Kathryn Wolf: Use Your Rage
Bari Weiss: End DEI
Sheila Nazarian: Listen to Jews Who Don’t Look, Act, or Vote Like You
Park MacDougald: Avoid Borg Brain
Jeremy Stern: End the Iran Deal Delusions
Armin Rosen: Get a Little More Religious. You Know You Want To.
Izabella Tabarovsky: Let Russian Jews Lead
Ani Wilcenski: Take Social Media Seriously. Dig In, or Get Out.
Alana Newhouse: Replace American Jewish Communal Leadership
Liel Leibovitz: Get a Gun
Stephanie Butnick: Stop Fighting Your Jewish Pride
Tony Badran: Deport Violent Radicals
David Samuels: There Is Only One America Worth Saving
deiUse Your Rage
My whole life, I hated public speaking so much that I would feel queasy introducing myself to a dinner party. So I went characteristically mute in 2018 when Durham, North Carolina, Mayor Steve Schewel (yes, he is Jewish) and the City Council voted to boycott a police training program in Israel based on the antisemitic “deadly exchange” libel that a bloodthirsty cabal of Israelis would secretly teach American cops to hurt Black people.
A few months later, I drove down to a renovated tobacco factory to lend silent support to a small clutch of Jewish residents asking the Durham Human Relations Commission to advise the city to reconsider its boycott. It was a packed house that cold night, with more than a dozen commission members sitting in front of maybe a hundred spectators, mostly in their 20s and early 30s. Our appeal had been strictly choreographed, the most eminent local Jews chosen to make our case. We had reminded each other to don business attire to show respect. Such good American citizens.
But officials listened stone-faced, their hearts hardened well before we’d opened our mouths. One examined her nails.
Sitting there, humiliated by the proceedings and jeered at by throngs of anti-Israel spectators, I felt the long, unbroken sweep of history spilling into that brick room. I sensed my forebears, reaching around the world and wending through time, all the love and davening, the slaughters and fear. It struck me that the commission members were merely the latest bit actors, playing their parts in an endless cataclysmic cycle of cosmic injustice against us.
Then I heard something entirely unfamiliar. I heard myself, and I was screaming.
“I am a Jewish resident of Durham!” I shouted at the top of my lungs as I jumped to my feet, “and I can’t live in a city that’s so antisemitic!”
Dead silence. My own voice sliced through the air again: “This is Jew hatred! I can’t live here anymore!”
An older man, Arab, stood up. He launched into a diatribe against Israel. “Liar!” I screamed, poking the air, “liar!” A woman with him took one look at me and sensing this one might be a wacko, yanked him back into his seat.
The chairperson gave an exasperated chuckle, mocking me.
“We shall overcome!” I shouted at her and lifted a fist before tearing myself away from the room.
I was exhilarated. Was I a hero or a fool? Whatever. That was the night I found my voice.
As my tears ran dry, I discovered a surprising, untapped reservoir deep within. It was fury. How dare they come for us, here and now. Who do they think they are?
And then a different thought came in its wake: Who the hell do they think we are?
I began speaking out in open meetings at Durham’s City Hall, haranguing officials for legislating against the Jews. I publicly presented the mayor with a trophy for “boycotting Jews since 2018,” something “Nazis would have loved.” I filed a formal petition for the city to mark the day they passed their heinous boycott as Durham’s annual “Day of Shame.” I cheerfully added my name to a federal lawsuit for discrimination by the city, filed pro bono by Pennsylvania attorney Cliff Rieders.
I went to the annual Anti-Defamation League conference last year and confronted Jonathan Greenblatt in the hallway, telling him that the diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives the ADL supported were ruining our lives. I was polite, but firm: “Your website is full of DEI and critical race theory … this is what’s driving the anti-Zionism. My kid puts something in her chatroom at her school about homework, and the response is ‘Free Palestine!’ This is coming from DEI.”
Greenblatt must have given a signal to the clutch of security guys in blue jackets who had encircled us. It was clear what was coming next.
“Oh!” I said, as they pressed in. “I’m fighting Jew-hatred, and I’m the problem?”
One of the suits gripped me firmly around the bicep, as though I might be the sort of nutcase to resist. We ascended the escalator like that, his hand clamped on my arm, until we were in the soaring lobby. “You’re leaving,” he said.
Six years ago, I would have been mortified to be thrown out of the Javits Center. Now I have exactly zero regrets. You’ll have just as many the day you cross a line, too.
Trade your bourgeois respectability for the deeper satisfaction of knowing that when history called, you answered. Post-Oct. 7, passivity gives free reign to our enemies. Staying home and holding back makes it easier for the powerbrokers to let the radical Islamist-loving, Jew-hating mobs win the streets and debates.
Demand the police protection and public safety assistance every citizen is entitled to.
Pen an email to major law firms in your region, urging them to sign on to the devastating open letter issued by two dozen blue chip firms including Skadden and Cravath sent to law school deans, warning them to tamp down on campus antisemitism or their grads need not apply for jobs.
Write an indignant letter to the president of your alma mater, and copy every top administrator and dean. Follow the lead of University of Pennsylvania alumni and send in a single dollar in place of a real donation to ensure your protest registers.
Sign every righteous petition that comes your way, and pass it on.
Go back into those progressive Facebook groups where people spent the last three years gaslighting you and erasing you. Post the photo of the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, meeting with Hitler, and remind them that taking the side of Hamas makes for strange bedfellows.
Print posters of our hostages and put them up all over town. When they get ripped down, film it, being sure to capture the faces of the hatemongers, some of whom have been fired from their jobs. Then put the posters up again.
For the sake of our kids, head for your school board, principal, and the teachers themselves, and rail against the Jew-hatred embedded in the curricula, school assemblies, and classrooms. Go meet with the DEI staff. Tell them what Zionism is and why it matters. Explain how we’ve been on the run for 2,000 years and thought we’d found a safe haven here, but that if DEI continues to slander us as oppressors, we will be hounded out the way we were by all brutish societies. Say that the Holocaust starts with people denying the humanity of Jews. And remind them that what starts with the Jews never ends with the Jews.
Demand that your rabbi wipe his name off the filthy T’ruah petition that slanders Israelis with the viciously accusatory admonition that “targeting civilians with missiles is a war crime,” and calls for an end to the blockade and a promise that Gazans “be guaranteed that they will be allowed to return to their homes after the present conflict ends.” Yet more dreck from finger-wagging American rabbis in their comfy armchairs, some 5,000 miles from Kibbutz Be’eri where they’re still scraping skin off the walls.
March yourself down to city hall and publicly upbraid officials for strenuously ignoring the bloodletting of Jews. Hold aloft devastating images of our battered, murdered people, and demand officials not look away from evil. Hound them to affirm the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism and actually enforce it, because they owe it to their Jewish constituents crying out for protection after George Washington promised us that here, on this American soil, we need not fear.
Mount a photo of a child hostage on posterboard with the words, “Here’s your ‘River to the Sea’!” and hold it up on a busy sidewalk at rush hour.
When Boston University sociology professor Susan Eckstein spoke at Florida International University last December about her new book, Cuban Privilege, the Making of Immigrant Inequality in America, activist Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat came right out and scolded her, saying Cubans were only “privileged” if one chose to “ignore the massacres, the extrajudicial killings, the political prisoners, the civil war in the countryside, the concentration camps.” All hell broke loose, as the packed auditorium erupted into shouts of anti-Cuban-government slogans. “Freedom for the political prisoners!” they shouted. “Patria y Vida!” or “Homeland and Life!”
