nation is the baked-in, structural racial animus of our country. In Milwaukee, one of the most segregated regions of the United States, the contrasts between the “haves” of the overwhelmingly white suburban counties and the “have nots” of the majority-minority urban area are stark and not accidental in the least. We march. We go to meetings. We organize, and we vote. And then we overwhelmingly return to our highly segregated suburbs protected by police forces trained to keep people of color out. We are still dealing with 400-plus years of racial animus, inequality and the structures that remain entrenched in so many minds.

Stuart Baum (MI-D)
I’ve learned that we truly have the capacity to right our historic wrongs and pursue justice, that there is an appetite in our society for big, systemic change, as opposed to half measures that fail to upend the status quo. I have seen a tremendous desire to mobilize, organize and come together in the name of this cause as never before. But this year has also taught me that we are a deeply divided country, and that it may never be possible to bridge some of the gaps that have opened even wider in our society over the years. These dual and conflicting realities are true now and will hold true regardless of who is president. I truly hope that we will gain the courage to confront our demons and move forward together, but I believe that the journey there is now much less direct than before.

Ariana Mentzel (MI-D)
I have learned that our country will remain deeply divided politically. Integrity is a lost value in exchange for political power gain—on the American right. As for the left, we have our own issues regarding liberal ideologies and identity politics. Hopefully, our country can heal these divides civilly. I have learned that people will surprise you.

Michael Ginsburg (VA-R)
I’ve learned that when we get away from politics, Americans are the warmest, most generous, altruistic people on the planet. In our one-on-one relationships, we help each other, support one another, and go out of our way to assist those who are in need of extra help. I think the world of political combat sometimes warps our ability to see that. Coming out of this election, I’d urge both parties to consider ways to make politics and the outcomes of individual elections less influential over our lives, and allow individuals the freedom to “do their thing” with fewer impositions and intrusions by the federal government.

Beth Bendheim (VA-D)
What I have learned is both sad and horrifying to me—the American education system has failed a large part of our population, as they lack basic critical thinking skills, do not embrace science and needed a leader such as Trump to help them along the way. These people are a cult, and evidence has proved time and time again that those who seek out a community within a cult share a commitment to a usually extreme ideology. In addition, the hatred for minorities is astounding. I have learned that more people are racist than I previously thought. There is an entire history (Black history) that never made it into the textbooks in our schools. This is wrong on so many levels and contributes to the systemic racism that plagues our country. I don’t trust the police at all; too many are violent, trigger-happy and racist and see no harm in shooting unarmed Black people. We in the United States must fix our U.S. education system and share the history of all our citizens.

Janice Weiner (IA-D)
I’ve learned that racism in this country is deeper and darker and more pervasive than I had previously recognized. We have so much work to do, on every level, and denial gets us nowhere. A good place to start is with myself, then move out in concentric circles. I’ve learned the depth of inequality in this country and have watched as those with the most got ever greedier and decided they needed even more. This past year has been a mix of Aesop’s fables: The Emperor Has No Clothes; the Boy Who Cried Wolf; the Dog and Its Reflection; The Miser and His Gold—and probably more. Which also tells me it has all happened before, and we are forever incapable of learning from history. Incapable of learning unless it happens to us. I’ve learned what I’ve long suspected—that it remains way too easy to pit one person against another. That’s the danger of populism, and it is the road that leads ultimately to dictatorships and fascism. I’ve learned how much of what we thought was normal was just that—norms—not laws. I’ve learned just how power-hungry some are and how much they fear losing power. I’ve learned that some will stop at nothing when it comes to politicization. Public health is not political. I’ve learned—or relearned—that the advent of biased “news” outlets, networks and talk radio has been incredibly destructive. People listen to what comports with their world view. There is no critical thinking, no wrestling with ideas for way too many. And that all goes back to education: We have to educate our kids to be critical thinkers, not insular people who hear only what they want to. We need to work hard on our education system so we open minds, not close them. I’ve also learned that the kids are okay. The activism after the murders at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School—the courage of those young people and all those who stepped up to march and chant for justice for Black Lives Matter after the murder of George Floyd, and who are not giving up—give me hope for the future. I’ve learned that people, when they are committed to a cause, when they see many wrongs, will stick together and work hard through thick and thin. They won’t quit. Look at the lines there were to vote. In the past, when barriers were thrown up, people might have walked away. Not this year—every barrier thrown up made them more determined than ever. We have to take that energy forward.

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