Monday, April 29, 2019

Synagogue Shootings Shattered Our Illusion. America Is No Safe Haven For Jews


On Saturday, April 27, a few hours before the shooting at the Chabad in Poway, California, I walked from my hotel in Amsterdam—where my family has been on vacation—to a synagogue I found online. I arrived at a building with no external Jewish markings. The door was locked. When I tried to open it, a man with a walkie-talkie showed up and explained that he was from the community security service.

He asked me where I was going. I said I was going to shul. He asked me if I knew what day it was on the Jewish calendar. I said it was Shabbat and the last day of Passover. He asked me to describe a Shabbat service and the rituals Jews perform on Passover. Then he said, “Complete this sentence: Shema Yisrael….”

Finally convinced that I was indeed a would-be shul-goer, not a would-be terrorist, he explained, “It’s different here than in the US. There’s a lot of anti-Semitism.”

He mentioned that he had recently visited New York. I asked where he had davened there. He replied: Chabad.

I’ve gone to shul many times in Europe, usually to unmarked, locked, guarded buildings. And it has long reinforced my American chauvinism.

Europe’s synagogues remind me of Europe’s Jews: every bit as Jewish as their American brethren in private, but publicly more cagey and discreet.

During my time as a graduate student in Britain, a dispute broke out over the construction of an eruv—an enclosure created so observant Jews can carry on Shabbat—in part of London. Many of the fiercest opponents were British Jews themselves. They feared the eruv would mark their neighborhood as different, and thus bring unwelcome attention from the public at large.

Had you asked me back then why American and European Jews were different, I would have replied that it was because America and Europe were different. The United States, while deeply racist against blacks—long the quintessential American “other”—was far more welcoming of immigrants.

Even American conservatism, I told my European friends at the time, was surprisingly inclusive. Look at George W. Bush and his political advisor, Karl Rove, who were welcoming Jews, Muslims, Asians and Latinos into the Republican Party in a bid to create an ecumenical conservative coalition that could triumph in an increasingly racially and religiously diverse America.

In retrospect, my analysis was self-satisfied and naïve. The Chassidic tradition teaches that just as Jews should clean their homes of chametz (leavened material) in preparation for Passover, we should also cleanse ourselves of our inflated sense of self, and become modest and humble like matzah.

And humility requires admitting that I was wrong.


  1. According to that logic, kids in school, bar patrons, and elected officials in America should feel unwelcome in America.

  2. letter from: Leonardo d'Carpan, ex/pat

    Dear Yavitz, on your decison to become a US expat, let me tell you of some reality. In Airmont/Monsey you face opposition from the school district fiasco, from some reformed jews, "school tuition" board, and maybe new square and some NK people too.

    In israel you will face opposition from domestic millions of Palestinians prone to violence, surrounded by hostile states ready for combat.., millions of suicidal ISIS fighters, a region of chaotic failed and almost failed states, 1.6 million muslims worldwide, a world of hostile anti-israelis. 

    A gov hostile to your way of life, 80% local secular jews who are heretics and hate you openly, a foreign and peculiar israeli non-cultred, culture. all that and your dingy flat, perhaps your unruly children, nagging wife, the local pests.. and your chaotic psych that you will find here with you too.

    Please reconsider for the sake of your family don't give up your US passport.. (in case the messiah is not coming as soon as expected).

    Except if you have a Masada complex, a somewhat similar phenomenon we have here locally with our "trump trumpeters" than all I can say is, Bon Voyage! 

    bin there, done that.
    Leonardo d'Carpan


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