Be the Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat of the Jews.
Yes, you will be called a wingnut. A MAGA maniac. Unbalanced. Uncouth. Unrealistic. They will say, or strongly imply, that you are not the right fit for shared spaces. And you will tell them to stick their vapid, morally bereft politesse right where the sun won’t shine.
Because embracing the rage can bring you to a whole new place: liberation. Lean in. We’re all screamers now. —Kathryn Wolf
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listenjewsListen to Jews Who Don’t Look, Act, or Vote Like You
Sir Winston Churchill, who foresaw the rise of Nazism and the threat of Hitler long before it was taken seriously by most of the world, is sometimes called the “modern Cassandra,” after the Trojan princess who was doomed to know the future but not to be believed. In fact, prescient thinkers since the Hebrew prophets have sometimes had an uncanny knack for tracing the trends of the era and understanding where history is going.
Here is a harsh truth about human beings: People naturally fear and respond to violent power. Democracies can obscure this truth, fostering peaceful development under the rule of law. But, like a jungle garden, they must be constantly tended in order to weed out encroaching dangers. The forces of dictatorship and terrorism think that the Free World has become weak and unstable. Just as in the years before World War II, aggressor powers believe the time has come for a dark upheaval.
Some of us did not need a massacre of Jews to see reality clearly. For those who did, it’s worth asking yourselves why you are shocked when others are not; why you didn’t hear what others were desperately trying to tell you; why you didn’t listen to Jews who had something important to say—something that would have helped you understand a changing, dangerous world better, in ways that could protect you, your children, your community, and more—but who maybe don’t look or act or vote like you. Because in fact, as a Persian Jew who has been writing about these issues for years, I think that’s a big part of the answer to this mystery, and—for all of our sakes—it has to stop.
When I was 6 years old, my family and I fled Iran in the back of a pickup truck across the Pakistani border. The Iranian government had taken the dynamic, sophisticated modern society with roots in millennia of Persian culture that I remember from my childhood and turned it into a dystopian theocracy where women must cover from head to toe or face rape, torture, and execution at the hands of regime thugs.
My family, who fled our ancient homeland after the ayatollahs destroyed its flourishing civic culture and turned it into a repressive theocracy, were among the first victims of a jihadi wave that is still cresting. Over the last few decades, Iran has amassed a powerful empire of jihadist militias stretching from Afghanistan to Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran is notably the outstanding sponsor of the brutal Palestinian terrorist faction Hamas, which has functioned as the governing force in the Gaza Strip since 2007.
We now know that Iran coordinated and planned the Simchat Torah massacre of Israelis over a period of several weeks. When the Iranian-armed terrorists struck on Oct. 7, they didn’t just murder over 1,400 innocents; they tortured over 80% of their victims, including children. There were instances of rape so brutal that they broke the victim’s pelvis. A baby was baked alive in the family’s oven. Over 240 men, women, and children remain captives of Hamas in Gaza, undergoing G-d knows what horrors.
Iran has shown us for a long time that it perpetrates cruelty not only within its own borders but regionally. We should have listened back in 1979, when the ayatollahs began the state-mandated weekly chants of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.” In 2001, former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani declared that if “the world of Islam comes to possess the weapons currently in Israel’s possession [meaning nuclear weapons]—on that day this method of global arrogance would come to a dead end. This … is because the use of a nuclear bomb in Israel will leave nothing on the ground, whereas it will only damage the world of Islam.” In 2005, then-President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promised to “wipe Israel off the map.”
In the ideology of the Islamic Republic, Israel is the “Little Satan” and America is the “Great Satan”; the destruction of Israel is the first step in the destruction of the West. In pursuit of this goal, Iran has sponsored a pernicious strategy of “denormalizing” Israel that has wormed its way into Western institutions, particularly in academia. According to this theory, Israel is somehow an abnormal country, and any recognition or engagement with any supporters of Jewish self-sovereignty is considered “oppressive” and illegitimate.
The fruits of the long-term campaign to delude Western youth about the Middle East conflict have been bitter indeed. In the wake of the savage, ISIS-like Hamas attacks on Israel, crazed, shrieking pro-Hamas protesters took to the streets of Western cities and fully endorsed Hamas’ genocidal goals. In Sydney, in front of the famous opera house, anti-Israel marchers chanted “gas the Jews.” In London, ISIS-like flags were carried by marchers who called for Muslim armies to invade Israel.
Some of the worst pro-Hamas activity has been on America’s college campuses. Last year, when my alma mater Columbia University hosted the blood libeler Mohammed El-Kurd, who has grotesquely accused Israelis of harvesting Palestinian organs, I warned that the school must not become a platform for antisemites. Just after the Hamas attack on Israel, an Israeli student was assaulted on Columbia’s campus with a stick. At Indiana University, pro-Hamas students interrupted a peaceful Jewish student vigil for the slain and kidnapped Israelis by chanting genocidal slogans into megaphones. At California State University in Long Beach, anti-Israel forces have been advertising themselves with images of the Hamas paragliders that were used to attack an Israeli music festival on Oct. 7, butchering 260 young people and taking more captive to Gaza.
I don’t want to say, “I told you so.” I would have given anything to have been wrong. But I was not. As I have long warned, Iran and its jihadist proxies pose a threat far beyond its borders—a threat that begins with the extermination of the Jewish state and people and ends with the destruction of the West.
The good news, to the extent that there is any in this moment, is that our wider community is blessed with coteries of Jews—from Iran and the wider Middle East, from the former Soviet Union, from Latin America—who carry closely in our hearts and minds the vital and hard lessons of history that are wildly relevant for America in this moment. We’re here to help, if you’ll only listen. —Sheila Nazarian
borgAvoid Borg Brain
One of the remarkable things about watching “the discourse” around the Israel-Hamas war evolve in real time is observing how similar this issue is to … every other issue over the past half-decade. I’m talking about Americans here, and the way we “discuss” current events. In real life, of course, there’s a real war going on, with real bombs, bullets, artillery shells, tunnel networks, and people, thousands of whom are now really kidnapped, wounded, or dead. There are also real histories and motives on both sides of the war, some noble, some ugly, but few exhausted by the categories—colonialism, racism, the binary of oppressor and oppressed—through which allegedly enlightened Americans make sense of the world.
All of that, however, is happening in the Middle East. Here in the United States, the war is a media event, which these days means it is a progressive crusade. And we now have a script for those, familiar from previous crusades against “police brutality,” “white supremacy,” “rape culture,” “the gender binary,” “COVID disinformation,” and the like. This script resembles what we used to call argument, in that strong factual claims are made that in turn imply some urgent course of moral action. But as anyone who attempts to engage with these claims will soon discover, they have nothing to do with argument in any traditional sense. They are instead examples of what Jacob Siegel has described as the latest “new truth”—moral commandments backed by emotional blackmail.
For instance, take the claim: America is helping Israel commit a genocide, just like Nazi Germany did, therefore you must support an immediate cease-fire, or else you are a Nazi genocidaire. Seems simple enough. But if you ask in what sense Israel’s war in Gaza constitutes a genocide, defined as the “systematic and widespread extermination or attempted extermination of a national, racial, religious, or ethnic group,” it turns out there is no answer. Or rather, the answer is that you are a bad person for quibbling over definitions in the midst of a moral emergency.
