Jews have always been fleeing, but America was the country from which Jews would never have to flee. They fled from Eastern Europe, Germany and the Soviet Union (as my family did in the 1980s). They settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and in West Philadelphia. They opened delis in Denver and Indianapolis. They went to Ivy League colleges and played in the NFL.
And now, suddenly, after all this time, after so many waves of assimilation and acceptance, after “Seinfeld” and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, many American Jews have come to feel like strangers in their own home.
“America was our promised land but we might not be safe here anymore,” the artist Deborah Kass recently wrote, expressing a sentiment that is increasingly voiced at synagogues, where armed guards are now commonplace, and at Shabbat tables, where younger American Jews are suddenly facing anxieties that had supposedly been expunged several generations ago.
Not so. One of America’s most successfully assimilated minorities is being yanked out of its hard-won comfort zone, astonishing Jewish scholars and religious leaders, as well as extremism experts who see the sharp spike in antisemitism as a symptom of deeper social malaise that could threaten other groups — and American democracy itself.