Last week my Masorti shul hosted a visiting group of Americans, members of a Conservative synagogue. One of the subjects for discussion was “what’s the issue that you are most concerned with at your synagogue?” The answer was not declining and aging membership, providing Jewish education for children (and grandchildren), mixed marriage, Israel, or any of the usual issues. It was security. “Ask anybody. Security is the top issue,” they said. “Who wants to join a shul or send their children to a school where they might get shot?”
The traditional position of liberal Jews in the US has always been that security was for someone else. It was sort of a badge of honor for liberals to insist that they didn’t need to protect themselves. They really liked themselves, so why shouldn’t everyone else like them? The Reform Temple in my home town built a beautiful new suburban structure for themselves in 1990, to replace the old fortress-like building downtown. The new one was invitingly open, with acres of glass, lots of doors, and expansive grounds without serious fencing – and it will cost them a small fortune to secure it.
Liberal Jews disliked guns and favored limiting access to them. They trusted the state to protect them. Now they are happy to have the “paranoid” gun owners with carry permits among them. Now they are having “active shooter drills” and taking self-defense courses too, because they are in danger on the street as well as in the synagogue.
This is just one aspect of the end of a golden age. There is no going back. As economic conditions get worse – and they will, thanks to the massive, crushing debt which will leave the increasingly incompetent government no choice but to inflate the currency – both the disenfranchised former blue-collar workers and the revolutionary Left will continue to blame the Jews, as will the blacks, who have been taught since the 1960s that anything bad that happens to them is a result of institutional white racism, and who have also come to believe – thanks to almost every important black “leader” after MLK – that the power behind the racist institutions is The Jew. The increase in the Muslim population, which is already close in number to the diminishing Jewish one, is another reason for an increase in antisemitism. Many Muslim immigrants bring with them the Jew-hatred that is common in the Muslim world, even apart from tensions relating to Israel. The security problem is a new reality, not a temporary problem.
I have to admit that I am lucky in that I have almost never experienced insecurity by virtue of being a Jew. I could say I have lived a charmed life. I lived in America at a time when being a Jew was almost as safe as being anything else. I did not live in Israel during the wars of 1948, 1967, and 1973, when her existence was threatened. I was in California when Saddam was firing Scuds at Tel Aviv. I missed the Second Intifada, with its exploding buses and restaurants, and the recent Knife Intifada never came to Rehovot. I didn’t live in the North in 1981 when missiles from the PLO were landing, nor in 2006 when Hezbollah was launching them. I don’t live in the South now, which periodically comes under fire from Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
One exception was in California in January, 2009. It was during Operation Cast Lead, the first of the “mowing the grass” operations in Gaza. After Israel absorbed thousands of rockets and mortars on the southern part of the country, Israel’s government decided to end the threat. In air, ground and naval attacks, Hamas installations were pounded, with buildings, tunnels, and of course rocket manufacturing and storage sites destroyed.
The operation started on December 27, 2008, and lasted 22 days before officials of the incoming Obama Administration ordered Israel to get the IDF out of Gaza before the inauguration. In the meantime, Hamas and supportive NGOs launched a vicious and effective propaganda attack, in which Israel was portrayed as deliberately trying to injure and kill civilians (the ultimate product of this was the tendentious Goldstone Report). At the same time, the Al Jazeera satellite channel showed continuous violent footage, much of it from wars in other places at other times, inflaming the world against Israel.
The local Islamic Center and “Peace” organization organized an anti-Israel demonstration at a main intersection. Several hundred demonstrators, many of them Muslim teenagers bused from other cities in California, stood on three corners of the intersection, facing a handful of pro-Israel demonstrators. Muslim demonstrators crossed the street and threatened the counter-demonstrators; at one point I called the police and told them that verbal confrontations were escalating and might become violent. They responded that the Muslims had promised that they would control their people. Shortly thereafter, one of the leaders of the demonstration came across and placed himself in front of the counter-demonstrators, protecting us from their more aggressive members.
This was an object lesson in dhimmitude and in diaspora life. We Jews were shown that Muslims would protect us, assuming of course that we were properly subservient; and we saw that the goyishe authorities could not be depended on. Not strong enough to protect ourselves, we were at our enemies’ mercy. My wife commented that it was time for us to move back to Israel (it took five more years).
The Jews of Europe have been insecure for some time now. I was in the UK in 2001, and the synagogue in North London that I visited already had the kind of precautions that Americans are only needing to implement today. Once-safe Germany is warning Jews to keep their kippot in their pockets. Forget France or Sweden.
Insecurity is unpleasant. Someone wants to hurt you, maybe kill you. You look over your shoulder. You cluster together with your own people, in ghettos or “Jewish neighborhoods,” because there’s safety in numbers (sometimes). You look for exits, make contingency plans. You try to make alliances with your non-Jewish neighbors, and to keep on the right side of the authorities in case you need their help.
This is humiliating, dishonorable. It harms your self-respect when your people can’t stand up for themselves. This is life in the diaspora.
Israel is the world’s biggest Jewish neighborhood, with the world’s most powerful security patrol, the IDF. Sometimes we would like the government to get a little tougher with our enemies. After all, this is the Jewish state, not the diaspora. There is still insecurity in Israel, but it is usually collective insecurity, in which the whole country worries about the same things. But personally speaking, I feel much more secure as a Jew in Israel than I ever did in California.