The Jewish secular left was destroyed by antisemites, now we need help to rebuild.
Lately, I’ve been having some difficult experiences around religiosity and secularism in my community, and I’ve been feeling my marginalization as a secular Jew very strongly within Jewish political and community institutions.
A big issue that I’ve been hurt by is the extent and degree of the ignorance of some (many?) young Jewish leftists about the history of Jewish secular leftism and its destruction in the United States; I feel that this ignorance further undermines the already shaky position of secular Jews like me, who live on the margins of Jewishness, without organized community, without institutions, without even recognition of our existence and legitimacy by most Jews and non-Jews outside of the reactionary bastion of the State of Israel. For this reason I am addressing these words, with some pain but without rancor, to my Jewish comrades for whom Jewish religion or spirituality (a distinction that exists but which I’m not yet ready to analyze) is an important part of their political practice, but who haven’t shown intentional solidarity to secular Jews.
Jewish secularism and the Jewish left, which used to be almost synonymous, were destroyed through political and antisemitic repression. The only people executed for treason in peacetime in the United States, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, were Jewish leftists. Their execution was the ultimate expression of Joseph McCarthy’s Second Red Scare, which disproportionately targeted Jews. When the Rosenbergs were executed in 1953, many survivors of the Holocaust were still children; 250,000 refugees were still in displaced persons camps in the ruins of Europe; and the great part of the world’s secular Jewish leftists were ash, victims of genocide and the incitement in which Jews were called the masterminds of World Communism.
The Jewish left in the United States was destroyed, deliberately and systematically, in the wake of the inconceivable trauma of the Holocaust, by right-wing antisemites working for the most powerful state in the history of planet Earth at the peak of its power. We are still very far from recovering from this this destruction, and we need your help.
I hope that the spiritual and religious Jewish left flowers into a powerful, inspiring, effective, and radical movement that will help carry us all towards liberation. I have thoughts on how this might best be accomplished, and cautions I hope you would take into consideration. But if, my dear siblings, you truly believe in liberation and tikun, I suggest that you consider your extremely privileged position in the community compared to your secular comrades, recognize us, and intentionally engage with us.
You can study our history; you can show us some respect as the original Jewish left and a legitimate expression of Jewishness, instead of ignoring us or patronizing us with mere tolerance; and you can show us solidarity by sharing some of your institutional resources and access to help us rebuild our communities—so that we can all fight, stronger together, for the liberation of all.
To learn more about the history of the destruction of Jewish secularism in the United States, and how it corresponded with the assimilation of white-skinned US Jews into the White hegemony, read April Rosenblum’s 2009 essay in Jewish Currents, “Offers we Couldn’t Refuse.”