But wait, you might say, if there is no genocide, wouldn’t that imply that there is no moral emergency—certainly none greater than Pakistan’s plan to expel 1.7 million Afghans at the start of winter, leading to certain death for many, or Azerbaijan ethnically cleansing Nagorno-Karabakh of more than 120,000 Armenians, or the deaths of as many as 600,000 people in Ethiopia’s Tigray war, all of which are also happening now and none of which anyone cares about—or at least that the moral questions involved are more complicated than whether you support or oppose Nazis?
In an argument, that would be a valid point.
Except you are not having an argument; you are walking into a trap. The point is not to convince you, a person earnestly trying to make sense of the world, that the claims are correct. The point is to isolate you and your messy humanness. To convince those around you and your interlocutor—friends, colleagues, parents, children, employers, spouses—that the only reason someone would disagree with the claim that a genocide is happening is if they disagree with the moral claim that genocide is bad. You may think you are questioning the facts, but what you are actually doing is outing yourself as a genocidaire—and, maybe worse, as a human being.
These new crusades are a product of social media. They operate through viral memes, images, and emotional cues filtered deliberately through TikTok and Reddit, which provide the nodes in the network—formerly known as “people”—with narratives for how other nodes “like them” should interpret the firehose of information they consume daily through their smartphones. To consider the outward formulations of this process as “ideas” is, in a sense, a category error. These campaigns are instead more like software updates, which is how hundreds of thousands of college students who a month ago could not have located Israel on a map became, overnight, experts on Israeli “apartheid” and “occupation.” The signal went out, and the nodes fell in line.
Instead of human matter, their brains are filled with magnetic poetry words whose valences can be changed in 60 minutes via social media. Nothing refers to anything real. The concept of real is actually controlled by a higher narrative function (HNF), whose location outside themselves brings them peace. Then they give each other little dopamine hits for rapid narrative alignment (RNF). Heavier-seeming words—“genocide,” “Mossad,” “trans suicide,” “ACAB”—give heavier hits.
What’s missing is any internal logic, or personal or historical engagement. All the intermediate structures and steps are missing. There are simply predetermined triggers for preexisting emotions. Indeed, whether or not the latest software update is “true” is beside the point; to reject it would mean to fritz out. Well, that or escape the network and become human—which most nodes consider too hard, too alienating, too rooted in the body and other gross things.
Humans think. They argue, pore over ideas, go back and forth, consider alternatives, entertain doubts, change their minds. They get things wrong, sometimes embarrassingly so. But most of us are not, or were not until recently, computers, mouthing half-understood viral jargon to signal allegiance to some Borg-like collective intelligence. And you shouldn’t either, if you want to continue to be a person. —Park MacDougald
irandealEnd the Iran Deal Delusions
If you’d ever tolerated or participated in snickering at Jewish communal loyalty and religious feeling, or the persistent effort to sap Jewish morale, Oct. 7 was the day the pinch came. You may have been surprised to discover since then that it is, in the end, impossible for you to join in the sabotage. But where did all these memories of Hebrew school, Birthright, and your grandmother suddenly come from? Since when did the sight of a mezuzah on a doorpost, or burning Shabbos candles in a window, make your heart stop? What are these marks that such apparently trivial things have left on you?
And where have they been all these years?
It’s a question worth asking, because among the more obvious explanations for Jewish discomfort with our own particularisms (assimilation, liberalism, secularism, and so on), there is another which we haven’t begun to come to terms with yet.
When it came to the Iran deal, there were two types of supporters. One was open to testing the hypothesis that by trading sanctions relief for a temporary stop to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the United States could strengthen the “moderates” in Tehran at the expense of the “hardliners,” bring Iran “in from the cold,” and oblige it to share power and responsibility for the Middle East with traditional U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel—thereby enabling the United States to resign its policing role in the region and withdraw from its endless wars.
The other type of supporter saw the Iran deal through the lens of American domestic politics. The reason the United States kept getting dragged into Middle Eastern wars even under Democratic administrations, the theory went, was that Jewish organizational power and financial resources gave the “Israel lobby” the whip hand in Democratic foreign policy. To stop American Jews from persuading Washington to fight Israel’s wars, you needed to break their stranglehold on Democratic politics. By placing Iran’s nuclear weapons program under the protection of a U.S.-backed international agreement, and realigning U.S. interests in the Middle East with the most credible anti-Israel force in the region, the United States could extricate itself from its alliance with Israel, which—along with the “Israel lobby” and the “Jewish vote”—would cease to be politically relevant.
What united these two types of support for the Iran deal was not necessarily ideology or partisanship or even loyalty to Barack Obama. It was a misconception about basic realities.
The first type of supporter failed to grasp that Iran is interested in revolutionary hegemony, not stability or cooperation, and that its homicidal designs on Jews and Americans are literal, not rhetorical. The second type didn’t understand, or refused to accept, that Jews control neither Democratic nor Republican foreign policy, both of which frequently violate the security interests and ignore the pleadings of the Jewish state.
For a while, you could perhaps be forgiven for holding the first of these two delusions, though the work of conflating them was done by Obama himself. From 2013-16, the president, his Secretary of State John Kerry, and other administration officials frequently referred to opponents of the Iran deal as “donors” and “lobbyists” with loyalties that ran up against the interests of their own country. You either supported the Iran deal, went the sales pitch, or you supported war. And if you didn’t support the Iran deal, you were the “same people” who led America into war in Iraq.
Never mind that a plurality of American Jews supported the Iran deal while non-Jewish Americans opposed it by a margin of 2 to 1. If you didn’t support it, you were a “Likudnik” in thrall to a foreign power. The elected officials representing your interests—especially the Democratic ones—made for an “unseemly spectacle,” as The New York Times put it, “of lawmakers siding with a foreign leader against their own commander in chief.”
It is difficult to overstate the change in fortunes this implied for American Jews. Until then, being an American had always meant having more than one identity, and belonging to a subgroup with its own special relationship to the United States. The whole point of America is to be free to identify as a Jew—or Irish, or Korean, or Sikh—without relinquishing your right to your identity as an American, which in turn serves as a bridge between you and other communities of Americans. Such conditions, almost unique in the world, are why the American moment has been one of the brightest spots in 3,000 years of Jewish history.
Historically, America itself has benefited from these conditions, too—the lucky recipient of the endowments of its various subgroups. In the case of the Jews, the oldest and most hunted witnesses to history, one of our contributions to American society has been the ability to sense danger, sometimes earlier than others. In the case of the Iran deal, the danger was as much to American power as it was to Jewish security.
And yet at the moment of peril, our radar was off. It had been shut off. By warning America’s Jews not to indulge our particularisms, the authors of the Iran deal helped neuter our ability—insofar as we had the power at all—to warn our country off the disastrous path which eventually led to Oct. 7, and to the brink of wider war.
It should therefore be easier now to see these people for what they are. Those who like to put down your American patriotism and your Jewish communal pride, who weigh Zionism against racial and theocratic autocracy, who balance the genocide of European Jewry against the suffering in Gaza and the United States against the most perverted imperialist powers of the past—these are not “allies,” and we are not theirs. They are demented freaks who can’t comprehend the most ordinary human sentiments and have never had their faces shoved in realities. The question, for God’s sake, is not, “Can you make a plausible case for détente with an antisemitic dictatorship bent on shattering American power and eradicating Israel?” The question is, “Do you honestly believe that argument? Could you put up with Israel’s destruction, or couldn’t you?”
From now on, we would all do well to be certain on that point. —Jeremy Stern
religionGet a Little More Religious. You Know You Want To.
