Posts Tagged ‘Jeffrey Goldberg’

DEMOCRACY’S NOT DEAD YET

Several nights ago, I heard a symphony of foghorns. I live two miles from the Pacific and half that distance from San Francisco’s Baker Beach and the Golden Gate. Yet extended periods of time often pass between my visits to the beach to admire the ocean’s size, energy and mystery.

So it is with much in life. Beauty and wonder often are much closer than we realize. Politics, war and disasters—natural and man-made—attract our attention. We close our eyes and minds to the good that also surrounds us.

Another matter relates. Tomorrow (Saturday) night, Jews will celebrate Simchat Torah (Joy of the Torah). Then or on Sunday, synagogues will unroll a Torah scroll and read the last verses of the year’s final portion, V’zot HaB’rachah(And This is the Blessing), which concludes with Moses’ death. Without a pause, reading will continue with the first verses of B’reishit(Genesis) with which the Torah starts, presenting creation and life.

Why read the same text year after year? The scholar Jeffrey Tigay explains that we find new insights on every page (as we might at the beach or in a forest), “not because the Torah has changed, but because we have changed since we read it a year ago.”

Looking past immediate concerns, Americans can gain new perspectives on our present situation and our past—hear the call of the Liberty Bell too often drowned out by shouting. We may discover that the nation’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses.

I’m not wearing rose-colored glasses. As I write, I’m gazing at the cover of October’s The Atlantic. This special edition asks a disturbing question: “Is democracy dying?” Editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg titles his introduction “The Crisis in Democracy.” A toxic brew of populism, tribalism, Donald Trump and technology worries a number of The Atlantic’s writers and contributors. Nothing new here. A recent edition of Foreign Affairsconsidered the same matter. The non-Fox media continue to do so.

Sure, there’s plenty of worry to go around. Witness the hyper-partisanship surrounding yesterday’s Senate testimony by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanagh. Yet America weathered previous storms.

White people enslaved black people. The Ku Kux Klan promoted racism and segregation not just in the South but all over the country. Universities and medical schools restricted Jewish matriculation. Women couldn’t vote until 1920. In the 1930s, upwards of thirty million Americans listened to Father Charles Coghlan’s anti-Semitic radio broadcasts. After Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt ordered the internment of Japanese-Americans. Throughout our history, the nation also suffered a series of economic depressions and, of course, 9/11.

Un-democratic, prejudicial laws and customs have always had strong proponents. Hence the secession of the Southern states leading to the Civil War, considerable opposition to women’s suffrage in Congress and later political maneuvering like Richard Nixon’s southern strategy. All these battered and bruised American democracy. We moved forward.

I’ll give the last word to New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, writing from Greece: “Democracy is stubborn. It raises our gaze. It is the system that best enshrines the unshakable human desire to be free. Athens reminds us of that. America reminds us of that. It fails. It falls short of John Winthrop’s ‘city upon a hill.’ It strives still to fail better.”

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SAY NO TO FEAR

In April 2015, I wrote two posts on the issue “Should the Jews Leave Europe?” I based them on Jeffrey Goldberg’s article in The Atlantic. Given the Trump presidency’s legitimization of the alt-right, the white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia and a similar rally here in San Francisco tomorrow (which will close most of the Presidio National Park), some American Jews ponder if we should leave the U.S. Not me.

Anti-Semitism is not new to America. It surged in the 1920s and ’30s with an economy that challenged many white Christians while fascism and Nazism developed in Europe. America became more open to Jews in the ’60s. Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War altered perceptions of Jews. We became tough guys (we’d already produced plenty of combat veterans and gangsters). I experienced amazing respect from non-Jews when I was stationed at Fort Sam Houston.

Today, American Jews are integrated to the point of potential disappearance within the open arms of assimilation. But Jewish memory is 3,700 years long and filled with tragedy. Some young Jews may short-circuit that memory and feel distanced from the Holocaust, but their parents and grandparents understand that Jews in the Diaspora may always be perched on the razor’s edge.

