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United States of Anxiety: New fears have American Jews questioning the future

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JTA — American Jews are anxious.

They’re worried about COVID-19, which already has killed a quarter-million Americans and is spreading more rapidly as winter approaches. They’re nervous about a precarious financial future.

They’re concerned about anti-Semitism and violence on the right driven by increasingly active white supremacist groups with funny names and unfunny agendas, like the Proud Boys, QAnon and the Boogaloo Bois.

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They were unnerved when some Black Lives Matter protests in the spring and summer were accompanied by occasional violence, lawlessness, and anti-Semitic and anti-Israel vandalism. They’re uneasy with the rise of a certain kind of progressivism in some corners of the left that seeks to make support for Israel a political and moral sin.

Most of all, however, they fear for the demise of American democracy.

US President Donald Trump has spent months undermining the legitimacy of the November 3 vote, and he hasn’t committed to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses. It’s possible that a disputed election – or even a clear win by one candidate or the other – will result in massive civil unrest and political chaos. Jewish institutions are being told by the FBI to brace for possible violence around Election Day, no matter who wins.

And in a community that is solidly Democratic – polls show American Jews prefer Joe Biden over Trump by a 75%-22% margin – most American Jews are deeply worried about the possibility of a second Trump term and what that may mean for the future of the country they call home.

Among Trump’s Jewish supporters, including most Orthodox Jews, there’s a fear that a Biden win will accelerate a breakdown of law and order and elevate a progressive left that’s hostile to religion and the Jewish state and intent on turning America into a socialist country. A young girl holds a poster she made as she joined protesters outside the offices of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

“It’s a time of great anxiety in America generally, and it’s not restricted to Jews. There is a real concern that America is declining. The coronavirus has only heightened it,” observed Jonathan Sarna, a historian of American Jewry at Brandeis University. “If one understands that the deep fear is that America’s best days are behind it, then this anxiety is not only momentary, but especially for Jews – who grew up with stories of the Holocaust – the question is: Maybe we should be looking around.”

For the first time in memory, American Jews are talking seriously about obtaining second passports, “just in case.” They’re looking into emigrating to Canada, obtaining citizenship from a European country, or immigrating to Israel. This year, a record number of American Jews started applications with Nefesh B’Nefesh, the agency that handles aliyah from North America.

“A surprising number of Jews, if they’re honest, have had a conversation that would have been unthinkable for them 10 years ago: What if we have to leave the country?” Sarna said. “What’s the Plan B?”

Liliana Schaefer of Winchester, Virginia, is most of the way through the process of obtaining citizenship from Germany, where her father was born.

“I’ve been seeing a rise in anti-Semitism on both the left and the right, and even though........

© The Times of Israel

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