Recently, I spoke before a group of officers and cadets at West Point on behalf of the MirYam Institute. I decided to wear a kippah, even though it is not my custom. I wore it to be identified as a Jew and to personalize my topic: “We American Jews are a threatened group.”
History should not have worked out this way; Jews are proud Americans. We’ve been here since the 16th century. Our tradition profoundly impacted the United States. The seals of Columbia, Dartmouth and Yale have Hebrew words, and the Liberty Bell quotes from Leviticus when it states, “Proclaim liberty throughout the land.”
As I noted to the participants at West Point, Jews have fought in all our wars, from the Revolutionary War through today. Both my father and my wife’s father proudly served. There are 17 Jewish recipients of the Medal of Honor. We paid for our citizenship in blood.
I love this country, not just because of my heritage, but because of my experience. I work as an investment banker, specializing in international trade. For the past 25 years I have traveled the globe. My travels have led me to the understanding that the rest of the world does not resemble the US, a unique nation of laws, not people.
Outside the US, it is not self-evident that all people are created equal, entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There are no guarantees of freedom – neither of speech, religion, nor assembly. Outside the US, one’s potential is often limited by status at birth.
I am not just an American, I am also a Jew.
I was educated at Jewish schools all the way through college. I grew up privileged, being born in the US. Real antisemitism was elsewhere: in France, Italy and Germany where, in the shadow of the Holocaust, synagogues and Jewish centers were surrounded by metal fences and security gates. The US was home. We were safe here. As a youth, I played basketball. Everywhere. With and without my kippah. The only thing that mattered was whether I could play.
My understanding of the Jewish-American paradigm changed when my daughter decided to serve in the military. Her service made sense to me. She was raised with a view that military service was honorable. Her grandfathers served. My father, an Orthodox Jewish kid from Brooklyn, proudly served in Patton’s tank corp. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and he also fought for his place in society.
My daughter grew up in the shadow of 9/11 with the military patrolling the New York skies. But she didn’t want to serve in the US military, she wanted to serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
Her story was different to mine, although she too was raised in Jewish schools. In her teens, she was a counselor in a Jewish camp in Hungary. The local kids would see her and make the gesture of a pistol with their hands, as if they were shooting her.
She attended Northeastern University in Boston, where she experienced antisemitic comments and threats, to which the college administration were oblivious. She shared her views that Europe wasn’t home to the Jews today and that maybe the US wouldn’t be home to Jews tomorrow. She felt that she had to do her part in making sure that, no matter what, we had a home.
My daughter made me aware that there is a generation of American Jews, who wonder whether the US will continue to be their home. Indeed, this past October, Dana Milbank wrote an opinion piece in The Washington Post titled, “American Jews start to think the unthinkable.” Her thesis was that Jews need to consider other countries they could live in.
And while you may think this is an exaggeration, there is a generation of Jews emigrating to Israel from France because they are no longer welcome in their homeland. There is no formal government declaration – there never is. It is just that Jews are being murdered, and no one is being held accountable.
THIS PHENOMENON has come to the US. In the past couple of weeks alone we’ve experienced the Kanye West and Kyrie Irving debacles. The damage has been done regardless of what happens next. The book/film Kyrie Irving referenced became best sellers. Some false facts and baseless accusations will be accepted as truths, even assuming people disbelieve the majority. The entirety of this amounts to a new normalization of being anti-Jew. Apart from the required woke response, there has been no public revulsion.
This is not happening in a vacuum. We’ve had shootings at synagogues in 2018, 2019 and 2022. Jewish houses of worship today have security teams and security committees. Good people are willing to make sacrifices to keep their community safe. Personally, when I go to synagogue, I want to bring my pistol. We have become what Europe was 30 years ago, and Europe is becoming a no-go zone for Jews.
These are just some of the reasons why Israel remains central to the identity and safety of American Jews. Our connection to that country must be proudly promoted. It is our right to promote that connection – as Americans.
It is my belief that hate is bred by ignorance and fear. The antidote to growing prejudice is to shine a light in order to allow others to see things in their natural state and be clear-headed.
Understanding Israel is fundamental to understanding the Jewish people, not just because of religion, but because each time Israel needs to defend herself, the rest of the world convulses in hatred. The marches and the protests against Israel lead to physical assault, injury and even death. We must correct the misguided accusations of the masses.
My belief is that if people see the bare facts, they will conclude that, at worst, Israel is a democratic country in a non-democratic region and, at best, Israel is a start-up nation with admirable core values and a promising future.
The writer is an investment banker specializing in cross-border transactions. He is an active member of the US Jewish community and board member of The MirYam Institute.