Now, many American Jews have grown nervous. Read the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Intelligence Report,” and you know why some Jews think about fleeing. Israel accepts anyone with a Jewish grandparent or any convert. Across the border, Canada beckons. It’s a democracy, and most Canadians—including French speakers—speak English. Some Jews have left the U.S. but far fewer in relative numbers than European Jews, who face a much darker situation. America, however, is not 1930s Germany.

Still, some voices at my synagogue express only fear. Although not planning to leave (that I know of) they ask, Can a Holocaust happen here? That any American feels the need to ask that question should trouble the nation. I don’t believe we’ll face a Holocaust, but I can’t guarantee that.

To Jews—and the great majority of Americans opposed to white-supremacists in all their variations—I offer a simple message: This is our country, too. We’ve bled for America. We’ve sweated for America. We’ve made a positive impact on the nation in far greater proportion than our numbers. (Jews—religious, cultural and/or secular—constitute roughly only two percent of the population.)

Should we keep tabs on the situation? Absolutely. Should we be reduced to trembling? Absolutely not! Instead, we must inform government on all levels of our concerns, pressure politicians when we must, support organizations that bring to light the truth of white supremacists’ aberrant ideas and make clear that they will be denied the victories they hope to obtain—sowing fear and provoking violence to gain media coverage.

I hear messages about what a terrible week it has been, how sleep eludes so many. Yes, we are challenged. But we are not weak. In the face of publicly expressed hatred, Americans of all ethnicities are uniting as we haven’t in decades. Together, we’ll not only secure the gates against the barbarians, we’ll expose them and drive them back into their holes.

So, let’s be watchful but keep our heads. Let’s also remember the words of President Franklin Roosevelt: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

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SHOULD JEWS LEAVE EUROPE? — PART TWO

Last week, I wrote about a young Jewish couple in Sweden confronting anti-Semitism. Sara and Michael were shaken by the February shooting outside a synagogue in Copenhagen, Denmark, close to their Swedish home. Michael likens their feelings to those of frogs cooked in a pot of water. Lukewarm water slowly comes to a boil.

The shooting left Sara wondering if the next time she went to synagogue, there would be a massacre. She had thought that she and Michael could live as Jews in Sweden. When they have children, they could send them to Jewish camps. Now she wonders whether they can go to synagogue or Jewish activities without encountering someone with a weapon.

Michael has experienced a gradual rise of discomfort. No one has said anything anti-Semitic to him, but “I don’t walk around outside with a kippah (skullcap). He cites a Swedish TV reporter, not Jewish, who wore a kippah in Malmö’s city center. A hidden camera revealed severe harassment—before the shooting. “We could stay in Sweden and live in a nice neighborhood with like-minded, highly educated people. We could put our kids in a nice school where the risk of being bullied for being Jewish would be low. But I’m more scared about not being able to go to services at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur or any place Jews gather without fearing being killed.”

Sara worries that if she and Michael don’t feel safe going to synagogue, then “even if we could still have a Jewish identity, it doesn’t feel like our kids would still be Jewish or our grandchildren. If you can’t wear a Star of David or anything, you’d have to keep secret from everyone. It would be such a traumatic thing. That’s not the Judaism I want my children to grow up with.”

Daily, the couple discusses leaving Sweden for the United States. That would mean leaving their families behind. Michael is an only child. “His parents couldn’t handle that,” says Sara. She’d also have to chart a new career path. It would be hard to find a job. Her parents, now divorced, each considers the possibility of leaving—her mother to South America and her father to Israel. Michael’s career is transferable to the U.S., but it might take five or six hard years before he could resume his professional career at its current level.

