Many American Jews, however, took a stand on the wrong side of those struggles. In a single generation, formerly working-class Jews who’d been concentrated in the Lower East Side, Grand Concourse, and Flatbush had spread out to Great Neck, Scarsdale, and New Jersey, becoming suburban homeowners and “professionals,” assimilated into that American Dream of upwardly mobile whiteness. The “there goes the neighborhood” attitude that attended white flight boiled over during the 1968 NYC teachers’ strike, which pitted mainly suburban Jews against the black communities that had replaced them in what was now the “inner city.” At the same time, but thousands of miles away, Israel undertook an aggressive expansion and occupation in Palestine, making manifest the country’s ideological shift toward right-wing Zionism. That Zionism found voice in this country as well, becoming the most salient and powerful political philosophy for American Jews.
The magnitude of this change is difficult to overstate. The internationalism of the pre-war American Jewry was supplanted by nationalism. Our egalitarian commitment was replaced by exceptionalism. Our agitation against war was undermined by ceaseless colonialism in Palestine. Jews have been instructed that the cluster bombs and night patrols blanketing the Holy Land are necessary to preserve our heritage. We have to wonder: Has the shift to militant nationalism robbed us of a Jewish heritage worth preserving?
Jesse Alexander Myerson