“Every blatt Gemara is a missile,” Rav Noach Isaac Oelbaum said on Oct. 29, addressing a New Jersey siyum for the daf yomi cycle’s completion of Seder Nashim. “Every tosfos is a rocket. Every kapitel tehilim is a bomb.” Under the metaphysics the Queens-based rabbi alluded to, a Jew’s mere reading of holy words is powerful enough to answer deadly acts of evil, and to serve as a physical defense for strangers thousands of miles away. This would mean that every Jew can affect a real and meaningful improvement in reality wherever they are and at any time, even if the study of Gemara and Tosofos are beyond their ability. They’re certainly beyond my ability, but my fellow amei ha’aretz can still fall back on the compactly musical devotional poems of King David, whose genius lies in their being punchy, memorable, and short. Bombs will have to do for us, but that’s more than enough. Open up the ArtScroll edition of Sefer Tehilim and you will find a handy, one-page guide as to which psalms should be said for the sick, which should be said for success in Torah study, and which should be said when the land of Israel is in danger.
Religious Jews base their lives on the idea that even seemingly innocuous choices—in dress, in diet, in the brief sequences of words said upon waking up in the morning and before going to sleep—are part of a larger system for sanctifying reality. And not just a larger system, but our system. While Judaism’s moral and metaphysical claims are meant to apply to everything, its obligations and its many wonderful and baffling peculiarities belong only to us. Less-religious Jews tend to downplay the obligatory aspects of our ethnoreligious existence, instead emphasizing this nefesh-level instinct that we’re all a part of a weird and unkillable little club. That club formed at least 2,500 years before the State of Israel’s founding. In fact it formed centuries before the creation of any modern state. If the full realization of a Jewish society can only be found in Israel, the merging of cosmic obligation and ancient belonging can be realized just about anywhere. Religious practice—mitzvohs, text study, wrapping strange black boxes around your arm and forehead—gives Jews the power to enact our crucial and distinct place in HaShem’s universal order wherever we want to.
In recent years, Jews of various backgrounds have discovered that Judaism actually makes a whole lot more sense if there’s religion involved. The Reform movement’s new emphasis is on “doing Jewish”; Chabad houses have proliferated around the world by offering parsha classes and Shabbat meals. In Israel there are now musical kabbalat Shabbat services at the Old Port complex in hypersecular north Tel Aviv, while the works of even a cutting-edge, high-literary experimenter like Youval Shimoni return to the theme of how impossible it is for Jews to escape the primal origins of practice and belief, no matter how much we’d like to and no matter how hard we’ve tried over the millennia. In Israel the words of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov are a soccer chant, and at the rebbe’s grave in Uman you are guaranteed to see a visible minority of the less-religious every Rosh Hashanah.
In the living nightmare after Oct. 7, religion has become one of the few unifying forces for Jews around the world that is actually positive. Tragedy, anger, horror at the revealed beliefs of friends and neighbors, and justified fear of what might be coming has drawn Jews closer to one another while also forcing us to take account of what’s always been there, the sources of meaning that have endured through crises far worse than the current one. Anyone who danced on the street the night of Simchat Torah had already steeled themselves for how awful and unthinkable the coming days would be. Synagogues and Shabbat tables were fuller than usual in the weeks after the Hamas rampage. A long-dormant Talmudic study group suddenly roared back to life in my WhatsApp messages. During the first week of the war, a choir of Viznitzer Hasids, decked out in frock coats and shtreimels, sang for refugees from southern Israel, the kibbutz folk and Haredim erupting in an almost utopian dance party.
Since Oct. 7 the religious claims on reality do not seem so fanciful. Belief, in both its stricter and looser forms, turns out to be an unusually powerful antidote to despair—in fact, as Rebbe Nachman said in a time and place where Jews were under constant physical threat, there is no such thing as despair. That despair is a self-generated fiction or the lying voice of the yetzer haroh, rather than a natural response to external phenomena, is just as extravagant an assertion, just as dismissive of arrogantly rational modern sensibilities, as Rav Oelbaum’s idea that studying a blatt of Gemara can act as our own special counterbalance to weapons of terror. Perhaps one legacy of Oct. 7 will be a growing discovery that living without such seemingly wild notions of how and why we exist as Jews is impossible. —Armin Rosen
russian_jewsLet Russian Jews Lead
Two weeks after Oct. 7, I found myself in a large, brightly lit conference room of a prestigious law firm located at the top floor of a gleaming midtown Manhattan tower. Sitting around the long table were members of the Jewish Parent Academy, an adult Jewish education and leadership nonprofit that seeks to empower “Generation 1.5” of Russian-speaking Jews “to take ownership of their multilayered Russian-Jewish-American identity, and become active contributors to their communities through leadership, volunteerism and philanthropy.”
JPA was founded in 2015 by seven Brooklyn parents—graduates of elite Jewish leadership programs who wanted to communicate what they learned to others in the community. For some time, it remained a local Brooklyn initiative. But over the last few years, the organization has blossomed and expanded, with new branches opening up in Manhattan, Long Island, and New Jersey. Many JPA graduates are first-generation immigrant success stories, with impressive careers in the corporate world. It was thanks to one of them that we were now sitting in this swanky conference room, with my lecture about Soviet roots of contemporary left antisemitism serving as a springboard into a free-flowing discussion (more accurately, everyone talking at each other at the same time) about the American Jewish future.
The mood and conversation in this room felt notably different than at other talks I gave that week. Contrary to their American-born peers, Russian-speaking Jews, or RSJs, who gathered in this room somehow felt less … paralyzed. While much of the American Jewish community was preoccupied with the implications of Oct. 7, which were just now coming to light (millions of dollars spent on wrong causes; their kids getting into Ivies that were now erupting in pro-Hamas orgies; the realization that anti-Israel propaganda might have something to do with antisemitism after all), this group had no feelings of betrayal to process and no shattered alliances to grieve. They had always seen American Jews’ progressive commitments as a quirk at best and a mistake at worst, and no one needed to convince them that Soviet-born, anti-Zionist rhetoric was dangerous. When disaster came, they channelled their shock and energy directly into action.
If you stopped following the Soviet Jewry story after the USSR fell apart, you’d be surprised to meet this group. No longer your badly dressed, uneducated cousins who needed primers on how capitalism works and what one does at services, Russian-speaking Jews have become successful, confident, and unapologetically American in the way that only immigrants seem to be these days: deeply appreciative of opportunities the country offered them, conscious of America’s place in the world, and committed to upholding American values for themselves and their kids.
Many have also acquired a Jewish identity that represents the best of Russian- and American-Jewish aspects, with a firm commitment to Israel and a sense of belonging to the Jewish people. It is no small feat: Soviet Jewish identity was as notoriously strong as it was “thin.” Russian Jewish immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children understood that if they wanted to pass their Jewish identity to their American-born kids, it was not enough for them to “feel” Jewish. They needed education.
And they needed to find commitment within themselves. “If I don’t do Rosh Hashanah or if I don’t do Passover, then nobody in my family is going to celebrate it,” I was told by Alla AI, a board member. Having grown up in a typical Soviet nonreligious family, AI is committed to creating the experience of growing up Jewish for her kids. And because she does it for her kids, “grandparents come, and my sister comes and my husband’s sister comes. You build that family bond and that community.”
Our collective history combined with this newfound knowledge has endowed Russian-speaking Jews with a special sense of responsibility, and a willingness to fight.
