The Goldene Medina, Anti-Semitism, and Me

Regular readers of this blog may know that I am the editor of B’nai B’rith Magazine, an eclectic Jewish publication I’ve helmed since December 2009.  Our cover stories have ranged from the serious to the sublime:  Jews of Color, Comic Book Chutzpah, Seder Sabbatical, Gays and Jews, Intermarriage, Anti-Social Media, Jewish Arabs, Jews and Muslims in America, Jews in the Civil Rights Struggle.

In 2022, our cover story was “Stolen Silver: Nazi Plunder and the Unfinished Quest for Restitution.”  The issue won the best magazine award from the American Jewish Press Association.  The cover story in the current issue, released in December, is “When Anti-Semitism Hits Home: How Hate Hurts Kids.”

The issue was planned long before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel communities in which 1,200 were massacred, another 700 injured, and 240 more taken hostage. I visited one, Kfar Aza, in 2011, and blogged about it on Oct. 15. The horrific assault against kibbutzim largely peopled by pro-peace activists has evoked an Israeli military response that much of the world and even many Israelis decry. It has also divided Jewish families here, often along generational lines.

It is not my purpose in this space to discuss the bloody aftermath in Gaza or the American role in seemingly first to support an ally and then, in the minds of many, supplying arms contributing to the climbing civilian death toll.  I work hard to maintain my role as journalist, not as an advocate. But what concerns me here is the conflation made between Israeli actions and all Jews. Regardless of their views, Jews are being assaulted, verbally and physically, and, as troubling, excluded even from some “progressive” groups.

Our cover story was born not in the midst of the current war but months before, as antisemitic incidents in this country were soaring to levels not seen in decades.  The mass killing of 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh had in 2018 prompted me to blog Never Again? Just Words.”

While the war on American Jews has not always been as violent, it has nonetheless grown in many unexpected ways. Antisemitic graffiti in public schools. Jewish kids hiding their religious symbols. In Montgomery County, Maryland, 18 antisemitic incidents occurred on school grounds in 2022. According to one survey, 24 percent of Americans harbor “extensive antisemitic beliefs.”

Worse, since Oct. 7, Jewish performers and speakers on and off campus have been  being “canceled” under threat of pro-Palestinian protestors who make no distinction between Jews in general and Jewish supporters of the Israeli government in particular. Almost every day seems to bring new assaults, mostly verbal, sometimes physical. Social media have only amplified these hateful voices.

Is this the Goldene Medina?  That’s Yiddish for the Golden Land that absorbed and even welcomed millions of Jewish immigrants from the 1880s into the 20th century?  The huddled masses yearning to breathe free, as Jewish Baltimorean Emma Lazarus wrote in her poem inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor?

The story on my mother’s side is that my immigrant grandfather, from Volozhin, a small shtetl in what is now Belarus, immigrated in 1904 intending to return but breathed “the fresh air of freedom” and stayed to earn enough to send for my grandmother and aunt three years later. The following year, 1908, my mother was born in a Lower East Side tenement, assuring my existence. The rest of the family was murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators, in May 1942, two months before I was born.

Growing up in a Long Island suburb in the 1950s, I proudly marched with my Boy Scout troop on Memorial Day, and the Stars and Stripes flew above our garage door on key national holidays.

On my dad’s side, there was no Yiddish and little Yiddishkeit. The Previns (my dad was Gerard Previn Meyer) were assimilated German Jews. Several of my great uncles married outside the faith. We were Jewish, to be sure, but Americans first. Israel was barely if ever mentioned. I didn’t really understand why until recently when I began exploring my paternal roots.

Of course there was antisemitism. Restricted subdivisions where Jews couldn’t live. Occasional taunts. But it was background noise that neither defined nor intruded on my safe suburban life.

Fast forward to today. The unthinkable, the unspeakable has metastasized and entered the American mainstream. In an odd juxtaposition, Jews are being attacked from both the left and the right. Anti-Israel sentiment has too often morphed into outright antisemitism, fueled by the dual loyalty canard. Jew hatred seems to be one uniting force between the extremes.

But in the big picture, this is nothing new, is it? When white supremacists casually employing antisemitic tropes are courted rather than shunned, it’s not surprising. And when Jews, once a discriminated against minority, are now portrayed as the discriminators, bearing the burden of “white privilege” while being denounced by inuendo as “globalists” and worse, Jew hate follows.

I have no answers, but our winter cover story underscores the ongoing threat, not just to American Jews but to the very ideals on which this nation was founded and that inspired generations of immigrants to come to the Goldene Medina – the Golden Land.

Dan Mariaschin, the CEO of B’nai B’rith, and I discussed the new issue of the magazine in a recent podcast, which can be viewed on YouTube. To watch, click here.

Antisemitism does not discriminate based on age.

Antisemitism hit home long before the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre on southern Israeli communities. Here at home, antisemitism does not discriminate based on age.

A Voice from Harper’s Ferry

On a somewhat more upbeat note, I’m happy to report that the Harpers Ferry Park Association has just published a new edition of “A Voice from Harper’s Ferry,” the only insider account of the John Brown raid, written by Osborne Perry Anderson, the sole survivor.  The new edition is richly illustrated with many memorable images, including water colors commissioned by the National Park Service. Anderson’s account was originally published in January 1861.

I was honored to be asked to contribute an essay that the book’s acknowledgements say “gives us a greater look at the life of Osborne Perry Anderson both before and after the the events of October 1859…[Meyer’s] continued research of all five of the African Americans who joined Brown ensures that they are not footnotes in history, but remembered as men of unwavering courage who fought and died for the freedom of four million Americans.”

The book may be purchased online from the Harpers Ferry Park Association. Click here.

If you’d like to read more about the African Americans who accompanied Brown on the raid that many historians say sparked the Civil War that ultimately abolished slavery, you may wish to read my fuller account in Five for Freedom: The African American Soldiers in John Brown’s Army, which you will find here or wherever you buy your most essential books.

The Black men who went with on the 1859 John Brown raid to abolish slavery

Published on June 1, 2018 by Lawrence Hill Books, an imprint of Chicago Review Press


  1. Joseph Drew on March 7, 2024 at 10:13 am

    This is a terrible moment for the world Jewish community. The tremendous rise in domestic antisemitism is appalling. Thank you for writing about it.

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