By Dave Schechter / dschechter@atljewishtimes.com

 

Gregory Peck stars in "Gentleman's Agreement" from 1947 (available at Amazon.com).

Gregory Peck stars in “Gentleman’s Agreement” from 1947 (available at Amazon.com).

Every couple of months, a group of us gather for a potluck meal and a program.

These are thoughtful people, most of sufficient age to have perspective on the past and plans for the future.

The program may be a presentation by an expert in a particular field or discussion of a subject chosen by the evening’s hosts.

The topic a couple of weeks ago was “the good old days.”

That phrase meant something different to each of us. Several people suggested that these are the good old days — today, not some halcyon time from childhood.

A few days later, I watched a repeat on public television of a multipart history of Jewish life in America.

As the narrator described the years after World War II, I wondered: Are these, today, the “good old days” for Jews in America?

These are better days than a century ago, when a Jewish man was lynched in a field in Marietta after being kidnapped from a prison cell in Milledgeville by vigilantes angry that the governor of Georgia had commuted his death sentence in the killing of a girl at the Atlanta factory that he managed.

These are better days than in decades past when the likes of Father Coughlin and Henry Ford spewed anti-Jewish venom on the radio and in print, thousands of hooded Ku Klux Klan members marched in public, and anti-immigrant (particularly against those from Southern and Eastern Europe) sentiment was widespread.

Dave Schechter

Dave Schechter

Today there are those who seek an audience, most notably online, by blaming Jews for what ails the nation. They do not represent the mainstream, however, and the same Internet hosts numerous forums that present a more reasoned and positive view of Jewish life.

These are better days than when discrimination in housing and employment was neither uncommon nor well disguised. Bias of the sort depicted in the film “Gentleman’s Agreement” is barred by law today.

These are better days than when Jewish enrollment at pre-eminent universities was subject to quotas. Jewish students and faculty now populate the finest of these institutions. Anti-Semitism on campus, sometimes masked as anti-Israel sentiment, is a concern, though “anti-Semitic incidents reported to us in 2014 came from just 1 percent of colleges,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.

The ADL counted 912 anti-Semitic incidents last year in America — “a particularly violent year for Jews both overseas and in the United States” — with a marked increase during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.

Meanwhile, examples abound of Jewish life flourishing in this country, even as hand-wringing continues about the Pew study that suggested some American Jews are losing their religion.

We worship freely and do not, for the most part, feel constrained to hide our identity. Our rabbis play prominent roles in their communities. We are Americans who are Jewish and Jews who are Americans.

The following is from a recent “Dear Reader” letter by Samuel Norich, the publisher and chief executive officer of the Jewish-themed newspaper and website now known as the Forward: “Although we’re still a small minority, Jews are hardly outsiders in America today. We’re right in the thick of things, actively shaping America’s economy, politics, language, culture and values. We struggle not for acceptance, but for meaning, for community, for a way of being that reflects our history, our values, our tastes and our daily realities.”

So I ask, taking everything into account, are these the “good old days” for Jews in America?

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and the Middle East.