The New Jewish Exodus
Three months ago, with great sadness, I terminated membership with my synagogue. I am not alone. This phenomenon is happening to thousands of religiously conservative Jews throughout our nation who are Republicans. What would cause thousands of Jews to feel so alienated they would break from tradition and be without a “religious and spiritual home?” How much sadness has this caused within this segment of the Jewish community? Even more importantly, When did Judaism stop being Jewish?
I joined a local synagogue in 2014 when I moved to Asheville, North Carolina. My initial conversation with my rabbi was welcoming and informative. Over time he became a trusted friend. I also enjoyed being a member for many years, and all seemed well.
In 2017, I befriended a Jewish woman who was a Democrat. She had no religious affiliation so I invited her to a Shabbat service. Surprisingly, she didn’t kiss the Torah when it passed by us, and fell asleep during the service. I wondered why she came at all. Then during my rabbi’s sermon, I found out. That week there had been a community service with various clergy at a local mosque. My rabbi spoke at the service. My friend also attended.
After the service, she rudely asked why I didn’t go to the mosque? I replied, “I had another commitment.” She thoughtlessly and antagonistically barked, “You’re a racist!” I was shocked for she knew I had an adopted Ethiopian-Jewish son. Because of her callous disregard for others, insulting me in my synagogue on this peaceful Shabbat, our friendship ended.
What is the significance of this unpleasant event? It was an omen of a changing Jewish culture where social justice/identity politics meant inclusivity, and nonconformity meant exclusivity.
Shabbat luncheon was a lovely time to visit with friends. To honor the sanctity of Shabbat, I preferred conversations that were dispassionate. This changed after President Trump was elected. When Democratic friends asked me political questions and I casually answered from a Republican viewpoint, their backs arched and they became confrontational. “You’re a what? You’re a Republican? You mean you voted for Trump? How could you?” And then the expletives started to fly. “He’s a this, a that (some expletives were too offensive to write).
I refused to be confrontational on Shabbat and would calmly reply, “The greatest thing about this country is we have the constitutional right to choose.” Then I’d ask three questions. Has your life changed in any way since President Trump was elected? They said no. Has your 401K improved? They said yes. If you own a business and you now have a 14% profit because President Trump lowered the corporate tax from 35% to 21%, isn’t that a good thing? Yes. I explained that although I didn’t vote for President Obama and disagreed with his policies, I didn’t personally attack anyone like they were doing now. If their vitriol against President Trump didn’t stop, I left the synagogue. The sanctity of Shabbat had disappeared.
Progressive-left ideologies and social justice discourse monopolized conversations and email newsletters. Even sermons contained political references. Tikkun Olam (improving the world) by their definition, was not to be questioned. As a Republican, I didn’t agree with their causes or agendas, so sadly the once peaceful feeling in my “religious and spiritual home” was vanishing. Many Republican friends were experiencing similar situations and ended their memberships.
Then a series of events occurred. When Tamika Mallory (a known anti-Semite) spoke at UNC, my Republican Jewish friends peacefully protested. In the next synagogue newsletter, they were publicly criticized. The author apologized to the black community and hoped it didn’t hurt relations. My friends wrote a concerned letter to the Board of Directors asking that the newsletter not have political content. The letter was ignored, so they ended their membership. (After black radicals killed two Jews and their employee in New Jersey, and attacked Jews with machetes in New York, I asked the author if the black community apologized to the Jewish community so it didn’t hurt relations? When I heard that members of my synagogue protested with BLM and one got arrested, why weren’t they publicly criticized in the newsletter?)
Some members even tried to convince me that BLM is an idea. You can’t see an idea! Ideas don’t destroy cities, loot and harm people. A Republican Christian friend sent me these videos and an article debunking and exposing the radical Marxist BLM doctrine because there is also a Christian exodus occurring.
Six months ago, an article appeared in the synagogue newsletter presenting, “Jews of Whiteness and Jews of Color.” This identity politics terminology upset me, since I have an Ethiopian son. When people ask me if he is black, I answer, “I never noticed. He’s a Jew.” Why is this divisive rhetoric in our community? What is this self-imposed segregation? It was so offensive I wrote an article called, “Whiteness, the New Evil.”
I sent this article to another Jewish liberal friend. After she read it, she ended our relationship. So saddened, I wrote another article called, “Losing a Friend to Politics.”
I met with the board of directors and addressed their messaging of inclusivity, diversity, equity and exclusivity; their social justice agendas supporting BLM and identity politics; Republican members being alienated and leaving; and to maintain neutrality keep the newsletter apolitical. Also, that there was more concern for people outside of Judaism than for fellow Jews in the community who needed to feel welcome in their “religious and spiritual home.” My concerns were ignored.
To retain equity, I asked to contribute links and articles to the synagogue newsletter from a Republican viewpoint. Instead of putting my organizations’ links and articles contiguous to other member’s social justice links at the top of the community section, my articles were rejected and my links were relegated to the very bottom. Social justice, identity politics and articles supporting BLM appeared (even after BLM vandalized synagogues), another about the Southern Poverty Law Center featuring a black fist. This wasn’t what I signed up for when I became a member.
Because I didn’t conform to Orwellian doublethink or Janis’s groupthink, I was being censored, silenced, and squeezed out. This contradicts everything Judaism represents. Midrash (Rabbinic interpretations of the Bible) teaches differing viewpoints, exchange of ideas, dialogue, debate, inquiry, investigation, and interpretation. The direction and mentality of Jewish culture was drastically changing. Why remain here? Why work long hours on fundraisers for this synagogue and be disrespected and alienated.
The ethics of civility have disappeared. Virtue signaling, divisive rhetoric, personal attacks (verbal and written) meant to intimidate and silence you, and the altering of Tikkun Olam are tearing the Jewish people apart. The precious sense of community, cherished relationships and shared aspirations that once created unity are vanishing. Anti-Semitism is on the rise, yet social justice warriors (from Jewish elected officials on down) ignore the history of ill-treatment against the Jews and acquiesce to protect others.
To quote Chabad.org on the destruction of the Second Temple: “Aside from the troubles caused by these external powers, the Jews were also plagued internally by tumultuous politics, and they divided into factions -- a phenomenon that ultimately led to the Temple’s destruction and our nation’s tortuous exile.”
When did Judaism stop being Jewish? When it turned its back on its own.
Adrienne Skolnik is Chairman of the North Carolina chapter of the Conference of Jewish Affairs.