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Why America?


Once again I need distraction from the painful world we live in. Who asked Hamas to send salvos of rockets into Israel? Are they doing it intentionally to have casualties to win back public opinion? To prove they are as good jihadis as ISIS? Perhaps Israel should just pack up and ago. Perhaps Islam should never have been founded. Perhaps if we had been better Jews we would never have been exiled two thousand years ago. Perhaps Moses should have stayed in Egypt. The fact is we must deal with a world as it is. Hatred, prejudice and blame will solve nothing.

Let’s talk about something else. I was asked to participate in a documentary recently on why Jews have and continue to emigrate to the USA. This forced me to revisit how it is that I have left the country of my birth in the Old World for my present haven in the New.

They say that if you see someone drive by in a nice car in the USA, you are likely to think that if you really want one of those, you have to work hard and one day you will get one. In the Old World if you see someone drive a Bentley, you are more likely to think that come the revolution you will take it away from the bastard (or at the very least you will have an urgent desire to scratch the shiny exterior with a key as you walk by). In the US a problem is a challenge to overcome. In Europe it is an excuse for giving up. Like all such clichés, there is indeed an element of truth, but just as much untruth in both of them.

I used to think that New York was the most cosmopolitan of cities, where everyone was from somewhere else. Where everyone felt that one belonged every bit as much as one’s neighbor. But over the years I have realized that New York is not the USA. I can’t think of anywhere else in the USA I would rather live.

In Manhattan (and parts of Brooklyn) accessibility and public transport is good. You do not need a car. You have music of all kinds, theaters, museums, libraries, universities, and public amenities like no other place. Some say it is a city only for the wealthy or the lucky. Some poorer minorities have a strong sense of alienation, of creeping gentrification that is pushing them out. This is still a world in which you have to become one to swim with the sharks. Except of course if you would rather swim with the bottom feeders, or just not swim altogether in the dirty water. You can do that easier here than anywhere else I have encountered. Concessions abound. You can be anonymous and untroubled, or as public and socially mobile as you want to.

Europe recognizes class and wealth. But America, as well as worshipping the dollar, recognizes any talent less begrudgingly than the Old World. Intellectuals are cherished, rather than regarded as odd. No matter what your field, if you succeed you are valued. And the things that frustrate one here such as politicians, bureaucracy, incompetence, graft, corruption at every level, pretty much the same as everywhere else.

What I always disliked about Britain was the way that establishments closed ranks, excluded and dismissed the maverick or the nonconformist. This was as true of Jewish society as of non-Jewish society. In every sphere that I was involved with, I was made to feel an outsider because I was and because I made a point of making them feel I was.

Here it doesn’t seem to matter. Of course you have your secret societies and cabals. But the history and the culture of the New World is of outliers, mavericks, and people going out on a limb. That’s why I feel so comfortable here. And because it is so big, and there are so many different groups and options and immigrants and newcomers that one need not feel isolated. Above all, difference is welcomed as a route to success rather than an obstacle. Yes, the USA is completely dysfunctional. It cannot even agree on tax reform, let alone any of the serious social or fiscal issues it faces. But it’s as flexible as it is static. It’s more likely to change than ossify.

But perhaps the most obvious reason is that it’s so comfortable and soothing to be a Jew here. You don’t have to hide the way you do, or feel you should, in Europe. No one would think in the USA of not walking around with overt Jewish symbols. Yiddish words are part of the vernacular. Jewish holy days are acknowledged at every level. Chanukah menorahs are lit in almost every apartment building, and there are special stamps in the post office. There are Jews of every variety and degree, and whatever their differences most of them actually speak to each other. Because there is such a critical mass of Jews of all sorts, you know you will be able to find others at just your level of idiosyncrasy to feel less alone or weird. Each denomination is free to fight for itself, and the most extreme have their lobbies in Washington and state capitals and are courted by politicians.

Whereas the neo-monopoly of establishment services like state broadcasting systems dominate the mindset in Europe, if you do not agree with the chattering classes who are predominantly antipathetic towards Israel, you are made to feel evil. At this moment I see French and British Television all solidly pro Hamas and barely a note of dissent. There is of course a similar academic, left-wing, liberal religious prejudice against Israel here as much as elsewhere but in US I can see both sides. There are channels and think-tanks that can and do share other points of view. One feels under less moral assault.

The USA is a country of alternatives, even chaos. I prefer that to the thought police, social pressure, and the hypocrisy I associate with the Old World. Nowhere is perfect of course but have you ever wondered why the Queen has never been allowed to visit Israel? I think that proves my point.

4 thoughts on “Why America?

  1. The U.S is certainly not perfect, but I agree with your points.

    As Jews, we are afforded a degree of freedom which is not seen in many other countries. I can't envision an episode like this past week's riots in Paris happening here; at least not right now. One can say whatever one wants about BDS; that their efforts are misguided; that they are hypocritical anti-Semites who don't criticize even worse atrocities with the same fervor etc, but I don't doubt that the truly anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, pro-Hamas members among them would even question what would happen if they tried to firebomb a synagogue. There would be very public outrage, and the authorities would be merciless in apprehending and prosecuting them.

    I also feel that I can be a chameleon here without feeling like I am abandoning any particular social group. I can go to a synagogue, and then within a few hours, I can buy a bottle of rose water, a box of lokum, freshly baked baklawa, or some other groceries, and wish the clerk a Ramadan mubarak. For that matter, there was even the annual Iftar in the Synagogue tonight in Chicago (wanted to go, but I didn't realize that there was registration required, and it was full).

    1. Beautifully put!
      I didnt deal with Israel in this blog but I will. It is the exception because only there does one really feel it is "our" land.
      Shabbat Shalom Jeremy

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