Ive never felt less American and more Jewish. As an American, a white one, Ive always felt safe. Ive always assumed my country would be stable. Ive always assumed the Constitution would restrain powers tendency to corrupt. Ive never feared my government or the people with whom I share my country. Ive never hated them.
Without thinking much about it, I internalized Barack Obama and Martin Luther Kings view that, although history zigs and zags, progress eventually comes. America ended slavery. It enfranchised women. It ended segregation. It legalized gay marriage. It elected an African-American president. Time will pass. My country will remain fundamentally the same, only a bit freer and less hateful, as the years go by.
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I dont feel that way anymore. As an American, I dont know what to feel. Ive never experienced anything like the election of Donald Trump. Ive never experienced anything so frightening or destabilizing. Im experiencing political vertigo.
As an American, Im totally unprepared. The only way I can ground myself is as a Jew. My grandparents were born in Lithuania and Egypt. My parents were born in South Africa. They didnt feel safe. They didnt understand the people with whom they shared their country. They didnt believe history marched forward toward a better day. It didnt march forward when the Nazis and then the Soviets swallowed the Baltic states. It didnt march forward when South Africa instituted apartheid. My grandmother, who began her life in Alexandria and ended it in Cape Town, used to laugh at me when I boasted about America. She told me not to get too comfortable. She said a Jew must always know when to leave the sinking ship.
Im not leaving America. Its my country. I have to fight for it. I have to fight – every American Jew has to fight – to protect the American Muslims who right now must be terrified beyond belief. I have to fight the dozens of American Nazis who have descended on my Twitter feed to celebrate their victory. I still love America to my core. But I dont trust it in the same way. And I dont trust progress. I keep hearing my grandmothers voice in my ear.
My country is young and hopeful. My people is old and weary. And tonight I feel older and wearier than Ive ever felt in my life.
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