It was early December when The Chosen Comedy Festival came to Miami. It had been a tough few weeks for Jews.
Kanye was on his “I love Hitler” tour and it seemed like too many people wanted to hear what he had to say. The New York Times was running regular pieces about problems they saw in the Haredi communities of Brooklyn, and absolutely nowhere else, and even the secular Jews who nodded approvingly at the first write-up were starting to notice the obsession.
A rabbi friend once told me that Jews are the only people that when someone says “I hate you” say “let’s hear him out.” But at the end of 2022, Jews were finally unwilling to hear anyone out. The hatred at us had gotten old. We were collectively tired of being the target and we were craving being together in an actually safe space.
It had been 4 years since the Tree of Life shooting, 3 years since the Monsey stabbing. We weren’t over those attacks, at least in part because less deadlier attacks on Jews in places like Brooklyn were happening regularly both before and after those killings. We weren’t raw anymore. We were something else. Inside the community, something was shifting.
The easy explanation is political. Jews are moving rightward. Slowly. An Associated Press survey found that President Donald Trump’s share of the Jewish vote went from 24% in 2016 to 30% in 2020. Exit polls had 33% of Jews voting Republican in the midterm elections and exit polls require someone to tell the truth to a pollster, something a lifelong Democrat switching sides for the first time might not be ready to do. Some people credit the Jewish vote with swinging several close House seats in New York and ultimately netting Republicans the House of Representatives.
Florida in particular is becoming a home for the wayward right-leaning Jew. Florida Jews went 41% for Trump in 2020. Exit polls showed Gov. DeSantis climbing to 45% of the Jewish vote in his recent election. That number could be even higher; the campaign team will confirm after they finish combing through precinct data in the coming weeks.
For so long, Jews were seen as a political monolith. This was never exactly so. My own ex-Soviet-Jewish community in Brooklyn was always very conservative yet still rarely represented by Republicans. The so-called “ultra” Orthodox Jews of Boro Park and Williamsburg were also, of course, very conservative, but often voted Democrat anyway. Israeli-Americans, Syrian Jews, so many small pockets of Jews in America actually always leaned right.
The type of Jew that was a reliable liberal in the last 50 years was rarely an immigrant. Sometimes their families had been here since the turn of the century, missing the pograms in Russia, the oppression of the Soviet Union, the camps of World War II. American Jews have been the luckiest Jews in history but the Jews whose families had been here for a hundred years were something else beyond that. They did not know struggle or pain or true ostracism because of a faith you often couldn’t practice but also were not allowed to discard.
When they weren’t allowed into certain clubs, American Jews started their own and that was that. They did not worry, they did not fear.
The archetype of this Jew lived on the Upper West Side, always voted for the most left-leaning Democrat, spent a summer on a kibbutz, maybe, but otherwise felt little affinity for Israel. They didn’t need Israel’s security and didn’t know anyone who did. They could be counted on to criticize Israel and America openly and happily. Their lifelong security allowed for that.
Being Jewish was about shopping at Zabar’s and little else. There was a joke during the last few years that summed up what was happening with this community: “What’s the difference between Donald Trump and a liberal Jew? Donald Trump has Jewish grandchildren.” The shidduch crisis is very real in the liberal Jewish world. A 2021 Pew study found that “If one excludes the Orthodox and looks only at non-Orthodox Jews who have gotten married since 2010, 72% are intermarried.” When being Jewish is about bagels, people realize they can have the bagels and not think about religion at all.
This breed of Jew is the one so many think of when they think “Jewish community in America.” But that Jewish archetype is fading and a new one is coming to take its place.
The night of the comedy festival, Jews were desperate for connection. Some comedians alluded to it, the way we needed each other then. Our family had moved to south Florida 11 months prior from Brooklyn. We were escaping Covid restrictions that targeted our children, crime that was spiraling out of control and also looking for a Jewish community where two immigrant, right-leaning Jews could be ourselves and be safe.
Some of the first people I met in Florida were a wealthy Jewish couple in their 70s who both carry guns. I was wowed by them and reported about their existence to all of my friends back in New York. It turned out they were not as unique as I had imagined.
There’s a local gun group for Jewish gun owners in Boca Raton called “lox and glocks.” A Jewish friend of mine accidentally boarded the Bright Line train while carrying and then was forced to Uber from West Palm Beach back to his Miami home. I overheard a foursome of 80-something year old Jews, one in a wheelchair, discuss their favorite gun ranges as they licked frozen yogurt in Delray Beach. These were not the Jews we were used to.
