Something really has changed. We must bless the discontinuity. The change is not entirely an affair of luck: Jews brought about this alteration in their fortunes, in Israel and in the United States, by kindling to the prospect of their own historical agency, and by seizing upon the opportunities for self-reliance and self-realization that were presented by the advent of liberal nationalism and pluralist democracy.
The change also is not perfect: Many of our brothers and our sisters are still trapped in the old terms — in Argentina, and perhaps also in Russia, and in certain precincts of Europe. (Though we must immediately remind ourselves that no anti-Semitic atrocity that was committed in Europe in recent years can responsibly be compared to the murder of a quarter of a million Muslims in the Balkans a decade ago: Europe has moved on to another ‘other.’)
So the need for Jewish vigilance is by no means gone. Our solidarity will still be tested. And yet we have earned the pleasure of pronouncing, vigilantly, vigilantly, a she’hecheyanu.
My own view, obviously, is that the village is not burning. I am regularly frightened by the indefatigable attempts of jihadist, Jew-hating maniacs to acquire weapons of mass destruction, but I am also regularly struck by the really awesome magnitude of Israeli power, and already one hears about the possibility of an Israeli strike against the nuclear installations of Iran. Ha ba le’horgekha hashkem l’horgo: If somebody is coming to kill you, be early to kill him. That is the ancient rabbinic doctrine of strategic preemption, and Israel possesses the means both to be early and to make the kill.
The analysis of anti-Semitism must take place somewhere between indifference and hysteria. The most loyal Jew is not the most hysterical Jew. Love sometimes speaks calmly. The cult of victimization is no more attractive, and no less coarsening, when it is the cult of our victimization. It was never true that adversity was what held the Jews together, that anti-Semitism was what kept the Jews Jewish, though this fallacy has a long and distinguished provenance.
In all their tormented history, the Jews did not install their torments at the heart of their identity. They suffered, but they would not be reduced to their suffering. They never seized upon their ill-treatment at the hands of the peoples as an alibi for a relaxation of their principles. They never succumbed to anger, which is strikingly rare in Jewish literature. They never conceived of life as an eternal war. The morbidity of the Jews always met its match in the vitality of the Jews. Even in the midst of a resurgence of anti-Semitism, it is worth remembering that anti-anti-Semitism is not all, or most, that is asked of us.