USA: The Jewish promised land

We Jews have always looked to Israel as our promised land. The dates 586 BCE and 70 CE (the destruction of the first and second Temples and the start of the Diaspora communities) are etched into the collective Jewish mind, and we end each Yom Kippur and Passover with the saying: “Next year in Jerusalem.”

But in many respects, we Jews found our promised land when we first stepped foot on American soil (Boston, 1649, Solomon Franco), and later when we came in larger numbers during the 1800s (250,000 Jews by 1880). For the first time, Jews had a home country devoid of a history of Jewish expulsion or systematic Jewish bloodshed. For the first time in history, Jews had a country that – from the beginning – gave de jure acknowledgement to the right to practice to Judaism and the right to be an equal citizen as a Jew.

One Jew – Haym Solomon – quickly recognized the opportunities that the liberal values of the American Revolutionaries might afford future Jews. Solomon put his money where his thoughts were and gave $20,000 to George Washington’s army, making him the largest financier of the American Revolution.

Success ensued. Jews have made gold out of lead in many countries – think of Muslim Spain from 711 to 1492 or Nineteenth Century Germany – but none of these accomplishments can hold a feather to what is truly the golden age of Jewish history: Twentieth Century United States. American Jews freely practiced Judaism; American Jews set up Jewish schools; American Jews ran large corporations; American Jews climbed to the top levels of politics; American Jews became top performers and entertainers; and, as we often proudly boast, American Jews won a whole load of Nobel Prizes. We often decry the anti-Semitic canard that “Jews run the country, or at least Wall Street,” but at the same time, we take some pride in knowing that, yes, we Jews have climbed to positions of great power in the United States. By the end of the century, the average American Jewish household earned $8,000 more than the average American family. Imagine what our ancestors would have said had they known that there would be a country in which Jews were not only tolerated, but in which many Jews were the bosses, the ones hiring and firing their gentile peers without fear of violent retribution.

Has the United States been perfect for Jews? No. Obvious examples include anti-Jewish immigration quotas in the 1920s, anti-Jewish quotas at universities around the same time, Jewish bans from country clubs even in the 1960s, and of course the Jewish-filled ships that fled the Holocaust only to be turned back at American shores. The micro Jewish narrative also speaks of Jewish hardships in America – Jewish bullying at school was commonplace during our parents’ childhood, and it still exists in parts of the country today. Additionally, more hate crimes are committed in the United States against Jews than against any other religion (by far – 71.9% of religious motivated crimes were anti-Semitic in 2009).

But imperfection doesn’t preclude greatness. And the American Jewish history is the greatest tale the Jewish people have to offer in the past 2,000 years. Maybe the Israeli Jewish story will someday surpass ours, but if I had to point to a thriving Jewish culture that is free and – to use my favorite saying – “really dominating at life,” I would point to United States, and perhaps I’d even point to right here in Washington, DC, as a place where Jews are having a blast and making the world a better place.

Rock on, American Jews. Happy Fourth!

Stephen

 

Stephen Richer is a co-founder and director of Gather the Jews.  He can be reached at stephen@gatherdc.org.

 

 


42 replies
  1. Will
    Will says:

    America has been very kind to the Jews, B”H. Israel is also a thriving country, thank G-d. H/e, until Moshiach comes the work isn’t finished yet. We Jews need to make everywhere we go Jerusalem i.e. perfecting the world through mitzvos and acts of kindness and then we will merit Jerusalem in the true sense with the Temple standing proudly as a place for all nations to come and praise G-d. May it happen right now!

    Reply
  2. Jacob
    Jacob says:

    Stephen. It seems to me that tisha ba av, 9th day of Hebrew month av, unfortunately corresponding to the evening of august 8th 2011, and next day, is the day on which the dstuction of both temples ( and other calamities including the Spanish expulsion and Holocaust) is the day that is etched into Jewish consciousness.

    Reply
  3. fedup
    fedup says:

    No, America was never ever called Canaan; therefore, it is not the Jewish promised land. If it is, God is a liar. God does not lie. Therefore, American Jews must wise up and take hold of every hectare of the land which God promised and not yield a grain of sand of it to anyone else. Abandon Socialism, embrace Judaism and Zionism, and remember that God’s promises are yea and Amen.

    If American Jews want to reject Israel, then go ahead and do it openly. Don’t raise delusional issues like America, the Jewish promised land.

    If American Jews want to reject the promises of God to Israel, then go ahead and do it openly. Quit the coy shilly-shallying and blather about the rights of the Arabs (who, whether they be Christian [regretfully] or Muslim, want to kill Jews).