The crowd at the comedy show was uniformly Jewish. One of the early comedians asked how many in the crowd were non-Jews. Two or three hands went up. There were cool Miami scenester Jews with Bottega Veneta bags, many Orthodox Jewish couples, Spanish-speaking Jews, groups of boychiks out on the town, Israelis, oy va voy, the Israelis.
The room laughed at in-jokes about getting into kosher restaurants in Surfside during season. They laughed at a woman imitating her elderly bubbie and zayde having sex. They laughed at comedian Modi’s famous joke about how Florida didn’t have Covid. “Oh yes, Florida. We were doing shows on Zoom because there was this thing called A PANDEMIC.”
And then comedian Judy Gold hit the stage. She had some early laughs but then she made an abortion joke and the vibe in the room shifted. We don’t all believe the same things anymore.
She persevered and got the audience back. But soon she joked about how Jews don’t have guns. The room was silent. “Really? No one likes anti-gun jokes?” That’s when the booing started. She was shocked.
Frankly, I was shocked.
I knew a change was happening but did not know it had arrived. What has been emerging, in Florida but also elsewhere, was a New Jew. This shift is partially political, yes. It does come with more votes moving from Democrat to Republican. But the main change is cultural.
The New Jew does not cower. He does not make excuses for those who hate him, whether white supremacist or black nationalist. She speaks plainly about threats, refuses to pretend they’re exclusive to the far right when she can see with her own eyes that they are not.
This New Jew might not be conservative but they are no longer of the left. His story is laid out in “The Turn” by Liel Leibovitz. He didn’t shift, the left shifted around him. She isn’t afraid of name-calling. As Leibovitz wrote “We have a better word to describe ourselves: free.”
The New Jew openly loves Israel and does not let anyone believe otherwise so that she can fit in with her usual political side. There is no “but…” same as one can love France or England and not launch into a dissertation about their political wrongs.
The New Jew remembers the Taffy Brodesser-Akner piece about how support for Israel is no longer in fashion on the left, how “we whispered to each other that it felt like the anti-Israel sentiment was actually a new way of being openly anti-Semitic, somehow wrapping it up in a Democratic cause” and how that piece made him sad. Today it would make him angry. How dare the mealy-mouthed left question the existence of the only Jewish state? We’re done explaining anything to anyone anymore.
When someone is found to be a Jew-hater (a term far preferable to the clunky “antisemite”) he thinks “please, just don’t take them to the Holocaust museum.” Having to prove our humanity to people who hate us is embarrassing and the New Jew refuses to do it. We are not here to beg “please don’t hate us” and show them how much we have been hated by others. We’re here to say we mean “Never Again.” We’re here to boo when you think we won’t have guns to protect ourselves.
Her favorite Jewish organization is Tikvah because they didn’t flinch when the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan demanded they disinvite Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis from their Jewish Leadership Conference. The boldness was appealing. The event went on, the protestors impotently raged outside, and the Jews inside got to say: we invite who we want.
The New Jew furtively discusses admiration for Bari Weiss if she’s at the beginning of her journey away from the left and brazenly Ben Shapiro if she’s exited the building.
Religiously, the New Jew is either Orthodox or shul-less. She noticed that Reform and Conservative synagogues stayed closed for too long during Covid and when they re-emerged they were temples to leftism not G-d. She fills in her worship at Chabad, because they’ll never turn Shabbat into a struggle session, but it’s not an exact fit. The shuls will get there. They’ll have to. Their empty pews will be their signal.
She has broken with Facebook or Instagram friends who said vile things about Israel while Jews hid from bombs in basements in Tel Aviv. He has looked at his family, or dreamed about the one he hopes to have, and said “Not us. Not ever.”
He discovers there are many others like him, so many others, and they’re welcoming and accepting as we all navigate together being independent Jews in the freest of countries.
The gun booing was telling because it wasn’t about quietly owning a firearm. It was about letting others know that you do. It was about standing up for that right, standing up against the idea that our people will always be sitting ducks. We will not be.
A real political realignment to accompany this shift is coming. It is not here yet. One issue, like support for Israel, often leads to change on other issues, like gun rights. One little time you pull out a thread and where has it led? The whole shawl of Jews-always-being-liberals unravels.
Israel is an imperfect example but it’s still instructive. Israel was once a left-leaning country. It is not today. The shift runs parallel to what is happening with Jews in America. Leftism rewards victimhood and the New Jews have decided to be victims no more.