October 18, 1991
ONE MINUTE TO MIDNIGHT – Dr. IRVING MOSKOWITZ
Jews No Longer ‘At Home’ In America
Not a long ago, a prominent Jewish professor authored a history of American Jewry entitled At Home in America. Certainly, it is true that for most Jews, the phrase “at home in America” was precisely how they have felt about the United States. But now that an American president has, for the first time, openly attacked the American Jewish community, perhaps the time has come to reconsider just what that phrase “at home” really means.
Jewish tradition, of course, utterly rejects the concept that Jews could be “at home” anywhere outside of the Land of Israel. Judaism, in contrast to other religions, is very much a land-centered faith. Many of the Torah commandments are dependent upon Jews being physically resident in the land. Many of the prayers are for the reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, or for the return of the exiled Jews to their homeland.
“At home” in Crown Heights or the Valley? Impossible, say the classic Jewish texts. The Diaspora – or, more accurately, the Exile – is depicted as a punishment, a curse, a tragedy – not an opportunity to grow fat and comfortable.
Still most American Jews have never paid a great deal of attention to those texts, and even some of the observant Jews who are familiar with them prefer to skip over those “Land of Israel” – related passages whose implementation would be especially inconvenient.
So feeling right “at home” in America, Jews set to work contributing their talents and energy to making it a better country. They succeeded as no other ethnic minority group has ever succeeded. Their contributions have been unparalleled. Who can count the Jewish comedians who have made Americans laugh, the Jewish playwrights who have moved audiences to tears, the Jewish Hollywood producers who have entertained millions, the Jewish doctors who have healed, the Jewish lawyers who have pleaded, the industries built by Jewish sweat and Jewish brains...?
All of this was possible because anti-Semitism in the United States, while always present, never reached the levels of intensity that it reached elsewhere. Certainly, this country has had its share of “American First" rallies, Ku Klux Kim torching’s, and neo-Nazi marches, but in American political life they have always been the exceptions, not the rule. Anti-Semitism was always regarded by the governmental authorities as illegitimate.
Now all of that has changed. For the first time in this county’s history, a president has publicly attacked the American Jewish community for the “crime" of exercising its democratic right to lobby. Let nobody be fooled by his use of euphemisms like “the Pro-Israel lobby." That phrase means Jews. He knows we know it, and they know it. The “they” to whom I am referring are the millions of potential anti-Semites in this country who will interpret the president’s words as a declaration that it is open season on the Jews. These potential Jew—haters range from the editors who immediately filled their newspapers with wildly exaggerated stories about the amount of aid America has given Israel (read: the Jews) to the blue—collar workers in the neighborhood bars who nodded and grumbled about "the Jews" getting $10-billion while other Americans struggle to make ends meet.
If Jews begin to feel like they are no longer really “at home in America," it is with good reason. It used to be that the only time one would discover anti-Semitism in the White House was long after the official in question had retired — for example, former Vice-President Spiro Agnew’s rantings about the “Zionist lobby," or former President Richard Nixon's taped remarks about Jewish anti-war protesters. How times have changed. Now even the occupant of the White House can go after the Jews, provided only that he use the appropriate euphemisms.
Dr. Irving Moskowitz is a Member of the Board of Governors of Americans For a Safe Israel.