How The Election Changed My Jewish-American Identity
I am a descendent of immigrants; first generation on one side, second generation on another.
My English-talking brain never learned the foreign Hungarian or German tongues from which I came, and while my Hebrew inner child was brash and constantly calling for attention, my Americanness was so deep that I couldn’t sense it.
Brought up in the privilege of being a citizen of a long democracy, I seldom thought about the gifts I had inherited through being born at the right time and place. I seldom meditated on how I stood on the shoulders of previous warriors, who argued, protested, and fought for the freedom and justice I enjoyed daily.
Each time I returned from another Israeli seminary college summer, I mourned the lack of spirituality and warmth of the United States. Patriotism of my Fatherland, in direct correlation with my burgeoning Zionism, diminished greatly. I became more acutely aware of my Jewish discomfort in the supposed melting pot/ tossed salad, and I complained inwardly, sneering while reaping the material and invisible benefits of my citizenship, wishing I was elsewhere.
History lessons I received throughout my adolescence camped out on the exterior folds of my brain, remaining theoretical.
I knew that Hitler had risen, for example (Gd, how we covered that in grade school), but I always wondered, befuddled,“How could the public be so blind? How could people survive death marches?”
What I was really saying was, “How is death, birth, and renewal a reality? Am I human? Am I invincible? Is this all a joke?”
When I was 20, I traveled with ten other college students to Montevideo, Uruguay on a Hillel Alternative Spring Break volunteer trip. I met Jews there who spoke fluent Spanish and Hebrew but no English. No English. My American Jewish identity shield exploded. Of course I knew that English was not the universal tongue. But meeting Jews who couldn’t understand a word of it, in a modern, metropolitan country, split my American sensibilities wide open. The world became much bigger on that day.
Now that a new American ruler has risen, my viewpoint on America and my place in it goes through another abrupt paradigm shift.
On that innocent night last November, the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night seventy eight years previously that my Yekkish relatives’ stores got smashed in and said, “It’s time to leave this fatherland,”I sank down onto the couch, watching Donald Trump’s votes being tallied. Horrified.
My brain was working hard that night at congealing reality, the reality that everything I had been taught about history was real.
Rulers rise, I understood that night. Not all rulers are kind. People submit. People get confused. Things flip quickly. Germany was so liberal before Hitler rose, a running commentary in my head repeated. Germany was so liberal before Hitler rose.
My “Moschiah is coming, nothing bad can happen” mindset blew up into smithereens.
America shrank back to join the rest of the world.
America is no different, I realized. I see its smallness, as it reaches back to claim its humble truth, that it is just a land, and we are just a people.
The only difference is that the history books haven’t been written yet.
And before America shrinks down into just another story that our children’s children will tell, I want in.
I want to ride out this revolution in the best way I can: American, Jewish, little, old me.
And not stop until it’s a story that we can be proud of.