In May of 2021, when a Jewish man got beaten up near the New York public library, half a block from AI’s office, she raised the issue at her firm, which until then was silent. She helped found a Jewish “employee resource group” at her firm, sponsoring events with Jewish speakers, celebrating holidays and speaking up on critical issues. On Oct. 24, she wrote a blog titled, “There are no words, only tears,” and posted it on LinkedIn—specifically for her professional contacts to see it. “The fact that people are afraid to comment and people are afraid to ‘like’ it, but instead reach out to me privately, it’s very, very telling,” she said.
In my recent meetings, American-born Jews often ask me about how we can improve our message with regard to Israel. I tell them my friends in JPA think less in terms of PR and more in terms of long-term commitments. They see a glaring gap in American Jewish education—a lack of knowledge about Soviet and Soviet Jewish history, communism, and anti-Zionist propaganda. They believe this lack of education is one reason many American-born Jews have fallen for the woke mantras of recent years. “Every school is covering its butt right now,” talking about “anti-hate training” and how “we’re going to have more diversity and inclusion, blah-blah-blah,” said Yelena Pogorelsky, JPA’s executive director. Instead of this hogwash, she is demanding something fundamental. It’s a disgrace, she says, that the core K-12 curriculum doesn’t have any teaching about Jews and Israel: “At the very least, people should know that Judaism is at the core of Western civilization, and there is zero understanding of that.”
That this passionate defense of Western civilization comes from the mouths of first-generation, Russian-speaking immigrants is a gift—because Russian-speaking Jews know the alternative firsthand. They survived Lenin’s, Hitler’s, and Stalin’s “solutions” to the “Jewish question.” They have survived the destruction of the Jewish intelligentsia, a decimation of their religious and cultural institutions, and an erasure of their collective memory. For them, the fight for Israel is intertwined with a fight for America. They know that if the totalitarian left takes control of this country, there will be no other refuge.
Mainstream Jewish organizations have started paying attention to this group, but not enough. “They need to stop thinking of them as token Russians and really start listening,” Pogorelsky said. “This is not a diversity effort anymore. We have real experience and a real perspective to share.” We need it now more than ever. —Izabella Tabarovsky
social_mediaTake Social Media Seriously. Dig In, or Get Out.
I committed a red wedding of sorts on my social media a few days after Oct. 7. I’d been following a lot of people whose views I detested, whom I never hung out with, and in some cases didn’t even particularly like, out of a vague commitment to social pleasantries. But, stewing in anger as I watched them rain internet blows upon Israel for its “war crimes” two days after terrorists murdered 1,400 innocent people, I realized that I’m actually just fine chopping these people out of my online life. It’s certainly no ruder than defending mass slaughter.
When I shared this with a friend from college, who had been spending the past three weeks picking fights with the anti-Zionists on his timeline at considerable expense to his sanity, he told me that he kept these people around because he thought the fights were worth having. I wish I agreed, but I don’t anymore. What I’ve found is that, even if you can move the needle on one tiny subtopic, it’s way too unlikely that you’ll meaningfully change someone’s mind to be worth the effort and heartache.
For a lot of people, this issue is not just logic, facts, and history—even though for many of them, who don’t have any social, ethnic, religious, or personal connection to this small piece of land where they have never stepped a toe, it should be. For them, it’s political tribalism and social signaling. The best possible outcome of engaging with them is that you’ll spend 45 minutes of your life dredging up population statistics to convince someone that Israel isn’t actually committing mass genocide in Gaza, like it says in the infographic they just posted, they’ll begrudgingly delete it, say “thank you for discussing with me,” and “hope that you’re holding up OK,” and then three days later they’ll reemerge with some different nonsense so the cycle can begin anew. It’s an exhausting game of Instagram whack-a-mole, and the person who will emerge the most tired is you.
But what my friend and I did ultimately agree on is that there is a subsection of people with whom it can be worth the toll of engaging—the rare souls operating in good faith. Maybe they’re your sheltered progressive friend who comes to all your Shabbats but couldn’t name three Israeli prime ministers; a “cultural Jew” from the Upper West Side posting JVP graphics but feeling guilty at the thought of their grandparents following them on Instagram from heaven; a high school friend who meant well but got a little too swept up in the #FreePalestine TikTok algorithm. Those are conversations worth having. Especially, especially offline.
But online, too. Nobody is coming to stand up for Israel, or the welfare of the Jews, on your behalf. The overwhelming anti-Israel cultural tide is not going to suddenly ebb on its own. Setting aside TikTok—where the Chinese Communist Party literally has its fingers on the scales, intentionally flooding the site with pro-Palestinian and antisemitic propaganda—even Instagram has devolved into a battlefield-slash-cesspool of Free Palestine hashtags, statistics from the “Gazan Health Ministry,” and sleek infographics about Israel’s affinity for apartheid, genocide, and ethnic cleansing, among other evils.
If you’re going to stay in these spaces, stay and fight. If there’s an element you feel is missing from the prevailing online conversation, stop waiting for a noble defender to swoop in and share your thoughts. Find the fortitude to stand up for the values you know to be right, instead of watching with alarm from afar hoping that things will miraculously change. I spent 30 minutes on the day of the “hospital bombing” urging everyone who posted a hasty Instagram story about Israel’s supposed war crimes to take it down and wait for more evidence; everyone I approached listened to me, and some even thanked me afterward.
Another thing that I have been saying to some of these people, which may or may not be useful to you: “If Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza all got wiped off the map tomorrow, I’m sure you would be horrified. But your life would not change. Your world would keep turning exactly as normal. That is not the case for me.” That statement doesn’t—and is not intended to—radically alter their views about matters of Israeli diplomacy, policy, or military strategy. But it can encourage a well-intentioned person to find the humility and the empathy to “check their privilege” before wading into an issue to which they have no claim. It can also convey something that lies at the emotional core of this conversation, which is that a lot of us are hurting. It’s hard to see your friends muddy the waters about an issue that already brings you genuine pain. Right now, the people who will hear this in good faith are the ones worth talking to. Not everyone’s heart has been lost to an algorithm.
As for those who have, you know what you have to do. If it helps, spend a little time thinking about your past relationship to these people, these institutions, and the echo chamber soliloquies that pass for online dialogues. Can you tell yourself honestly that this wave of vitriol came as a total surprise, and that you took every opportunity to do something about it when it nipped at the boundaries of your world? I know I can’t. But what should be a small comfort is that there are new communities forming, especially for Jews online, which have been more vocal and more unified than ever before. You might lose a few so-called friends, but you might also find some better ones, too. —Ani Wilcenski
communal_orgsReplace American Jewish Communal Leadership
Years ago, I read a 1923 short story by Dovid Bergelson that has haunted me ever since. Titled “Among the Refugees,” it revolves around a tormented Jew originally from a region called Volhynia, who has moved to a squalid boarding house in Berlin. One day, into the room across the hall from him moves the notorious pogromist from his hometown, the person responsible for, among many other horrors, his grandfather’s death. The villain isn’t hiding or obscuring his identity; in fact, he’s brazenly using his own name.
The distressed young man realizes the opportunity that has come to him: He must kill this devil. But he does not have a weapon, and has no family or friends to turn to for help. One day, he bumps into a man he knows from Volhynia, a man named Beryl, who has connections to the respected leaders of the Jewish community in town: “He’s always involved with Jewish groups here. He associated with them, and they associate with him … Who should I turn to if not him?” he thinks. He asks Beryl to beseech the elders to get him a gun so that he can rid the world of this murderous enemy of the Jews.
The next day, he meets Beryl, who ushers him off to the planned secret rendezvous. There, he is taken into a room with the Jewish leaders, who have brought not a weapon to be used on the enemy but a psychiatrist—to be used on him. In their eyes, this young Jewish man’s instinct for personal and collective self-defense is not heroism; it’s hysteria.