    If American Jews have ceased believing in God and His promises, then go ahead and stop calling yourselves Jews because being a Jew is not a cultural thing. It’s a faith and covenant thing, a faith and covenant relationship with God. If a person doesn’t believe, he’s not a Jew.

    Stop plaguing people with the silly blather and either accept or reject the promise of God made to Abraham and to his seed forever.

    The author of this piece is ignoring the rising anti-Semitism in America, largely found amongst the Socialist Democrats. The day will come when there will be an exodus from America, too, as long as American Jews keep their heads firmly embedded in the sand so they won’t see the cliff over which the Obama-led Democrats are leading them.

    As David said, some trust in chariots, and some in horses; as for me, I’ll trust in the Lord our God.

    Reply
    • Tom Perkins
      Tom Perkins says:

      “Solomon put his money where his thoughts were and gave $20,000 to George Washington’s army, making him the largest financier of the American Revolution.”

      Maybe the largest private individual contributor, but the French would be the largest donor.

      Reply
    • Tom Perkins
      Tom Perkins says:

      “No, America was never ever called Canaan; therefore, it is not the Jewish promised land. If it is, God is a liar. God does not lie.”

      America has been called Canaan, and people get things wrong all the time.

      Reply
    • Will G
      Will G says:

      The Reform Movement proclaimed in the 19th century that “America is our Zion.” They also proclaimed they had no use for the Messiah or rebuilding a Jewish homeland in Israel. Misguided fools as they were, at least most in the Reform movement don’t feel that way today, but many left-wing Jews probably do.

      “If a person doesn’t believe, he’s not a Jew.” <- I'm going to have to go and correct you on this one. Actually to be a member of 'am Yisrael' (nation of Israel) one need not believe. One only need a Jewish mother. A Jew could even convert to Buddhism (chas v'shalom!) or Islam (chas v'shalom), but that Jew is still a Jew. This is very important to remember. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (Jewish scholar, Talmudist, and kabbalist) writes that the Jewish people should primarily view ourselves as a family. Yes, faith in G-d and the observance of the mitzvos is important. This is a given. However, every Jew is equally our brother and sister. If we see another Jew behaving or believing in a way that is antithetical to the Torah's principles we must not be quick to shun them and falsely proclaim their lack of Jewishness. We must bring them closer with love and friendship. Indeed the mitzvah of 'ahavas Yisrael' (love of a fellow Jew) obligates us to do so.

      Believe me, self-hating Jews such as the one travelling on the flotilla or those who don't believe in Israel's right to exist or think Israel must go back to 1967 borders etc. extremely bothers me too. We do not have to love or respect what many Jews do or say. We can disagree. Some we should even denounce, but a Jew is still a Jew.

      Reply
    • Stephen Richer
      Stephen Richer says:

      Thanks for your reply Fedup.

      I don’t think I was trying to supplant America for Israel in the Biblical sense… America is definitely not the land referred to in the Bible. I just wanted to point out that America has been pretty darn good to us, comparatively, and historically, speaking.

      “Quit the coy shilly-shallying and blather about the rights of the Arabs (who, whether they be Christian [regretfully] or Muslim, want to kill Jews).” I don’t think I’m guilty of this…

      “The author of this piece is ignoring the rising anti-Semitism in America, largely found amongst the Socialist Democrats.” — Didn’t I cite the anti-Semitic hate crime stat? Didn’t I say that Jews are victims of religious-based crimes more than any other religion in this country? Haven’t I written in the past about anti-Semitic incidents? No. I have not forgotten. But it is not my sole focus either.

      As for me, when my chariot and horses are pretty freaking awesome, I’ll acknowledge them as such.

      Reply
    • Jeff
      Jeff says:

      Having lived as a Jew on a street full of Muslim Palestinian immigrants for four years without incident, I’d say “yes.”

      Reply
  4. Kelly
    Kelly says:

    I am not Jewish. I have never understood the hatred of Jewish people or Black people. I am from Oklahoma. Its hard to be Indian there and white mix.
    I pray dai;y for you and israel. I pray our country will always be a place to turn to should it get bad in the rest of the world again. If this country’s leaders try to pull some weird hitler crap or some weird muzzy crap I promise God will not let it slide.
    If you flee to israel I hope God will help me go with you and stand and fight and pray with you. hard to beleive I guess for you but , but a day does not go by that I do not pray for you. I hope you will pray for us too.

