Lately there has been an outbreak of articles asking the old question, "Why are Jews Liberals ?" Personally I don't really know any liberal Jews. Of the three synagogues I go to, only one man voted for Obama, and hardly a day went by without that sole fact resulting in heated arguments with the regulars that often seemed on the verge of breaking out into fistfights.
admiring Sarah Palin's look, which is not too different from their own.
To encounter liberal Jews, I usually have to log on to the internet, or leave behind the working class Jewish neighborhoods, for the Upper East Side, Park Slope or the pricey suburbs of upstate New York that are about as racially diverse as a serving of vanilla ice cream. The working class Jews of the shabby Brooklyn neighborhoods, left behind in the liberal social experiment, are the Jews I know, and they are very different from the lawyers, reverends and organization presidents with million dollar apartments, who are the self-proclaimed "public face" of American Jewry, thanks to a healthy supply of letterheads testifying to that organizational fact.
I am often asked why Jews are liberals, by which they mean to ask, Why do Jews vote liberal and support liberal causes that are destructive to their own interests. And being Jewish, I usually answer that question with another question. Why do the British and the French import millions of radical Muslims to destroy their own countries against their own interests? Why did so many Americans vote a radical Marxist into office whose own pastor was on television shouting, "God Damn America"?
The answer is that there are two kinds of Jews, just as there are two kinds of Englishmen and two kinds of Americans. And the difference between them is easy enough to sniff out. If you ask one of those Williamsburg Jews why he's Jewish, he will reply with an extended lecture about the covenant with Abraham and the one G-d made with the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, the desert mountain, not the hospital. He will talk about the family that stretches back thousands of years to Jacob and the accompanying tradition from father to son, and mother to daughter. If you ask an Obama voter why he is Jewish, he is likely to answer something about his appreciation for the philosophy of Tikkun Olam, and making the world a better place through prophetic social justice, or some equally watered down form of liberalism with a Jewish stamp placed on it.
The difference is that to the former being Jewish is a fundamental commitment to his identity. To the latter, being Jewish is an optional part of his commitment to being a good liberal. Or as one liberal Jewish blogger explained, that he has a rolodex of identities, and that Jewish is only one card in the big spinning rolodex that includes such entries as San Franciscan, LGBT, Graphic Media Artist, Activist for Social Justice, and of course that all time great universalist entry, Human Being. It is of course no shock at all that the Jewish card doesn't come up first on that list, and that it is only tolerated on the list to the extent that it fits in with the more important cards on that list.
This is an identity crisis that is most commonly seen among Jews, but far from alien to the rest of the West. Universalism has become the common form of moral rhetoric, the goal being to transcend parochial identities, to maximize diversity and teach the world to sing. "Don't the Pakistanis, Indonesians, Lebanese and Somalis have as much right to be in this country as we do," is the argument repeated from Sydney to London to Oslo. Substitute illegal aliens and you have the American version of it. The new 9/11 curriculum will ask students to decide whether America should defend itself, or embrace a "Global Buddy" system through soft power.
The Jews you see are the canary in the coal mine, in more ways than just the obvious. And universalism was widely tested on Jews, before it was tested on anyone else. The bargain that the French Revolution made implicitly and Napoleon made explicitly with the Jews, was that they would be allowed political and social equality, so long as they agreed to blend in, assimilate and discard any beliefs or observances that the state frowned upon. This soon became the default liberal standard for admitting Jews to the table. Or as the great socialist playwright and admirer of Stalin, George Bernard Shaw put it rather plainly; "Those Jews who still want to be the chosen race... can go to Palestine and stew in their own juice. The rest had better stop being Jews and start being human beings."
By the 19th century there were two kinds of Jews, Jews and universalist "Human Beings", who scrubbed Jerusalem out of their prayers, disdained Jewishness as parochial, and remade their identities and beliefs in the mold of the liberal Christian clergy they looked up to. These Jews joined the ranks of great "Human Beings" such as H.G. Wells or Bertrand Russell, and of course Shaw himself. Together these Jewish and Christian "Human Beings" campaigned against war and for international brotherhood. They supported the USSR and condemned the US. They turned their houses of worship into stages for preaching socialism and liberalism.
