The messages started trickling in, one slur and Holocaust allusion after the other, from white guys (always white guys ) with usernames like Deplorable Hank and Shotgun Willie. They called me things like Juden and Shlomo. They told me to go back to Israel (I’ve never been) or else I’d face relocation somewhere else: a gas chamber.
The messages, though unexpected, weren’t out of the blue: Shortly after the election, I tweeted this:
A few days later, the Nazi-wannabes started coming out of the woodwork.
The nasty messages I got were equal parts depressing and exhilarating. I grew up in a New Jersey commuter town outside New York City, went to Syracuse University and then moved to the city after graduating. Needless to say there was no shortage of Jews in my life. The stories I heard growing up about anti-Semitism felt like ancient history. I knew it existed, but it never really affected me.
That made it easier for me to be, well, kind of a shitty Jew. I didn’t fast on holidays or go to synagogue. I went to Hebrew school two hours a week (and spent those getting into trouble). These days, I couldn’t read Hebrew if my poor grandma’s life depended on it.
But when I started getting those tweets, and seeing the spike in anti-Semitic hate crimes around the country, I felt a fear of being Jewish for the first time. I was suddenly on guard. At the same time I was perversely excited that I was finally seeing the boogeyman I’d been warned against my whole life.
I was also pissed off at other Jews all of a sudden — especially the religious ones. That’s one of the many strange twists of this saga: Some Jews make it really hard for me to feel empathetic to my own community.
About 70% of American Jews voted for Hillary. That’s a healthy margin, but also cause for alarm. Many Jews in the US — about 30%, it seems — have become single issue voters, demanding blind support for the Israeli government no matter how brutal its policies. These Jews are no better than Evangelicals who vote for the most viciously anti-gay and anti-abortion politicians, regardless of how those politicians’ other policies might destroy the economy, health care or the climate.
Even fewer Jews (69% of US Jews) voted for Obama in 2012 than voted for Hillary in November. That’s because Obama was more reluctant than Bush was about aligning with Israel’s government on every single issue.
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has aggressively built new settlements in the West Bank, and Republicans have played American Jews for suckers by turning a blind eye to it. Trump declared himself a militant supporter of Israel and its right to build in disputed territory. For this vocal encouragement — along with the fact that Ivanka converted to Judaism when she married Jared Kushner — many American Jews supported the now-president.
A friend and me in 2012.
The irony is that Trump’s top adviser is an unrepentant conspiracy theorist who has spent years sowing the seeds of anti-semitism, which as a result found its way into Trump’s campaign material. Trump also hired Sebastian Gorka, a known neo-Nazi, and otherwise cultivated a so-called “alt-right” movement that turned a stupid ugly internet frog into a new swastika.
How could we be this stupid? We were hoodwinked by a blustering populist, bots and Russia. It makes me mad and ashamed to have these Jews suggesting that they speak for me or are trying to protect me. Even if we did agree on Israel — which we don’t — it takes a special ignorance for someone obsessed with past persecution to vote for a man so openly bent on persecuting others.
This sounds harsh, I know. And I’ve wondered whether my lifelong aversion to religion has left me biased against religious Jews. So I asked a Jewish friend of mine, who is more religious than I am — and also politically outspoken — what she thought about the schism in the American Jewish community.
“It is deeply upsetting to see members of my own family have voted for Trump, to see that they don’t recognize bigotry and hatred and just refuse to become accomplices to it,” she told me in an email. “Even though he started with Mexicans and Muslims, Jews should feel a moral obligation to stand up to it. Come on, we are always on the list! If nothing else, our drive for self preservation should have kicked in immediately upon the announcement of his candidacy. But, as it turns out, some of my family members are simply racist and those racist messages appealed to them.”
She nails a hard truth in that last sentence; sure, Jews share a common history and gather together every year to commemorate the Holocaust, but like any other group, our values became warped and splintered as we assimilated into American culture.