Jewish Day Schools Accept the 1619 Project to Their Own Detriment

November 20, 2020 | Gil Troy
About the author: Gil Troy is distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University in Montreal. He is the author of  nine books on the American presidency and three books on Zionism, including, most recently, The Zionist Ideas.

This summer, the New York Times attracted much attention and controversy with its “1619 Project,” which argued that racism and slavery are the essential, defining facts of American history. Although sharply criticized by a great number of professional historians—many of whom have impeccable liberal bona fides—the 1619 Project is now being incorporated into primary- and secondary-school curricula across the country. Jewish schools and educational institutions too have jumped on the bandwagon. By doing so, writes Gil Troy, they are “silently committing ideological suicide.”

Reinterpreting American history as one long white attempt to suppress blacks robs American Jews of pride in their own achievements and delight in America’s welcome. . . . Additionally, encasing Jews in “whiteness” imposes automatic guilt on Jews by caricaturing them as white, rich, and exploitative. Naturally, because they prize whiteness, true white supremacists don’t count Jews as white.

Branding whiteness an original sin then claiming immigrants only prospered by exploiting blacks creates a history of blame and despair, not responsibility and redemption. Jews do not view life as one endless power-play. Morality, spirituality, faith, goodness, and hope are not just values in Jewish life—Jews in America and Israel have often activated them as constructive historical forces.

As a kid, I loved an already-old book from 1941 called Americans All: A Pageant of Great Americans. The list included women like Clara Barton and immigrants like Alexander Graham Bell, but neither blacks nor Jews. Still, the title welcomed me, a Jewish kid from Queens, into the American experience. My friends and I knew we had won the Jewish history jackpot. Being born into the innocence of Americans All is like being raised believing in God or praying wholeheartedly. You’re anchored for life, rooted profoundly, even if you stray or later learn hard truths muddying the picture.

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