Josh Glancy

Creeping fear is here

The US is not Europe, but it is also not as comfortable as it once was, writes Josh Glancy

March 08, 2017 18:42

When I moved to America six months ago, to take up a job as New York correspondent for The Sunday Times, my primary concerns were mastering the subway system and the minutiae of the Trump movement. It was all red caps and racism and rallies in Raleigh. 

I didn’t really think about what it would mean to be a Jew in my new city. London and New York have so much in common: the same bars with exposed brickwork and hipster cocktails, the same anxious millennials tapping away on their Apple Macs in every corner cafe. They are global siblings. 

But after being here about a week I started to realise that on the Jewish front at least things were very different. Little signs of Judaism were everywhere, woven into the very fabric of the city. The Mexican woman who made the tea at my favourite coffee shop wished me shabbat shalom. Huge swathes of Brooklyn seemed to resemble 18th century Lviv. I even ended up going on dates with Jewish girls, something I had long sworn off in London. It just sort of happened. 

I knew I was truly in the promised land when shortly before Rosh Hashanah I saw a giant feature on the front page of the New York Times about how to make the best knish. Knish! On the front page! Such a thing would be unimaginable in the still very white Christian corridors of British journalism. 

It took coming here to make me realise how restrained and repressed my Anglo-Jewish identity is. I may have grown up in leafy north London, but it suddenly became clear to me the extent to which the mindset of many British Jews is still rooted in the European ghetto. We still whisper the word "Jewish" in public. If you want to succeed in Britain and join the establishment then you leave a little bit of your Judaism at the door. You’re quiet about it. That’s the trade. I was not the first to make it. 

But now I could sit in a restaurant in Manhattan and listen to two Jewish princesses reminisce loudly about their Batmitzvahs and instead of cringing and worrying about a shanda fur die goyim, I could just smile at the familiarity of it all. Judaism in New York is a civilisation, not a guilty secret. 

A weight had lifted. I wasn’t constantly assessing my public expressions Jewish identity. Do they know? Should I tell them? How Jewy can I be in front of these people? These questions hovered constantly in the back of my mind. 

I realised why American Jews look at European ones with pity. Why stay in a place where your identity is closeted and your cemeteries are regularly daubed with swastikas, those nasty little reminders that they are still out there, and they still want to get you? 

Life as a Jew in New York was what I have sought for but never found in Israel, where I always feel like an interloper with a thin grasp of the language and culture. Here Judaism is part of the foundations, coexisting with all the other immigrant cultures in the city they built together. 

But recently things have started to change. The goldene medinah may be losing just a little of its sheen. Last year Trump’s election campaign sparked a wave of online Jew hatred, much of it aimed at prominent journalists. Since his inauguration the calls have started, bomb threats to Jewish Community Centres around the country. The ancient hatred has reached into the places where toddlers go to cheder and women do their water aerobics to remind America’s Jews that they are still out there, and they still want to get you. 

The cemeteries came next, that vile and most craven of desecrations, in St Louis and Philadelphia, hundreds of headstones split and crunched. Will violence follow? 

Some of these people may be feeding off Trump’s noxious rhetoric about colour and creed, which has emboldened bigots and conspiracists. But it may also be subtler than that: history teaches us that in times of stress and social fracture, someone usually decides to give the Jews a kicking. 

America will not become Europe. But it’s there again, at the margins, the creeping fear, gnawing away at the confidence and comfort that has for so long been the birthright of the American Jew. This may well be a phase, I sincerely hope so. But for me it’s served as a reminder that even in the land of the free, some small part of us will always be imprisoned by the hatred of our enemies. 

Josh Glancy is New York correspondent for The Sunday Times

March 08, 2017 18:42

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive