In times where the cohesive vision of the American Dream seems to be dissolving into an American entitlement-nightmare—which will certainly drown us from sea to shining sea—we may need to remind the “give-me, give-me” denizens of this country what that vision was all about. The definition of the American Dream, seemingly remote, thank God can still easily be found for now on Wikipedia: “The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States, a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility achieved through hard work.”
Espousing liberty, justice and the pursuit of happiness for all, the American Dream—ever sanctified by the abolishment of slavery, the civil rights movement, the Civil Rights Act, the unmitigated success of Black athletes, celebrities, businessmen, the two-time election of a black president—is an equal opportunity dream; that is, unless you are a Jew!
This past week in New York, Councilwoman-elect Laurie Cumbo, an African American, said the growing “knockout trend” perpetrated by black youths against Jews is because “the accomplishments of the Jewish community triggers feelings of resentment, and a sense that Jewish success is not also their success.”
Such a statement instigates a multiplicity of reactions when they fall upon Jewish sensibilities, such as my own. But, for the moment, let me put down my Jewish pen and pick up my editorial one.
It seems that in her sentence wherein the councilwoman uses the word “success”—a lovely alliterative noun in and of itself—she also slips in a modifier, an adjective. It’s not just any success that is instigative, it is “Jewish” success. Now, I have on countless occasions looked upon many a billboard in Manhattan that has featured veritable icons of American success, such as Puff Daddy, worth approximately $580 million; Oprah Winfrey worth $2.9 billion; Jay-Z, worth $475 million; Al Roker, worth $30 million, just to name a few. But never in all my days have I seen a Hasidic Jew featured on a Times Square billboard as an icon for success.
And so I question, where then is the backlash against these aforementioned individuals, never mind by the fist, God forbid, but by the word? The blogosphere does not seem to be howling with the cry of injustice against these amazing individuals who worked hard and became successful. They are allowed to be successful, but Jews aren’t?
She also states that the black community fears the growth of the Jewish population and that it would be pushed out by its Jewish landlords. Are Jews the only landlords in New York? When do they have time for that? I thought they were too busy with global domination and taking over the media—other hate-filled canards. Can you imagine if such ideas were said by a Jewish Council person? What an outcry there would be throughout the land. I can just see the headlines now: “Jews fear blacks are having children and taking over the neighborhood.” Al Sharpton would have a year’s work eviscerating the denizens of “Hymie Town.”
So let’s stop pretending here. To even posture that a Hasidic Jew has become the poster child of success whom blacks should fear is really a poorly disguised effort to hide the fact that the knock-out victims were attacked not because they were successful Jews, but merely because they were Jews. Period! The adjective becomes the noun and the target: Jew! Did the attackers ask their “successful” victims to see their financial reports first before they viciously attacked them? Or perhaps it was more logically the identifying garb that singles out a potential victim as a Jew and that was enough?
The statement of the Councilwoman, who is newly elected and yet to take office in January, is reminiscent of dangerous anti-Semitic stereotypes which have led to the spilling of much Jewish blood throughout history. And here is a dose of historic retribution, what the Europeans and other anti-Semites who expelled and destroyed the Jews failed to realize was that in case after case, when they destroyed their Jewish communities, they were destroying themselves economically—not because of a conspiracy of the Jews, not because the Jews controlled the economy, but because the Jews were essentially the middle class. And when a society destroys its middle class, it destroys itself.
And yes, some Jews have been very successful despite history’s merciless effort to keep them down. But it is far from true that every Jew is successful. And even if they were, therefore what? Do they need to make an apology? Perhaps when Oprah, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Donald Trump, Carlos Slim Helu, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud, Russell Simmons, the Kennedys, President Obama and millions of other successful individuals apologize for making a success of themselves, financially or otherwise, we can revisit the inherently anti-Semitic singling out of “Jewish success.”
That being said, please LET facts get in the way. Although New York houses some of the richest Jews in the country, it is also a fact that nearly one in five Jewish households in New York’s eight counties—the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester—is poor, with incomes under the federal poverty guideline. An additional one in ten is “near poor.” Thus, 565,000 people living in Jewish households in New York are affected by poverty—more people than live in any other Jewish community in the United States. By far the highest rate of poverty among Orthodox Jews is found in Hasidic households—43% of whom are poor. Ah, those enviable icons of success.
The blame here, I feel, for the violence inflicted on Jews by Black youths, should fall directly on the shoulders of some African American community leaders who perpetuate a culture of self-victimization. They themselves have risen to the top and while basking in their success and lives of luxury and fame, continue to sermonize to their own people how America is keeping them down. And who is the perpetual scapegoat? The Jew. I’d urge these leaders, if they truly do love their people more than they love building their own fame on the pyre of their people’s insecurities, to stop the victimization mantra and instead focus on pep talks. Tell these youths that they too are part of the American dream. They can be anything they want to be if their leaders would just stop talking down to them. Instead of inciting them to “knockout” others, inspire them to knock themselves out in whole-hearted efforts to be the best that they can be. These leaders, in full disclosure, may want to share that Jews stood at the forefront of the civil rights movement and that the Freedom Riders were disproportionately Jews.
Councilwoman, as a persecuted nation ourselves who wholeheartedly joined you on the bus, I’d appreciate, on behalf of my people, if you now wouldn’t throw us under it!
By Aliza Davidovit