US is not Europe, but creeping fear is here
be focused on the Jews on the ground across America who are at the sharp end of the threats and disruption.
“We go to work every day ready to fight to protect Jewish people, so it’s our expectation that we are on the front line. Not on the front line is a mum who drops her daughter off at pre-school or a dutiful son who brings his elderly father to a rehab programme, so it’s those people who feel it much worse than we do.”
Despite his criticisms, Mr Greenblatt recognises the Trump administration’s efforts to reassure US Jewry.
“We have a president of the USA with a Jewish son-in-law and a daughter who is Jewish by choice. They are shomrei Shabbat and his grandchildren go to a Jewish day school. We have never had, in the history of this country, a president with such an intimate relationship with Jewish people.”
He also commended the president’s address to a joint session of Congress which opened with a condemnation of antisemitism, as well vice-president Pence’s recent trip to Dachau.
“These are probably symbolic signs that should be celebrated and elevated because they are meaningful words,” he said.
“We hope the present administration will pivot from words to action and take concentrated measures to protect the Jewish community.”
Later on Tuesday, Mr Greenblatt spent around half an hour addressing the APPG, with MPs Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith present.
The group’s chairman Tom Tugendhat told the JC: “Mr Greenblatt has a very important and interesting voice, so it was great to have him come and talk about some of the lessons of the USA and how they can be applied to us.”
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 café. 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.
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.
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?
But recently things in America have started to change. The goldene medinah may be losing just a little of its sheen. Last year, Donald 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 Mr 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.
The ancient hatred has reached into places where toddlers go to cheder
Josh Glancy is New York correspondent for The Sunday Times
Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia after it was desecrated last week