In an earlier letter you had asked me to further explain what I meant by the “changing tide” in American society and the influence it has had on my decision whether or not to move back. So I’ll tell you a bit more about the changes I’m seeing and how it’s given me this sense of urgency; if I’m going to make a decision to raise my children in America, I feel I’d better make the move sooner rather than later.
I’m a true believer in American exceptionalism. The country was founded and built upon Judaeo-Christian values. Many of the founding fathers drew their inspiration and ideals for their new society through an avid reading of the bible – many of them, in its original Hebrew, believe it or not.
It’s that solid bedrock of Judaeo-Christian values, which made its citizens the most free of all peoples, the protection of their inalienable, G-D given rights enshrined in law. Yes, obviously its history is scarred with injustice; owing to an often twisted, self-serving interpretation of its foundational biblical principles. It’s never been perfect and at times, yes, it’s been downright horrible. Nevertheless, it is that bedrock and it is those principles which arguably made America the greatest of all countries. Now, it’s the steady, seemingly unstoppable erosion of that bedrock and the misguided undermining of those principles that hurries its premature demise.
Here I am, in the country that has been destined, chosen, prophesied and condemned to being a light unto the nations – watching from a safe distance as the ‘shining city on the hill’ fades away. We, us American Israelis, can only look on in dismay at many of the changes taking shape in American society. Like you, I came of age in the 1990’s. I try not to idealize that time and place in history the way so many Baby Boomers do with the 1950’s. But I must admit that I feel a deep, grinding nostalgia so powerful it can rattle my ancestors awake.
I never could have imagined that one day I’d be on the other side of the planet looking on sort of like a helpless, frozen spectator at a sporting event gone tragically wrong. Americans living abroad, anywhere in the world, can observe with a level of objectivity that is obtainable only through geographical and cultural distance. And we’re sitting here observing the changes, the divisiveness and the cultural implosion; we’re watching as our beloved America the beautiful withers and decays into something ugly and unrecognizable. As things get worse, ironically, I find myself wondering if I should continue to sit back and watch or if I should return to the U.S. It seems the idealism that brought me to Israel, to stop with all the Hasbara and instead lead by example is now, oddly enough, tugging at me to return.
Things are not perfect here, you certainly know that. We’ve discussed it before and I’m sure we’ll come back it again in future correspondence. As I’ve said before, I don’t think I’ll ever be completely at home here. My children- now that’s a different story. It’s the most extraordinary thing to watch them growing up among Jews from all over the world with such different backgrounds and yet integrating so well, blending effortlessly into this beautiful mosaic of Jewish Israeli culture. However, like so many first generation immigrants, I do take comfort in the thought that even after all these years I can still go back if I choose to. Perhaps I never feel more Israeli than I do during times of war or other national traumas. But ironically, it’s those very same times that remind me just how American I am. I can’t fully explain, and I may even be projecting, but I can sometimes…somehow…sense a suppressed jealousy turned resentment coming from many native born Israelis during these times of national trauma. And who can blame them? We, the undeniably lucky, through an accident of birth, carry the coveted American passport. If things get too bad, we can always choose to leave. Understandably, that get-out-of-jail-free card, that ever present escape hatch, draws the resentment of those who, also through an accident of birth, must remain. They have absolutely no choice but to stay and carry on with daily routine. In America, we have snow showers; here we have bi-annual missile showers. In American we have heat waves and here we have terror waves. But now things are changing. The lines of safety are being blurred.
Today’s American olim must begin to make aliyah with the realization that one day there will be no going back, period, regardless of hardships and disappointments. What will the decision making process look like when one day, just like for native-born Israelis, there is no escape for us either? What if one day, that priceless American passport lost all value? How would that new reality affect the mind frame and decisions taken by us, the proud Americans-by birth, Israelis-by-choice?
These kind of thoughts naturally lead me to think about the dangers facing world Jewry as a whole. I doubt many from my parents’ generation expected country after country to so quickly become inhospitable to their Jewish citizens so soon after the Holocaust. The most virulent and treatment resistant bigotry in human history, anti-Semitism, is in full recurrence. As it rises from three generations of dormancy, spreading across the European continent in a potent, mutated form, Jews are beginning to flee once again to Israel where their children can have a future. European Jews were at the very least yet again caught off guard and at the very most, complicit through willful blindness. But what type of wretched person could possibly say “I told you so” as we greet their frenzied arrival at Ben Gurion airport?
That’s Europe. And I think most of us saw this one coming long ago. But what about American Jews, the majority of whom have been sheltered from the intermittent European-style outbreaks of anti-Semitism? When exactly did the most recent European pandemic cross the Atlantic? Was this sickness, which was first detected and spread among American college campuses, completely unforeseen?
The immune system of American society has been depressed by seemingly endless and aimless war, a transitioning and unstable economy, and most alarmingly, a rapidly shrinking middle class, which was the great promise and dream of generations past. Now, with a weak, compromised immune system, American society has become an ideal incubator for this oldest of spiritual diseases. Unthinkable for large periods of American history, the United States now stands exposed, readily vulnerable to the disease of anti-Semitism. The European sickness my grandparents fled from has now spread to their adopted and cherished homeland. Considering the patriotism and gratitude they always displayed for America, in a very weird way, I take some comfort that they’re not around to witness it. So where does that leave us American Israelis? What of that priceless little blue book, which for so long was the unspoken guarantee of our safety? Many of us have slipped into an attitude of complacency. After all, “I’ll have you know that I’m an American citizen, I have rights.”
But the world is changing very quickly. Now we, the adventurous and possibly crazy pioneers among our families, friends and communities, who so prided ourselves in our foresight and courage to act, are beginning to feel the very same fear, which was daily life for most of our ancestors throughout Jewish history. I’m sad to say I feel as though the American umbrella no longer extends to American Israelis; Americans are too busy trying to stay dry over there themselves. And so we have to ready ourselves and our children to weather the storm alone, without America’s help. The American safe haven is becoming a thing of the past and as much as it hurts to think about, we have to accept and adapt to this new, harsher global reality.
What does this mean for us? What happens when the divisiveness, anger and hate reach a critical mass in America? What happens when we can no longer take for granted the option to simply pack up our stuff and go home if “things don’t work out here?”
What are the implications of this increasingly uncertain new reality we face – for ourselves as well as our family and friends on the other side of the Atlantic? Do we have the courage to even begin asking the questions, let alone accept the answers?
This is my journey, this is my search. I’m hoping to find those answers.