Today it is the 21st century and there are more "Human Beings" than ever, some of whom used to be Jewish or Episcopalian or Catholic. The "Human Beings" agitate on behalf of admitting more refugees to Australia, of filling the cities of Europe with the throat slitters of the East, or dismantling American borders and ending the War on Terror. Gitmo outrages them, Israeli checkpoints make their hearts bleed and they can't sleep for worry over the polar bears. They are no longer Englishmen, Americans, Jews, Frenchmen or Australians. They are "Human Beings" in the broadest sense. No more parochial identities for them.
Shaw's "Human Beings", the rise of a post-national and post-religious man is here. At least in First World countries. "Human Beings" who care about anything and everything besides their own flesh and blood. Who worship at the altar of a Utopian kingdom of socialist heaven on earth, a religion stripped not of dogma, but of the supernatural, investing all its faith in flesh and blood messiahs of hope and change. They may attend houses of worship from various faiths, but their eyes are lifted to one great dream alone. The dream of a united humanity as a great kiln in which their identities of the present will be torched as a great sacrifice for a better world.
So yes indeed, there are a great many liberal Jews, and while 77 percent of Jews did not vote for Obama, as the often inaccurately bandied about number would have you believe, but many did. Despite Obama's distaste for Israel and though his domestic policies would hurt Jews as well. Because they did not vote as Jews, they voted as "Human Beings".
Nor can it be any surprise that more Jews left behind that which they were long ago, to join the Universalist Church of Man. The average Christian did not have to sacrifice his beliefs and identity to become a doctor, a lawyer or a journalist. The Jew did. Since the French Revolution began the wave of Republican Europe, Jews have faced that choice in Europe and America. The great Shaw demand, To be Jews or to be "Human Beings" and join in the post-identity party. It is no surprise that so many made the Universalist choice.
In the early 20th century, the District Superintendent of the Lower East Side's public schools, Julia Richman campaigned to shut down Jewish schools, fought against teaching children Yiddish or Hebrew, and washed out their mouths with soap if they did. Julia Richman viewed Jews as dirty, did her best to stamp out Jewish beliefs and traditions, and stated in public that the pushcart peddlers of the Lower East Side should be deported back to Russia, at a time when Jews there faced brutal pogroms. Richman herself happened to be Jewish, but really she was one of those "Human Beings". Today Richman is remembered as a liberal heroine, which seems fit. Julia Richman and those like her helped create the liberal Jew of the present, his identity washed out and replaced with an energetic desire to create social change, to do his or her part in the great post-national and post-religious Utopia.
The "Human Beings" of today, who may have last names like Goldberg or Levine or Cohen, know a good deal more about the plight of the working people of El Salvador or the LGBT community in Mexico or the Palestinian Arabs in Gaza, than they do about anything Jewish. Their votes for Obama had nothing to do with being Jewish, what they have in the way of theology is indistinguishable from liberal ideology. They had to do with saving the poor tortured souls in Gitmo, providing Federally funded abortions to everyone, banning transgender discrimination, stopping the Israeli bombing of Hamas and saving the earth from global warming.
Those are not the concerns of Jews I know, but that is because I only know Jews, not "Human Beings". The Jews I know work for a living, focus their concerns on raising their children, and worry about their families, both here and in Israel. The "Human Beings" by contrast agitate, pull down salaries for opening funds that distribute grant money from funding networks to promote diversity and non-violence in the wake of 9/11. Their identities are on a rolodex, and sometimes the rolodex comes up Jewish, more often it comes up not.
They are victims too in a way, just like the English, French and Swedish youth who march in rallies against war and for social justice, without even understanding the consequences of what they are doing, because their identities have been stolen from them. They are the product of broken families, the shards of nations and peoples who have been torn apart by an ideology that was hostile to patriotism, to religion and to the old ways.
I can honestly say that I do not know any Liberal Jews, only the occasional "Human Being", better known as the Obama voter. Now and then I encounter these "Human Beings" and there are things which we can chat about, books and movies, art and philosophy, but they are not my family. They are strangers, estranged by the great gulf of universalism that tears away roots and leaves behind only thin air. They are "Human Beings" without roots or identity, only the great clamor of social outrage stewing inside the otherwise empty kettles of their hearts. The final graduates of Miss Julia Richman's academy of humanity, their minds as washed out with soap as their mouths, eager to save the world, without any idea of what they are saving the world for.