Mourning for New York

Is New York capable of another comeback? Can America endure the death march of its cities?
September 19, 2023
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Yom Kippur and 9/11, each year twinned like towers of grief and mourning, give the Days of Awe a special awesomeness, especially in New York — where the Twin Towers once stood, and where 1.8 million Jews live, the largest number in the United States, comprising nearly 25% of American Jewry.

These two days epitomize a time for introspection — a solemn Jewish holiday set aside for soul-searching; and a day that memorializes the worst act of mass murder on American soil.

Just 48 hours, but it makes for a morbid month. And it presents unique challenges for the Empire State — given that the empire is very much in decline. Memories are fading fast in Gotham, and even nostalgia has been forgotten. The mood is grim. Escalating frustration is everywhere. 

The pandemic re-wrote the rules for social engagement in the city that professed to never sleep. Business etiquette is coming to terms with the vastness of all this vacant office space. No one is quite sure how to negotiate around all those prohibited hashtags — MeToo, Antivax, WGAStrong, and Defund the Police. It has left everyone in an agitated state and a decidedly unreflective mood.

Not the perfect atmosphere for Yom Kippur. But who can blame the citizenry? Crime has been rising. Progressive prosecutors have forsaken the meaning of law enforcement. There is a new ethic of cashless bail and empty jails. Marauding bands of masked vandals have turned smash-and-grab into a spectator sport. Such fine establishments as Apple, Gucci, and Yves Saint Laurent are lavish crime scenes. Robbery has gone retail. And the hamstrung police are in the bleachers with the rest of us.

New York is sliding back to the inglorious 1970s when the city nearly went bankrupt, municipal services were perpetually on strike, garbage piled up, graffiti painted the town, and few dared to ride the subway or enter Central Park at night.

“Death Wish,” anyone?

Paradoxically, New York, like other large cities, is reeling from the consequences of proclaiming itself a sanctuary for undocumented aliens. Illegal crossings along the southern border have reached a critical mass. An estimated 11.4 million people are now living in the United States illegally. 

New York City has recently become the home to 100,000 immigrants who will require housing and social services. This has rendered the natives restless. New Yorkers don’t like the look of city blocks and school gyms resembling shanty towns. 

With an eroding tax base, and unaffordability driving artists away, what once made cities so enticing is starting to disappear. Regional theaters are shuttering. Cultural offerings are moving online. Book readings and gallery openings are becoming scarce. Bunkering at home with Apple Music, an OLED TV and contactless food delivery at least assures not becoming a crime statistic. No longer meccas of culture, a metropolis does, at least, provide better access to Fentanyl.

New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles can either become fiscally strapped, crime infested destinations for asylum seekers, or cosmopolitan repositories of culture and commerce. They can’t be both.

New York City once demonstrated that it could survive the malice of Islamic terrorism. It refused to allow the horror of 9/11 to dethrone itself as a global city. The Freedom Tower would one day proudly take the place of the World Trade Center, rising from the charred and mangled remains as a symbol of American grit and determination. 

Is New York capable of another comeback? Can America endure the death march of its cities?

All this weighs heavily on American Jewry as Yom Kippur approaches. After all, Jews are quintessential cosmopolitans. They thrive in big cities and represent a significant portion of the creators and consumers of American culture. They also have a long history of embracing progressive causes.

 A lot of good that has done them. They now find themselves increasingly on the wrong side of the social justice divide. The progressive politics of the moment is preoccupied with racial categories. This new landscape of victimhood excludes the one constant in Jewish history: Antisemitism. Within the catalogue of forbidden bigotries, the hating of Jews no longer counts.

Yes, Jews are still a minority, but only by way of the census. In all other respects, they are betrayed by privileges owing to their skin color, which makes them official members of the oppressor class. No one seems interested in reconciling the reality that Jews remain embattled around the world, however. 

Wearing the insignia of the Jewish peoplehood — skullcaps, religious symbols, articles of clothing — is an invitation to a beating. Jewish students fear being blamed for some Zionist sin that wouldn’t even qualify as a misdemeanor if perpetrated by any other country. 

Expressions of Jew-hatred — and Jewish self-hatred—have become normalized, lifted from the gutter and openly paraded on public streets. Casual antisemitism is today the stuff of cocktail party gossip, faculty lounge intrigue, media propaganda. Invoke Israel as a strawman, and one can get away with all manner of defamation against Jews.

Speaking of defamation and the Jewish people, the Anti-Defamation League is good at tracking Jew-hatred, but fainthearted when it comes to combatting it. (Disclaimer: leading the ADL is a job I once pursued.) For instance, its most recent Audit of Antisemitic Incidents, reports that since 1979, antisemitism in the United States has never been as pervasive and widespread as it is now—whether in the form of physical assaults, acts of vandalism, college campus harassment, and bomb threats.

But the ADL, along with most Jewish “leaders,” are fixated on “white supremacy” when the main culprits of contemporary Jew-hatred are Muslims and African-Americans. 

To be woke requires a lockstep walk. Registering disgust with antisemitism is very much out of step with the times.

The Biden administration offers cold comfort given its romance with the Squad and flirtations with Iran. The progressive left is having its way with America, and it is ruining our cities, and endangering our country,

As a nation, Americans are not great with remembrance. It didn’t take long for some Americans to proclaim that we somehow deserved what we got on 9/11, that our promiscuous foreign policy and shameless American Exceptionalism brought those skyscrapers down.

On some college campuses, there are readings and course materials on Critical Terrorism Studies—academic discourse that trivializes terrorism, reducing it to ordinary political violence that can be justified and even appreciated.

The Day of Atonement is nearly upon us, and there are many reasons not to be in a forgiving mood.

Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist, law professor and Distinguished University Professor at Touro University, where he directs the Forum on Life, Culture & Society. He is the legal analyst for CBS News Radio. His most recent book is titled “Saving Free Speech … From Itself.” 

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