Targets of racial and religious hatred must band together
CHICAGO -- A decade ago, shortly after the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 failed in the Senate, I met with a group of Latino politicians here who were strategizing about how to pick up the pieces and move forward on the issue.
The conversation turned to the image of Hispanics in this country as new arrivals, immigrants and foreigners, despite emerging data that showed most of the Latino population growth was being fueled by U.S. births.
"We need to look at the Jews," I recall one high-profile leader telling me. "They have to be the model for us -- look at the strength of their community, their ability to organize nationally, the way they police the portrayal of their image in society and suppress anti-Semitism."
Those words rung in my ears about a year ago. I had just finished reading Joshua Ferris' delightful and acclaimed novel "To Rise Again at a Decent Hour," about a New York dentist who gets his identity stolen and ends up appearing to be either a religious zealot or an anti-Semite. Right after, I picked up Jonathan Safran Foer's "Here I Am."
Safran Foer's novel met with mostly critical praise from the elite media and was an angsty, heartstrings-pulling story about one man's prosaic midlife crisis. But a great deal of it was about a modern American who wrestled with Jewish identity in a secular nation.
What struck me, especially reading it on the heels of another book about a regular person's humdrum life, was how entertainment revolving around the Jewish experience in America was so seamlessly interwoven into the mainstream.
It seemed like the height of acceptance and assimilation that writers like Ferris and Safran Foer (or for that matter Faye Kellerman or Nora Ephron) were seen primarily as writers with broad appeal and not as "Jewish writers" who get shuffled into a special shelf in the bookstore reserved for a few titles written by racial and ethnic minorities. Talk about "making it" in America.
But looking back at last fall, those heady times seem over.
Today, not only is anti-Semitism alive and well, it is out in the open and on the rise. Even before the August white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) was reporting an 86 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents compared with last year.
And according to Eric Ward, executive director of the social justice nonprofit Western States Center, this hatred does not stay in a single lane -- it fuels animosity toward non-Jews as well.