That the story takes place—and was written—between the wars, before the horror of the Holocaust, adds to our terror as modern readers—turning it from a story ostensibly about a revenge killing into one about Jewish communal self-defense. How on earth could those so-called leaders be so blind, so dismissive of the concerns of someone so close to the ground, so outrageously entitled?
Now that pogromists are parading in the streets, smashing windows and noses, and cheering on Jewish genocide, it’s easy for Jewish leaders to wave the biggest blue-and-white flag they can find and vow to take “immediate and concrete action,” whatever that is. But look around at the disarray and the chaos and the betrayal of Jews by alleged friends and allies, and you’ll see a bitter truth: Our communal leadership has gone bad.
Bad leadership failed us on college campuses, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into “advocacy” while sucking up to university administrations and leaders turning once-illustrious institutions into festering swamps of antisemitism.
Bad leadership failed us on the international scene, complicit in the single greatest blow America has ever dealt to Israeli security, the Obama administration’s Iran deal, while mumbling stupidly about bipartisanship. They swaggered about D.C. declaiming their political clout and influence, yet they were unwilling, when the hour of need arose, to withdraw their support for those intent on giving a genocidal, Holocaust-denying regime hundreds of billions of dollars, regional legitimacy, and the power and motivation to resume exporting death and destruction against its enemies, the Jews first and foremost.
Bad leadership failed us on the political front, rushing to embrace obvious Jew-haters. Like New York’s Jewish Community Relations Council, for example, which was eager to engage Alexandria “the U.S. tested chemical weapons in Vieques as a dress rehearsal for Israeli war crimes in Gaza” Ocasio-Cortez in a fawning dialogue while simultaneously hosting seminars on “white supremacy” and cracking down on Orthodox communities that dared to defy the state’s draconian COVID restrictions.
Bad leadership failed us by failing to prioritize our own, very real needs, abandoning its core mission—to serve and protect Jews—in order to imagine itself instead as yet another tile in the mosaic of the Democratic Party’s contemporary coalition of grievances. Earlier this year, when a Tablet staffer asked a senior executive at a very large American Jewish organization what their group’s top priority was for the year, this person replied, without missing a beat: “Ukraine.” What?
In every precinct and every channel, these leaders not only failed to see what was coming down the pike; they also did their best to sideline and even demonize those who did—snidely dismissing our clear-eyed observers, like Bari and Liel, who’ve grown hoarse from sounding the alarm about intersectionality and antisemitism in left-wing spaces, or Lee, Tony, and Mike, righteous gentiles who’ve spent years warning about the insane and irreversible dangers—to the U.S., to Israel, and to American Jews—of playing footsie with Iran.
Some of these misguided communal leaders have been chastened by recent events.
Andres Spokoiny, of the Jewish Funders Network, spent years using social media platforms to argue that these concerns, particularly about antisemitism in liberal circles, were overwrought. Two weeks ago, in a public forum, Liel asked him point-blank about the large philanthropies he had engaged turning sharply against Israel when it mattered most, like the Ford Foundation—whose CEO, months after appearing as a featured speaker at JFN’s conference, issued a stunningly terrible statement in the wake of the Hamas attacks. Spokoiny answered briefly, clearly, and convincingly. He said he had been wrong, that he had learned his lesson, and that he would not be fooled again.
Others, though, are more sure of themselves than ever. Appearing on Eli Lake’s podcast, the ADL’s Jonathan Greenblatt was asked why the organization under his leadership dedicated itself to decrying right-wing antisemitism and running cover for a censorship and surveillance effort that undermines the First Amendment, not to mention the centurylong Jewish commitment to it?
What did Greenblatt—whose ADL published a guide to America’s leading antisemites that did not include Rashida Tlaib or Ilhan Omar but only a handful of meaningless right-wing bloggers; who stood shoulder to shoulder with Al Sharpton, America’s most prominent living pogromist, to demand that social media outlets censor speech, including of a president elected by 60 million Americans; and who repeatedly championed the Black Lives Matter movement even when it was abundantly clear that it was both financially corrupt as well as deeply anti-Israel—have to say in response?
“We definitely do not play this left-right game,” Greenblatt replied, before going on to blame the media for making up lies.
Of course, it’s not hard to know why. Greenblatt can’t give up on this intersectional racket, since it’s responsible for nearly doubling the ADL’s coffers under his reign. But that’s business, not communal leadership—and we, the community, must finally accept that.
Two weeks ago, a friend was on multiple calls with other Jewish communal professionals where people were trying to square our new reality with the mixed-up ideas they had come to believe were our communal priorities. “We need to hold space in the Jewish community for Jews who are struggling in this moment because they don’t support Israel.” Do we? It seems to me this is an opportunity to bring clarity to what has been obscured, by answering charges like this one as directly as possible: “It is very important that we not misrepresent ourselves, because then these people will ultimately—rightly—feel gaslit. We are Zionists, and we believe that Zionism is central to our work. If this makes our spaces not right for certain people, we need—for their sakes and ours—for them to know it now.”
If we want more morally focused leaders, we need to start being more active followers. Stop reflexively writing checks to legacy organizations whose real work you don’t actually understand. Start demanding to see charters and mission statements, and demanding that they be changed immediately if somewhere along the way they lost the thread of concern for Jews, Israel, and America. And if the leaders at these organizations themselves seem unclear about or uncommitted to the priorities you believe should be paramount right now, fire them or jump ship. Empower new people and new organizations with the smarts and strength and vision to truly lead.
Now is not the time to forgive and forget, because we have no way of knowing if the worst is behind us or not. And I, for one, will not end up on some shrink’s couch, wishing for the gun that never came. —Alana Newhouse
gunsGet a Gun
In Brooklyn, pro-Hamas rioters burned down their Bay Ridge block; when the NYPD tried to restore order, they, too, were attacked. A public defender—paid with tax dollars to, um, defend the public—is filmed ripping down hostage posters. France banned pro-Hamas marches, and tens of thousands of marchers defied the order. In London, police are spotted ripping down hostage posters, and a Metropolitan Police adviser personally leads a crowd in a “from the river to the sea” chant. Police officers came to a man’s home to arrest him for posting a video to Facebook of him criticizing migrants in his area for putting Palestine flags up everywhere in the neighborhood.
We are, as the writer Louise Perry pointed out this week, increasingly in a world of anarcho-tyranny, wherein governments fail “to enforce or adjudicate protection to its citizens while simultaneously persecuting innocent conduct.”
Now, look: Some questions are hard to answer. Who to marry. Where to live. Why there are ten hot dogs to a pack but only eight buns.
Other questions are very easy. If you’re wondering what’s the one thing you could do right now to make you and your family safer, it’s simple: Get a gun.
October 7 should have shaken you to the core. Enough to understand who your friends aren’t. Enough to understand that the darkest warnings whispered to us by elders who had witnessed unspeakable horrors, the warnings so many of us dismissed as belonging on history’s shelves and not in the sweet streets of the present—that these warnings were not for naught. Enough to understand that this great and good country is struggling with unprecedented upheavals right now, and can no longer permit us to take safety for granted. Enough to realize that taking on this responsibility is as much about protecting ourselves as it is about protecting America.
