For the first time since the second world war, American Jews are largely absent from the anti-war movement. Yet, travelling from state to state, I found the liberal Jewish tradition still thrivingby Linda Grant / March 20, 2003 / Leave a comment
The day before the US mid-term elections last November, I was taken for lunch at a country club in a Florida city noted for its large community of retired Jews. We entered the gates and drove through what appeared to be a golf course criss-crossed by elderly men on golf carts. The club was residential and its residents were mainly elderly and around 40-50 per cent Jewish. “We’re integrated,” I was told by my hosts, two ladies in their sixties who had moved down to the warm south from Detroit and Manhattan. “Venus and Serena Williams live here.”
In the dining room, a vast opulent chamber whose windows overlooked palm trees and manicured lawns, several hundred elderly women were, at 11.45am, already well on their way through lunch. Notices invited them to book now for November’s Thanksgiving banquet and December’s Chanukah banquet. My hosts explained that when they moved to Florida their great anxiety was that they would be lost in a desert of low culture-they who, back home, had had season tickets to the Met, attended every show at Moma, bought their books at Brentano’s. One of the ladies had brought down from New York her collection of art and sculpture. “You should see her home,” the other lady told me. “Her husband is a retired lawyer, mine’s a retired professor of mathematics.” These wandering Jews had come to the Florida swamplands and built temples to art.
The retired Jews of Florida represent the familiar trajectory of postwar New York Jewish life: born in Brooklyn in the 1920s and 1930s into Roosevelt Democrat families, educated in the late 1940s when quotas still existed at Ivy League universities, entering professions and business in the 1950s when Wall Street and the law firms still restricted access to Jews, moving to the Upper West Side in the 1960s, supporting the civil rights movement, opposing the Vietnam war, refusing the drift to the right during the Reagan years, and retiring in the 1990s, feeling that they deserved the right to loaf in the sun. If there is a “Zionist lobby” in America, then the retired ladies of Florida must be its activists.
I had been the guest speaker that morning at the Jewish community centre, part of a ten-city tour with the Jewish book council. The novel I was promoting, When I Lived in Modern Times, is set during the period just…