Image by Stefan Schweihofer from Pixabay

As a former New Yorker who spent my formative years on the Grand Concourse in the South Bronx, I have not been able to understand the mindset of the American Jews I encountered on my recent visit to the States. The aftermath of the October 7 massacre by Hamas and the ensuing war in Gaza, the explosion of antisemitism on the campuses and streets of America, the rise of former President Donald Trump as November 4th approaches, and the snowballing demise of President Biden have changed the rules of the game but perhaps not the mindset, at least not entirely. And that mindset is one of denial.

As a result of all the changes, American Jews have started to question many formerly held assumptions and uncontested givens that were valid for most of our lives. It seems that although the Jewish people are resilient and optimistic, certain our successes will be sustainable, it takes a while for change to sink in. Some of us, fortunately, have woken up on time, but for the majority, I fear, it will be too late when they finally realize where history is heading.

Surprisingly, the most obvious sign of the change in America has to do with the fast-food chain McDonald’s and the direct consequences of the Democratic Party’s progressive economic policies on the most successful business model since Henry Ford improved the assembly line. The fast-food industry thrived by offering restaurant-style food at low prices, and was the perfect answer for working mothers who needed to give their kids a meal. Under Joe Biden’s watch, inflation and the unionization of fast-food workers, along with unrealistic state-mandated minimum wage laws have made fast-food something it was never intended to be: a luxury item. I was simply unprepared for how many had mentioned the exuberant price of a Big Mac these days.

The largest denomination of American Jews that I met on my recent visit had nothing to do with their religious affiliation and were equally represented by the full spectrum of Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jews. Reform Jews were heavily concentrated in the area of Nassau Country in Long Island where I’m staying. They have “made it” and are living the American Dream with nice homes, second homes in Florida, a high standard of living, and financial comfort. They are able to avoid the hard realities of street anti-Semitism, they never ever take public transportation, their exposure to the war in Gaza is limited to prime time, and their college-age kids learn online or go to exclusive private academies or safe religious institutions. They actually believe nothing has really changed, that the current situation will blow over, and they will continue to live in their enclaves, safe from the harsh realities of Jew-hatred sweeping across the Western world. They act as if this is not their problem.

Those in denial were found mainly among Progressive Jews who seem unable and unwilling to take off their Progressive life jackets and are holding on for dear life. Even after October 7th, they blame Israel and Zionism for the attacks; they blame Netanyahu; they blame the Jews; they refuse to publicly support Israel, the Middle East’s most tolerant, liberal, and diverse country. They refuse to admit that the Jewish nation is made up of an indigenous people who overcame centuries of pogroms and persecution, defeated their colonial masters, and rebuilt Israel into a thriving, liberal Democracy. They deny that Israel is based on a vibrant, tolerant, and liberal society. They despise Trump. A not so small contingent of deniers was among the Orthodox who actually saw something positive in the current situation. They believe that religious Jews will be less inclined to assimilate and that it will strengthen the cohesiveness of the Orthodox community maintaining a greater affiliation of those within the ranks.

The largest group of Jews I met that evoked the greatest sympathy were those that were experiencing an awakening to the unfolding reality in the world today. They are up-to-date and consuming news from Israel and the domestic front equally. They are realistic and aware that the Arab mobs on the campuses and streets act and express the same sense of righteous power as the Hitler Youth of the 1930s. They are aware that these Muslim mobs freely vent their rage against the Jews, Israel, and anyone else who stands in their way. They have come to the realization that as Jews they will never be left alone to live in peace. They know that they will never have quiet, even if they make all the changes to their way of life so they no longer offend these mobs overrunning the campuses and streets of their declining cities. They express an overwhelming helplessness at being unable to protect their families, their homes, and their communities. They have lost their sense of personal security and of America being a safe haven. More and more are taking out gun permits to protect themselves. Many Jews see the coming Presidential election as a watershed event that will motivate Jews to vote unlike their voting patterns of the past. Making Aliyah was never brought up as an option, at least for now.

These newly-awakened Jews evoke memories of President Reagan when he visited the South Bronx in the summer of 1980. Following Trump’s landmark rally in the South Bronx last Thursday, when thousands turned out to support the 2024 presidential candidate, I could not help but draw a parallel to Reagan’s historic visit, which preceded his narrow victory in New York by nearly three percentage points in the 1980 general election. Since Reagan’s victory, no Republican president has ever won this traditional Democratic stronghold during a general election.

It is fair to say that American Jews are in the midst of a collective crisis. The good news is that the crisis can also be an opportunity for change and growth, enabling them to make decisions they might not otherwise have made. With today’s antisemitism taking various forms, from the classic “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” “Hitler was right” variety of neo-fascist Americans to the woke-oriented, buying every lie coming out of Al-Jazeera, rabidly antisemitic Arab press garden variety leftist. The problem with both kinds of Jew-hatred is that they have become socially acceptable and are repeated freely without ramifications on campuses, on social media, in broadcast and print media, and in corporate America. Maybe this is where it should begin for American Jews, to make it not cool to express such antisemitic views, and to hold those that spread such hate accountable for spreading lies and disinformation. n

 

Ron Jager grew up in the South Bronx and made Aliyah in 1980. He served for 25 years in the IDF as a Mental Health Field Officer in operational units and was Commander of the Central Psychiatric Clinic for Reserve Solders at Tel-Hashomer. Since retiring, he has been involved in strategic consultancy to NGOs and communities in the Gaza Envelope on resiliency projects to assist first responders and communities. Ron has written numerous articles for outlets in Israel and abroad focusing on Israel and the Jewish world. You can contact Ron at: medconf@gmail.com or via his website: www.ronjager.com.

 

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