Being human, Michael and Sara find that the shock of last February’s shooting is wearing off a bit. “It’s hard to forecast Sweden’s future,” Michael says. Will it get better? “Probably not, but you never know.” Sara agonizes over what will happen if they stay. Can they still live a Jewish life? If they have children, can they live with the decision to stay if things become worse? “It would be so much easier for our children if we left now instead of waiting until it’s too late and we’re all stressed.”

Michael adds, “The nightmare would be if we had to flee and move really fast. And what if we can’t go to the U.S.?” Israel remains an option. Still, they think about America. But that requires a lengthy application process, finding a job and applying for a green card. They also worry about what comes after. “What would our life be like?” Sara asks.

As the journalist Jeffrey Goldberg points out, this isn’t 1933 Europe. European governments support their Jewish populations. But both Sara and Michael emphasize: there is no easy answer.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me—$20 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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SHOULD JEWS LEAVE EUROPE? — PART ONE

In the April 2015 Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg’s cover article asks, “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?” Goldberg surveys anti-Semitism, particularly in the context of Europe’s Muslim population. His question is timely. The answer is challenging.

Part of Goldberg’s article analyzes Sweden’s southern city of Malmö with a population of 300,000, including 50,000 Muslims and fewer than 1,000 Jews. Anti-Jewish feeling runs high. Rabbi Shneur Kesselman, a Chabad emissary from Brooklyn and the city’s only rabbi is the one recognizable Jew in the city. Distinguished by his black hat, black coat and beard, he is constantly targeted for verbal abuse and worse. “I asked Kesselman whether he was scared to stay in Malmö. ‘Yes, of course I’m scared,’ he said.”

Malmö’s other Jews blend in. But do they experience anti-Semitism? And should they leave Europe? I asked two young Swedish Jews about their experiences and the conundrum they face.

Sara and Michael are young professionals. (I’ve changed their names and blurred details for their security.) Sara is Jewish by birth. Michael, an ethnic Scandinavian, converted to Judaism. They met in university. Sara’s family is “pretty traditional.” They went to synagogue for the High Holy Days, occasionally for Shabbat. They kept kosher. Michael’s family, like most Swedes, is secular. Growing up, he had no Jewish friends, but his grandfather was friendly with the leader of the local Jewish community in his suburb. As a teen, Michael loved Jewish comedians like Woody Allen, Jerry Seinfeld and Gary Shandling.

Sara knew that being Jewish was different and perhaps dangerous. People would call Jews names and write hateful graffiti. Still, she never experienced hostility. She did notice, however, that security was plentiful at the cheder—small religious school—she attended. Israel was—and still is—a sensitive subject. She does not involve herself with Israeli politics but maintains a warm, “family” feeling towards the country. She believes the general mood of Sweden to be anti-Israel. “They think the matter is black and white. There are so many other conflicts in the world; there’s too much attention paid to it.”

Today, some of Michael’s friends and acquaintances are academics—leftists who are anti-Israel. When he told a colleague he was going to visit Israel—he has traveled much of the world—he got a strong, “weird” reaction. “I think it’s okay to be Jewish in Sweden as long as you don’t say anything about Israel,” he says. At the same time, he believes that some, but far from all, Swedes tend to overlay anti-Israel sentiments with anti-Semitism.

As to Sweden’s growing Muslim population, Michael relates that the majority of Swedes support the current, open immigration policy. “From the moral perspective, it’s a good policy to help people fleeing from wars. But it may also affect another minority in a secondary way.” Sara notes that some Middle Eastern Muslims have been in Sweden for generations. The new wave of immigrants poses challenges. “Many politicians are talking about how to integrate immigrants regarding learning Swedish and getting jobs.”

The couple might have accepted their shaky status as Jews if not for a shooting outside a synagogue in nearby Copenhagen, Denmark (where Sara has a close relative) this past February. A gunman—identified as a Danish Muslim—murdered a Jewish security guard and wounded two police officers. Michael and Sara started serious discussions about whether they have a future in Sweden.

Next week, Sara and Michael offer a heart-wrenching analysis of their situation.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me—$20 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

To respond, click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.