“Even in a society that functions well, there are microbursts of that society failing,” Kareen Shaya, cofounder of Open Source Defense, said in an interview a few years ago. “If someone breaks into your house in the middle of the night, that’s society failing for a few minutes. If someone stops and mugs you in the street, that’s society failing for a few minutes. If your spouse beats you, that’s society failing for a few minutes. Society, if it’s functioning well, is going to have your back most of the time. In those moments where it fails, I would ask: Do you have society’s back? Are you ready to fill that gap for those few minutes until society can recover and come to help you? That’s how I view gun ownership.”
Same. You should too.
And here’s the good news: There’s a Jewish way to own a gun.
If you’re not a gun person, you might think of those of us who are as mindless machos who draw some sort of illicit charge from toying around with instruments of death. Some are. But a lifetime of mixing with these people has taught me that the overwhelming majority of us take guns very, very seriously.
We train to make sure we can operate our firearms as well as we can should the need arise. We keep our guns clean and ready. We store them in very secure locations. We educate our children to make sure gun safety becomes a second nature, and we insist they understand precisely what sort of terrible power is held in hands holding firearms.
And there is also a Jewish way of gun ownership.
The Jewish way of gun ownership is more about responsibility than power. It doesn’t flex its muscles or measure its worth in calibers. It’s precisely what the license says it ought to be: concealed, there when you need it and unobtrusive when you don’t. You can see it on display—or, rather, you can’t—when you visit Crown Heights: Every store, more or less, has a little notice in the window informing you that if you’ve got a piece and a permit, you’re very welcome to walk right in. Which tells you that the men and women you see going about their day, while far from your stereotypical image of gun-toting berserkers, are staying subtle and staying safe.
Here’s hoping you take a page from their book. Here’s hoping that should an American pogromist prey on you, you have the ability to protect yourself and your loved ones. Here’s hoping you exercise the right given you by the letter of the Constitution and the spirit of Zionism and procure for yourself the most effective means at your disposal to guarantee freedom—yours as well as everyone else’s. —Liel Leibovitz
prideStop Fighting Your Jewish Pride
You know that feeling when you walk into a room and it’s clear everyone was just talking about you? That’s how it’s felt to be Jewish these past few weeks: on social media, where it seems like every friend of a friend or cut-rate influencer is a newly minted Middle East expert unfurling a slide-by-slide dissertation on how evil Israel is; at work, where colleagues who don’t know the Levant from Liev Schreiber are signing self-righteous open letters and calling for a cease-fire; at parties and on group texts where being horrified about beheaded babies and mutilated grandparents makes you some kind of colonialist oppressor.
It’s been a rude awakening for a lot of us.
So what should we do?
It’s simple: Double down on the thing that is setting us apart in this moment, the thing that marks us as different, that seems to be making people so mad.
Double down on being Jewish—and being proudly Jewish.
Instead of feeling like your Judaism is a target on your back, treat it like a badge of honor. Our Jewishness is something we should celebrate, a universe filled with beauty and meaning, an identity that can sustain us just as it sustained our ancestors for millennia.
You can start by learning a bit more: I like this book, or this book, and especially this book. You can also try to pick up a Jewish practice. Shabbat is a great place to start: It’s easy, delicious, and comes around every week. At the very least, you’ll thank me for the social media break.
But the one I really want people to consider is embracing the beauty of Judaism. Go out and get the most beautiful menorah, or challah cover, or mezuzah you can find: It will not only enhance your Jewish experience, it will make it more specific to you. If you’re lucky enough to have bubbe’s kiddush cup or your great-grandfather’s tallis to add to the mix, that’s amazing. There’s no more powerful way to take ownership of your Jewish identity than through the objects required for our most important rituals.
And if you think responding to anti-Jewish sentiment by buying or making Judaica is frivolous or beside the point, take it up with the Torah. There’s a concept known as hiddur mitzvah, which calls on us to beautify our Jewish rituals. We are literally charged with adding aesthetic value and meaning to our religious world.
These are our sacred objects, touchstones of a rich and deep history, tradition, and heritage. We are heirs to a magnificent legacy. Make it last, and make it yours. —Stephanie Butnick
deportDeport Violent Radicals
It’s not every day that you find the center-left leaders of Germany and top American Republicans in agreement. But, in the wake of the Oct. 7 massacre, they are on one issue: Foreign nationals who support groups like Hamas should be deported.
“If we are able to deport Hamas supporters, we must do this,” Germany’s Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said last month. Her remarks were endorsed by Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck, of the migrant-friendly Green Party, in an important speech last Thursday: “Those who are not German citizens will also risk their residency status. Anyone who does not yet have a residence permit will have provided a reason to be deported.”
On this side of the pond, leading Republican senators have called for similar measures. Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton urged Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas to “immediately deport any foreign national—including and especially any alien on a student visa—that has expressed support for Hamas and its murderous attacks on Israel.”
The impulse is one of survival. Deporting people who celebrate death—our death—and especially those with provable ties to terrorist organizations, is simply one commonsense step if our society is not to go the violent way of the Third World. It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that the pro-Hamas mass rally in Washington, D.C., took part in the set ritual of vandalizing and desecrating statues of American historical figures—including Benjamin Franklin.
This isn’t a call for any new law—only the actual enforcement of the one already on our books. Title 8 of the U.S. Code, section 1182 deems inadmissible any alien who “endorses or espouses terrorist activity or persuades others to endorse or espouse terrorist activity or support a terrorist organization.”
Cotton’s colleague, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, sent another letter with four other Republican senators to Mayorkas regarding recent demonstrations supporting Hamas on American soil, and asking “to ensure that aliens who support terrorism are quickly removed from our country.”
It’s useful to note something here. Whereas in Germany it’s the governing coalition calling for this move, in the U.S. this is only coming from the party out of power. Opposing them is the White House and the secretary of homeland security, who have been implementing an open border policy. Why? Well, the universities that these foreign students attend are not only bastions of Democratic Party support, but are also factories that churn out the pseudo-intellectual jargon used to verbalize social and economic agendas which eventually become legislation. The pro-Hamas rallies exhibit characteristic third-worldist aesthetics of the street action of other groups in the Democratic Party’s orbit, especially since the participants are “intersectional.”
This helps explain why the White House had to declare “Islamophobia” on par with antisemitism, because that is the umbrella of protection being extended to the pro-Hamas mob, including noncitizens. In commenting on the prospect of large-scale deportation of foreign nationals who support Hamas or the ideology behind Hamas, Jaime Harrison, chair of the Democratic National Committee, described it as “Islamophobic.” Communal grievance, of the kind you encounter in places like my native Beirut, is now the official modality—the fruit of the great leveling.
The opposite of the project of leveling is the affirmation of the American covenantal ethos and American exceptionalism. That requires underscoring the boundaries that safeguard what has made us different and unique. Shipping out foreign nationals who insist on declaring their allegiance to rape, kidnapping, torture, and murder under the banners of their own failed societies seems like an obvious place to start. Highlighting that difference is also a first step toward restoring a sense of what immigrants should be assimilating into.
To abandon the covenant of our fathers for the ways of sick nations is to condemn ourselves to ruin. —Tony Badran
elitesThere Is Only One America Worth Saving
I have never been one for offering other people advice. I frankly have no idea how to. In general, I wish the Jews of America and everyone else the best of luck. I wish you all long lives filled with peace and happiness, and much nachas from your children and grandchildren.
I should also note here that my family is not American. It is perhaps for this reason that none of the starry-eyed hopes and expectations and prepackaged narratives of ethnic or group triumph or defeat by which Americans seem increasingly to define themselves have ever struck me as anything other than silly and indeed mostly repulsive. What grown-up man or woman of any serious caliber would ever wish to describe themselves, or have their life’s work appreciated, as an expression of the victorious telos of an externally defined group of people with similar skin tone, or penis preferences? Oh my, how cute, a lady doctor! Let’s give her tenure at Yale. I mean, either you are a capable, or even spectacularly capable, physicist, or radiologist, or carpenter, or you are not. That’s how narratives of group entitlement and pride have always landed with me. It’s bullshit.
