Like many of you, regardless of which way you voted, I’ve been wondering what this recent election means for American Jews – not only regarding our future safety, but also regarding our sense of community and cohesion. Will the vastly differing reactions by American Jews to President-elect Trump further split us apart? Will Thanksgiving this year be a total disaster? It’s possible.
But if a conversation with my father this week is any indication, this election might actually bring us closer together.
What, over the last few years, has been the single greatest source of division and tension within the American Jewish community? Ask just about anyone, and you’ll get the same answer. It’s the third rail, the topic-that-shall-not-be-named, the elephant in the room that you either can’t talk about or can’t not talk about: Israel.
To be super-reductionist (it’s a rant, I can do what I want! Which includes making up words like super-reductionist…), the main source of division for American Jews around Israel is a disagreement about the most significant type of threat to Israel: threats to Israel’s security or threats to Israel’s moral character.
Each group seems to care a lot about their threat and not very much about the other side’s threat.
Those of us on the “left” underestimated the threat of anti-Semitism. One of the core assumptions in my teaching about Jewish identity in America was that we need to move past anti-Semitism. I thought fears about anti-Semitism were generated by older-generation-Jews like my dad who, blinded by the shadow of the Holocaust, couldn’t see that Jews are fully accepted here. I was wrong; the recent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the US has painfully shown me the naivete and danger of that mentality.
Those on the “right” often dismissed the ethical concerns that come with Israel’s power. Jews would never compromise our values for the sake of our own interests. I believe it will become increasingly clear in the coming months that this is not necessarily so. Jews, like anyone else, can and do become corrupted by the influences of power and money. The future will continue to present moral dilemmas for Jewish institutions, and their choices may shine a light on the ethical costs of acquiring unwavering support for Israel.
On the phone with my dad, I told him that I was wrong to treat anti-Semitism so cavalierly. He told me that he was wrong to accept the challenges to liberal, democratic values in Israel that he would never accept here in America. We still don’t agree on Israel, but we were able to appreciate each other’s perspective in a way we hadn’t been able to before now. It wasn’t an upbeat conversation, and it didn’t exactly leave me hopeful for the next four years.
But it was comforting knowing that my dad and I, and perhaps the larger American Jewish community, might be able to navigate our fear and uncertainty with a shared sense of concern and understanding.
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