    Reply
  5. Marc Malone
    Marc Malone says:

    Washington gave $80k of his own money to the cause.

    Benedict Arnold gave up his lucrative west Indies trade practice (He had 2 ships). He gave up everything. His impossible victories prevented our early defeat.

    8 signatories to the Declaration of Independence were caught and hanged by the King. Almost all the rest were bankrupted by the war.

    At the battle of Saratoga, the English were using the house of one of the Founders for their HQ. It was his last remaining asset. Washington knew that destruction of the house would bankrupt his friend, so he avoided shelling it. The owner sidled up to Washington and said, “George, shell the house!” He was bankrupted.

    $20k was nice, but it did not make him the greatest financier of the war.

    Reply
  6. MikeP
    MikeP says:

    Unfortunately most American Jews don’t recognize the diversity and relative acceptance of others throughout this amazing country. Too many see rural America as the reincarnation of Nazi Germany and fail to grasp that those same heartland Americans are the ones who would stand up and repeat the call ‘never again’. The guy who may make an offhand comment about ‘damn Jewish bankers on Wallstreet’ is the same guy who would pick up his rifle and stand shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish guy he knows down the street.

    Reply
  7. lord garth
    lord garth says:

    “…Jews have made gold out of lead in many countries – think of Muslim Spain from 711 to 1492”

    The stuff you learned in jewish history is substantially wrong.

    1. Spain was not a muslim country from 711 to 1492.Almost all that time there was a Christian Spain and a muslim Spain.

    2 Jews were persecuted by both Christians in their component of Spain and by Muslims in their component of Spain.

    3. Yes some of these years were happy but in 1066 there was a large massacre of jews by muslims and by about 1070 the Almoravide (muslim) persecutions became severe and by about 1095, the Almodahide (muslim) persecutions became severe.

    Reply
    • Stephen Richer
      Stephen Richer says:

      Please see Berber dynasty. Omayyad dynasty. Please see successful Jews: Judah Ha Levi, Maimonides, etc.

      Jews were certainly persecuted. And the dates you cite are correct. But it was still considered a Golden Age for Western European Jewry — tons of Jewish Torah knowledge and poetry comes from that period.

      Reply
  8. Richard
    Richard says:

    I’m happy for the success of those who have worked hard, but the nepotism and trail of Bernie Ebbers, Madoff, and others is too easily overlooked by the Jewish community in their self evaluation. The enemy is often times right in your midst

    If you want to get rid of Anti-Semitism, the first thing is not to build a wall and pretend it’s not there.

    Reply
  9. doriski
    doriski says:

    “For the first time, Jews had a home country devoid of a history of Jewish expulsion or systematic Jewish bloodshed. For the first time in history, Jews had a country that – from the beginning – gave de jure acknowledgement to the right to practice to Judaism and the right to be an equal citizen as a Jew.”

    This statement slights the history of Jews in Poland. The Polish nation has a history extending over nearly one millenium of providing domecile and liberty to Jews, protection from religious persecution and participation in civil life. Of course this history is blemished, but a comprehensive view can only lead to the conclusion that the Polish nation’s historic relationship with Jews is unique, remarkable and exemplary.

    The tragedies inflicted upon the Jews of Poland are almost entirely the product of external invasions that degraded both the Polish and Jewish life.

    The history of Jews in Poland has been overshadowed by the Nazi Holocaust. It is so rich and so essential the evolution of Jewish culture in Europe. The reformation of Polish culture in the last 20 post-communist years has lead to the increasing re-establishment of awareness and the veneration of this history.

    Start here in 1264 with this remarkable document, in effect until the third partition of Poland in 1795:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statute_of_Kalisz

    And for a view of today:

    http://www.jewishmuseum.org.pl/en/cms/home-page/

    Reply
    • Stephen Richer
      Stephen Richer says:

      Doriski — perhaps we are unfair to Poland… I don’t pretend to know the history super well. But American Jews will never view Poland with much happiness because so many American Jews came to the States to flee pogroms of Poland or, later, the Nazi invasion of Poland, or, still later, the Soviet occupation of Poland. This maybe shouldn’t be blamed on the Polish government, but the geographic area Poland was still an unhappy land for our lot.

      Reply
  10. Jay
    Jay says:

    Stephen –

    I have ancestors who came to America when NYC was New Amsterdam.

    I have relatives who died in US uniform in the Civil War, WWI, and one who bombed Japan in WWII. Another was among the first Jews allowed into Harvard Business School.

    Stephen, the USA is not our ‘promised land’.

