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Has the Golden Age for American Jews Come to an End?



              As someone who has been directly involved in political activities on the Left since 1964, I occasionally find myself thinking that contemporary accounts of politics and political affairs from those bygone days are at least somewhat wrong, or perhaps I have no idea what was really going on back then.

              Either way, I find myself issuing correctives to present-day explanations about past political events because I agree with Justice Felix Frankfurter that ‘history has its claims.’

              The latest missive which claims to explain what happened before we had the internet and all those other digital things, is a very long and detailed story in the current Atlantic magazine, which says that the ‘Golden Age’ for Jews in America has come to an end.

              The author, Franklin Foer, a former editor of The New Republic, and now a staff writer for The Atlantic, which makes his liberal credential impeccable, claims that “Anti-Semitism on the right and the left threatens to bring to a close an unprecedented period of safety and prosperity for Jewish Americans—and demolish the liberal order they helped establish.”

              He then goes on to say, “The Golden Age of American Jewry has given way to a golden age of conspiracy, reckless hyperbole, and political violence, all tendencies inimical to the democratic temperament.”

              The article then goes on to explain in detail the recent surge of anti-Semitic outbursts in various high schools and on college campuses, the point being that anti-Semitism is no longer coming from the Right but is also coming from the Left.

              To the author, this Leftist attack on Israel is what has brought the Jewish ‘Golden Age’ in America to an end, because “over the course of the 20th century, Jews invested their faith in a distinct strain of liberalism that combined robust civil liberties, the protection of minority rights, and an ethos of cultural pluralism.” He then goes on to say, “the Golden Age of American Jewry has given way to a golden age of conspiracy, reckless hyperbole, and political violence, all tendencies inimical to the democratic temperament.”

              Obviously, the author is talking about how the MAGA narrative is not only the dominant strain of belief on the Right but is also seeping into the belief system of the Left. He then goes on to mention the dominant role played by Jews in defining American culture, as exemplified by the popularity and influence of Ralph Lauren, Dr. Ruth, Elie Wiesel, and Seinfeld.

              I won’t go on in any detail to capture how and why the Jewish Golden Age in America has disappeared, except to say that the collapse of this political tradition, according to Foer, reflects the collapse of American liberalism and its replacement by the ‘intersectionality’ of the contemporary Left which views Jewish power and success both in the United States and Israeli as an enemy of the common good.

              So, Foer’s article isn’t so much an explanation for how and why anti-Semitism has once again reared its ugly head, as it is a rebuke of the fact that traditional liberalism has wandered off course and lost its way. Which happens to be what The Atlantic magazine now considers its core editorial slant, namely, to rebuke liberals who would relinquish their support of long-held, traditional liberal beliefs.

              I was born in 1944, Foer was born in 1974. We were both born and raised in Washington, D.C. by Jewish parents, and my mother, like Foer’s mother, was also the child of parents who directly knew anti-Semitic violence in Europe. But for those of us who are Jewish and were born more than sixty years ago, what Foer refers to as the Jewish ‘Golden Age’ had a somewhat different tinge.

              Foer Goes through a long litany of famous American-Jewish names in the arts, in academics, in science, in literature, in just about every field. But he never mentions the two Jewish names which were most frequently mentioned in my household during the dawning years of the Golden Age, except the names were never spoken in a loud voice by either Mom, Dad, or any of their Jewish friends.

              I am referring to Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, who were the only Americans ever executed for their political beliefs, even if the formal charges were based on a couple of diagrams which Ethel’s brother filched out of Los Alamos which were then given to the Reds.

              I got involved in political activity first for civil rights, then to end the war in Viet Nam. Just about all of my contacts in those two movements were American-born Jews like me, most of whom had parents who were either members of the Communist Party or sympathetic to the Left until the Rosenbergs were sentenced and the sentences were actually carried out in 1953.

              I was a kid back then, but I remember my father telling my mother that he wasn’t surprised at the outcome of the Rosenberg trial, but he was confident that their death sentences would be overturned. The quote about the claims of history in the second paragraph above was from Felix Frankfurter’s dissent when the Supreme Court upheld the death sentences of both Rosenbergs, which were carried out on June 19, 1953.

              I remember that date very well, because it happened to be the second birthday of my younger sister, and I remember my parents spending that day sitting quietly and not talking at all in the living room of our home in D.C. while my sister romped around on the living room floor.

              I’m not saying that Franklin Foer has written a history of contemporary Judaism and Jewish political activity in the United States which is entirely wrong. I’m saying that his version of the Jewish ‘Golden Age’ is incomplete.

              Because for all the advances made by Jews in virtually every profession and every cultural manifestation of American life, there was also a tradition of left-wing politics and beliefs which was just as strong as what Foer claims was the liberal ‘order’ which Jews helped establish in the United States.

              Know why Jewish liberalism in the 1960’s and 1970’s was so strong? Because it was the way that Jews could continue to demonstrate their support of Socialism and Left-wing ideologies without facing the prospect of the Death House at Sing Sing.

             

             

 

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