Part of the reason that I hate identity politics bullshit is that I love America. I particularly love American literature and music, which is why I became an American writer, rather than, say, a British writer, or a French writer, or a Canadian writer, or a Russian writer, or an Israeli writer, which are all things that, from one personal or historical angle or another, I might have accomplished. The forms and narrative preoccupations of what has historically been defined as American writing interest and delight me. You either like America, American-style writing and American writers, or you don’t. Being an American, and being an American writer, are personal choices—which to my mind are made all the more valuable and unique because they are choices, rather than fixed identities given to a person at birth.
I want to be clear that when I say that I am an American writer, I mean exactly that—and not an “American Jewish writer” or any other kind of garbage-language hyphenate. I pray sometimes to a Jewish God, and I like the company of other Jews well enough, especially if they are religious types—but, as a writer, I have never trafficked in Jewish schtick or been especially drawn to Jewish tropes. I had no desire to be the Marx Brothers or Isaac Babel. I don’t have any nostalgia for the Lower East Side or the Catskills, or Jewish sports heroes of the 1930s, because no one in my family had any memory of those things, since none of us grew up here. The American Jewish experience is as much mine, or probably less mine, than the experience of the Black kids who were my neighbors growing up in downtown Brooklyn in the 1970s: I can write a better rap producer from the Bronx, or Biggie Smalls-type rapper, than I can write a rabbi. Maybe, someday soon, I will find that I am left with no choice other than to define myself as an American Jewish writer, because there will be no such category as “American” left. I doubt that, though. I’d sooner become a redneck and write country songs.
No amount of guilt-tripping from my so-called fellow American Jews or even my biological parents has ever made the slightest dent in my assurance that I am an American writer, with my own hunting dog and a safe full of shotguns. Which is why I feel equally at home voicing my opinion that the so-called “identities” of African Americans, LGBTQ+, Hispanics, MENA, Palestinians, and other generally ahistorical contributions to the tribal quota sewer system that Americans have chosen to live in these days are also, equally, crap. As far as I’m concerned, being an American is a cultural choice, with its own history, aesthetics, music, literature, etc., which are available from whatever angles to whoever chooses to make some original use of them. If you don’t like American-type things, it feels entirely reasonable to suggest that you might enjoy living somewhere else.
My larger point here is that there is only one America that, literature- and music-wise, is worth preserving—and it’s not the ugly mess of identity politics and quota systems that elite institutions are currently using to define themselves. This seems especially true when so many of the alternatives—including in Ukraine, which is the country that my family is from, which is currently being put through a meat grinder by Vladimir Putin—are such obviously terrible places to live and raise children. People who value the third world post-colonial experience of tribal hatred and mass slaughter have many other places on Earth to choose from besides America. Why import the fever-dream hatreds and large-scale social failures of the entire rest of the planet to America, of all places?
People ask me sometimes how I expect to continue to publish my work in fancy magazines or be offered fellowships at Harvard and Yale if I insist on advertising what I actually believe. The answer is, I don’t. I don’t insist on anything. I don’t care about any of these places anymore, nor should any honest person concerned about the deep trouble that this country is in. The time to have ceased believing in or caring about the world of official American culture is when it became indistinguishable from official Soviet culture, which was at least a decade ago. People who go on pretending that this culture is not morally, intellectually, and creatively bankrupt in order to gain some personal advantage or honor are themselves quite obviously corrupt. While I have plenty of vices, that kind of personal emptiness, rooted in fear of the consequences to one’s career or reputation, has never been a temptation.
What happened to the America I love, starting perhaps 15 years ago, can best be described as a broad-scale social, cultural, and political collapse. It was driven in part by technology, and in part by an accompanying movement toward oligarchy, two phenomena that have been plain to most sensible observers for years now. What I personally find shocking is the idea that the effects I am writing about appear to have suddenly become clear to so many others only in the past month.
Still, I’m not here to judge. As a fellow traveler, at whatever distance, the one personal request I do have is to please stop wasting your breath about all the important institutions that need to be saved, because it’s annoying and also pointless. The institutions you want to save are already gone. If you still controlled them, you would not have to be complaining and threatening. There is no more Harvard. There is no more New Yorker. There is no more Alfred A. Knopf. Your kids’ private school? It’s gone, too. You can’t change these places.
What you can change, I guess, is whether you keep giving them money in order to be made a fool of.
I’m not being an asshole here. I’m just telling you the truth, which is that you can’t change places that only exist in your imagination. In reality, which is a shared social space, the places you imagine all disappeared for good at least 10 or maybe 15 or 20 years ago. They’re gone because the values that produced them are gone. The institutions you once valued were allowed to become vessels of a new identity politics culture, paid for by America’s richest oligarchs, who aren’t you. The purpose of this institutional capture, as far as I can figure out, is to help enact a kind of colonial divide-and-rule strategy by which America’s billionaires avoid paying taxes for things like decent schools or drinkable water. In return for their tax breaks, the rest of us get to inhabit a world of corrosive mediocrity marked by ever-growing social division and toxic third world tribal politics, produced according to whatever bullshit party line will be dreamed up next by the Central Subcommittee of Queer Leninist Theory in Pursuit of the Harmonious Welfare of the People of Eastern Congo.
Why didn’t you notice any of this before college students began marching in favor of genocide or tens of thousands of demonstrators waving Palestinian flags defaced the U.S. capital? Mainly because being assimilated has a way of making people mentally lazy. This is also why so many of the people who have suddenly woken up to the unpleasantness of the current situation imagine there is something they can do now to “save the Jews.” There isn’t. You can’t have “the Jews” without “America.” Your enemies know it, too—which is why they’ve been trying to trash America, and replace it with something else, in the name of defeating “white supremacy,” which is simply another third world conspiracy theory. Jews, America, it’s all the same thing. Jews made America possible, and vice versa. They hate you, and want to destroy you, your power, whatever they imagine you control, which in reality isn’t very much. But it’s something. And for now, at least, it’s still yours.
The choice that is facing you is therefore a simple one: Help fix America, and then worry about the Jews. Because without America, there is no saving yourselves and your families. America is something far greater than the lies and the curses of the people who want to negate and destroy a history and culture for which we should all be grateful. And if that sounds too uncomfortable, or too radical, perhaps you’d be happier living somewhere else, too. —David Samuels
Tony Badran is Tablet’s news editor and Levant analyst.
Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.
Park MacDougald is senior writer of The Scroll, Tablet’s daily afternoon newsletter.
Dr. Sheila Nazarian is a physician in Los Angeles and star of the Emmy-nominated Netflix series Skin Decision: Before and After. Her family escaped to America from Iran.
Alana Newhouse is the editor-in-chief of Tablet Magazine.
Armin Rosen is a staff writer for Tablet Magazine.
David Samuels is the editor of County Highway, a new American magazine in the form of a 19th-century newspaper. He is Tablet’s literary editor.
Jeremy Stern is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine.
Izabella Tabarovsky is a Tablet contributor. Follow her on Twitter @IzaTabaro.
Ani Wilcenski is Tablet’s audience editor.
Kathryn Wolf is a writer and former reporter, living in Durham, North Carolina. Reach her at ThisIsZionism.org.