    You are right to point out that the vast majority of hate crimes in the US are anti-semitic, even though we make up a tiny percentage of the population. But you forgot the most deadly statistic – intermarriage. The American Jew is a dying breed, because most of us are marrying out. Yes, tolerance and success are wonderful virtues. But now we feel so at home here that most don’t even feel Jewish enough to bother with contributing to the survival of the Jewish people. When we celebrate a Jew marrying Chelsea Clinton as a sign of our success, we are celebrating our own demise.

    And all the wealth and prestige we enjoy (thank G-d) at the end of the day is adding to the success of America, not the fortunes of the Jews. There are many needy Jews around the world, but rich American Jews are giving their fortunes to build a non-Jewish country – to fund arts, universities, zoos. We are, like non-Jewish philanthropists, building America; but unlike them, we are ignoring our own brothers!

    Obviously, our Creator brought us to America for a good reason. We are here as a means to an end. We are not here to become successful Americans and then end as Jews.
    We would do well to begin thinking about the reason we are here, and step up to the plate as Jews and make an effort to fulfill a purpose which is more vital than making money and “really dominating at life”. A good start would be using our wealth and influence to defend Israel politically. A good continuation will be fighting intermarriage and assimilation so there are American Jews to “rock on” in the future.

    Reply
    • Stephen Richer
      Stephen Richer says:

      1) Jews give generously to many Jewish causes too.

      2) Would Israel have survived 1948 without the cash it raised from wealthy Jewish Americans (Gold Meir’s fundraising trip)?

      3) There’s a huge difference between dying out at as a result of the sword/gun and dying out because we choose to intermarry. Hooray for America for affording of this choice. If we choose poorly, it’s not this country’s fault. I would imagine that even the real Holy Land would suck if we make decisions that you consider to be bad.

      As for intermarriage. I think people should do what makes them happy.

      Reply
  11. cadams
    cadams says:

    Being a Mormon, no, I won’t go into the promised land(s) controversy; suffice it to say we believe all your prophecies about your own people; we have no plans to convert you all in the Rapture (we’ll let the Messiah convert us all); we don’t baptize any Jews unless they’re secular and want baptism (but no baptisms in Israel); and we don’t even do baptisms for the dead for lists of Jews (as if the dead would even have to accept it).

    Like most Americans, we belong to the greatest secular body of friends the Jews have ever known – which is American public opinion. You should also know by now who your worst enemy that ever existed is…no, not Iran, Arab countries, nor rising anti-Semitism – it is your own people. It is you who are depopulating yourselves…more than any terrorist could ever dream of. You will have to rely on the Orthodox branch to carry the flame. Before you were secular and liberal you were hellenized, or Babylonian, or Phillistine, or Egyptian, or whatever. The Orthodox alone will remain.

    Sometimes your Gentile friends help you more than you help yourselves. I know collectively you mistrust the American Right…but many of us were dissidents too who also fled Europe. And some of us came from the Radical Reformation. Many of us have NO cultural legacy linking us back directly to medieval anti-Semitism. There will remain a group in this country who will stand fast with you until the bitter end when you can finally say goodbye and go back to your own promised land.

    Reply
    • Stephen Richer
      Stephen Richer says:

      Hahaha. Welcome to the conversation my Mormon friend. I happen to be from Utah (Sandy), so I can attest that Mormons are very good to Jews and to Israel. And yes, Mormons also come from a history of persecution (albeit one much shorter in years…)

      Reply
  12. Larry
    Larry says:

    I sometimes joke that Utah would have been a better choice than Israel. It has a dead sea, a desert, and mountains all around, not to mention friendly neighbors and lots of space. What’s not to like?

    Reply
  13. Zaramart-kippot
    Zaramart-kippot says:

    The people of Israel, from the early pioneers who built a modern state out of swamps and desert, to those today who embody the value that all Israel is responsible for one another, helping to bridge the gap and to aid Jews at risk wherever they may be around the world.
    kippot

    Reply
  14. M.
    M. says:

    Yes, we are blessed to live in a country that has financially and in other regards blessed the Jews. But to be called the “promise land” is a little bit of a stretch. In the first half of 20th century, Jews were discriminated against in some employment, not allowed into some social clubs and resort areas, given a quota on enrollment at colleges, and not allowed to buy certain properties. Not to mention the total disregard the United States showed during the Holocaust. The United States did not live up to those expectations during the Holocaust. The US government would not change its immigration quotas to allow in more Jewish refugees from Europe, nor did it embark on extensive rescue operations.

    Reply

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