It’s been a hard few years, and as political tensions have heated up to temperatures that we didn’t imagine they could reach, it’s gotten harder and harder.
But last week was a new low.
There are far more questions than answers about what happened last Thursday, when someone from the FBI tweeted about an unspecified threat to Jewish institutions in New Jersey.
By the next day, we were told, the threat had been neutralized; that was unambiguously good news.
But what the nature of the threat had been; where it had been directed; if it was one lone-wolf nutcase, someone like the clearly troubled but still morally bankrupt person who attacked 82-year-old Paul Pelosi, who had been asleep in bed in the middle of the night until this person with a hammer broke in, babbling about breaking his wife’s kneecaps; or someone who was part of a larger plot — we know none of that.
Was the threat from Christianists or white supremacists? From Islamists? From antisemites untethered to any ideology?
Which is worse? Which can we protect ourselves from most effectively?
Maybe we shouldn’t know. Maybe we can’t know. Maybe we should know, so we know how to protect ourselves.
Are warnings now sent out by tweet? (And if Elon Musk tanks Twitter, turns it into a cesspool, then what?)
There also is much to be grateful for.
Most obviously, nothing happened. No one was harmed. We are all okay.
Also, and very importantly, the government and law enforcement agencies are on our side. When we ask each other if it could happen here, to me the most striking difference between Germany then and the United States now, the thing that would have to change before anything systemic could happen to us here, is that the government and the law enforcement agencies would have to turn against us. Despite the ugliness and polarization we’ve been seeing, despite the hideousness of the attack on democracy that this election has unleashed, we haven’t seen any of that.
I have been thinking about the march over the Brooklyn Bridge many of us joined in January 2020, just before the pandemic closed everything. It was in reaction to the hatred and murder loosed against Jews in the tristate area — in Monsey and before that in Jersey City — as well as in Pittsburgh and Poway. But although the march was convened to counter hate, it was undertaken with love.
When we all walked across the bridge — and remember that that Brooklyn Bridge is so late-Industrial-Age beautiful that just to walk on it is to have your spirits lifted — it felt so good. There were so many of us together, on that unseasonably warm, brightly colored day. And we were guarded and accompanied by police officers, who were on our side. Right then, right there, we were safe.
We are in a very dangerous time now. For the vast majority of us — for all of us born since World War II ended — it is an unprecedentedly dangerous time. We used to think that the world bent inexorably though slowly toward justice. Now that seems naive. Now it seems more like we are the victims of entropy, slouching toward chaos.
If there is anything we can do to stop that process — maybe by deciding that from now on we will work toward a politics of truth, and that as we do that hard work we will be encouraged by the friends and supporters working alongside us –- then that is what we should do.
At least, let us still hope. We are grateful that the FBI neutralized the threat, despite not knowing what that means. We are glad to support each other.