Jews Pay the Price of an American Success in US
Usborne, David, The Independent (London, England)
New York - To a casual - and Gentile - observer it seemed impressive: 55,000 Jews marching up Fifth Avenue, giant flags bearing the Star of David held aloft, to mark the annual celebration of Israel Day. But to Jewish leaders it was desultory. Only a single float rolled by and the spectators were barely one-deep.
This was two weeks ago andthe weather was unseasonably chilly. But the uncharacteristically flat atmosphere of this year's parade suggested something more: an odd listlessness among America's Jewry, born of a paradoxical mix of, on the one hand, complacency and, on the other, a new sense of insecurity about being Jewish today in the United States.
If complacency is the culprit, finding the reasons is not hard. Three- and-a-half centuries after the first of their forefathers arrived in the New World - to meet the rabid anti-Semitism of the then Governor of New Amsterdam (later named New York), Peter Stuyvesant - Jews in America in the 1990s have achieved astonishing success and societal security.
Consider the superlatives. America still has the largest number of Jews of any country in the world - 5.8 million, compared with Israel's 4.6 million. It is the most wealthy and most educated of any Jewish community worldwide. And its contributions to American cultural, business and political life far outstrip its less than 3 per cent share of the whole population.
In their book, Jews and the New American Scene, Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab offer an astonishing catalogue of Jewish achievements in the US. Jews, they assert, account for: 26 per cent of reporters, editors and executives of the major print and broadcast media; 59 per cent of the writers, producers and directors of the 50 top-grossing films; 40 per cent of the top lawyers in New York and Washington; 13 per cent of American business executives under 40. They contend that between a quarter and a third of political contributions to the major parties are from Jews.
Meanwhile, those things that have unified Jews in the US, as elsewhere in the Diaspora - notably the commitment to Israel's right to exist and the battle against anti-Semitism - have arguably waned in urgency to the point of irrelevancy. Peace with its Arab neighbours is at least in sight now for Israel. And even though it may be that the ascendancy of Jews to so many positions of influence risks triggering a new anti-Semitic backlash, the case that Jews are held back in American society has become hard to argue.
Even in politics that is true. There are 40 Jews in Congress, while President Bill Clinton has named high-profile Jews to his cabinet and chosen Jews for both appointments he has made to the Supreme Court. Perhaps only the Presidency itself remains subliminally beyond reach for American Jews. The only ethnic Jew ever to have been nominated was Barry Goldwater in 1964 - and his grandfather had fled anyway into the Episcopalian Church.
So what ails American Jewry? Barry Shrage, the president of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston, puts his finger on it. "Anti-Semitism is gigantically less of a threat to Jewish people in America than assimilation is," he said last week. After striving for centuries to help their own fit in with the rest of the US, many Jewish leaders worry now that the process has been taken too far. …