American Jews demand a future that is inclusive of their voices, aspirations and needs. What does the future demand from American Jews? In order to answer this question, we have to understand what America will look like in the coming decades.
Right now, the United States is in the midst of an era that appears divided along connected racial, political, class and generational lines. Demographic experts generally agree that the country will look much different by 2045. People of color (POC) will comprise a majority of the population for the first time in the nation’s history. Partisan divides across races may be exacerbated even more so than in the current polarized climate.
The implications of this demographic shift are more than what meets the eye. The mainstream legacy of the Jewish story in America has been one of remarkably successful assimilation into the “white,” enfranchised majority, especially after the post-World War II era. However, with the impending demographic shift in the country and the socioeconomic mobility of more Americans of color, the effort to shed our particular differences seems increasingly irrelevant and pointless.
In fact, despite the distinct history of most of Western Jewry (Ashkenazi-predominant), fraught with exclusion and racialized discrimination through the 1960s, the yearning to minimize our conspicuous physical, cultural and religious features seems counterintuitive when diversity and ethnic pride are values gaining tremendous social capital today.
When the waters of social justice turn toxic and demonize American Jews for broadly achieving white acceptance through assimilation to benefit equally from “the American Dream,” while most others couldn’t (despite Jewish allyship for civil rights), Jews, not European-Americans, face unique alienation.
Just as various Jewish thinkers like to point out that assimilation and conformity had their limits in Europe, evidenced by the Dreyfus Affair or the Holocaust, so, too, are there limits in the “exceptional” United States. As American Jews become the object of envy by much more diverse forces, while remaining the targets of white supremacists, the respectable choice—if not the only logical one—is to look within and outwardly embrace our Jewishness.
This is as much an authentic goal as it is a sustainable one, particularly when the sociopolitical and moral orthodoxies of our generation force us into boxes where we lose our rights. As the far-left alleges, if we’re solely “white” or nationless co-religionists at the top who feign minority status, we have neither culture of our own deserving representation or solidarity, nor the right to self-determine. As the far-right alleges, if we’re merely phony European-Americans who cloak our Levantine heritage to rule at the top, we have no belonging, as well.
The Jewish relationship with identity politics is thus more charged, arguably, than that of any other group. The ever-increasing diversity of American Jewry—today consisting of Jews of all colors and diasporic journeys—is another reason why fostering and mobilizing a unified Jewish identity, inclusive of its subsets, is essential for the vitality of the American-Jewish future.
Embracing our diversity and particularity builds credibility, where otherwise it has been subdued in the past. Manifesting our Jewishness more visibly with pride—however one relates to it—strengthens our own community and also the understanding of non-Jewish people of color for Jewish nationhood, inclusion and Zionism.
We learn from this that Jewish classifications are not just a matter of non-Jewish projections, but also a fact of the self-identification and actions of Jews themselves. When President Donald Trump was in office, many (if not a majority of) American Jews decried the de facto “policy wedge” that the administration advanced in favor of Israel, while undermining the concerns of various domestic communities: women, the undocumented, Latinos, Muslims, the LGBTQ+ community and beyond.
Many Jews were also able to welcome positive initiatives, such as the Abraham Accords, Title VI protections and the support of HBCUs, while not stopping short of condemning hateful, including anti-Semitic, remarks by Trump and his flirtatious assent to far-right movements. That’s a good thing.
Simultaneously, there was a visible contingent in the American-Jewish community that fell short of recognizing the divisive and hyper-partisan plot that accompanied these policies, thus contributing to anti-Jewish bias in other marginalized communities. The quake in our relations with other minorities was felt from the societal level all the way to the halls of Congress, alerting attentive Israelis who saw the “cozying up” to the ephemeral administration prioritized shortsightedly by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his base.
Due to the risks of partisan isolation from these recent temptatious tides, moving forward with Jewish pride, self-awareness and relationship-building with other communities of color is imperative for a vibrant and secure future. This is just as true despite radical attempts to exclude Jews in movements by some civic leaders of color.
We would be utterly mistaken to dismiss relationship-building with the future U.S. majority and sacrifice the long-term benefit of American Jewry and Israel. And the time to plant those seeds is now.
While a new generation is more eager for ethnic revival and a departure from “whiteness,” some may claim that this is just another kind of pressure for Jews to fit into new majority ideals. I say that Jews are finally poised not with a promise, but an opportunity to be themselves.
Rather than being subject to the tug-and-pull of any stream of assimilation and asking, “How can I be more like all of them?”, we can and should ask ourselves now, “How can I be more like me?”—and proudly share that with our fellow Americans.
Justin Feldman is National Activism Manager, IAC Mishelanu and JIMENA Young Leaders Board.