Last month, President Trump parted ways with his former National Economic Council director, Gary Cohn.
“He may be a globalist, but I still like him. He is seriously a globalist, there’s no question,” Trump said of Cohn, who is Jewish and an investment banker at Goldman Sachs.
Globalist is the latest anti-Semitic dog whistle. It’s too blatant to just say Jews are rich and greedy (which, I should point out, is a stereotype based on the fact Jews were literally forced into the field of money lending in the Middle Ages because it was un-Christian to be part of that). The stereotype is damaging for many reasons — not the least of which is that it’s frankly not true.
I am Jewish. My 23&Me report confirmed I have 97% Ashkenazi Jewish lineage. My parents met and married in Israel before migrating to New York and having me. They divorced when I was 2, and I was raised by my mom — a British immigrant with little formal education who broke into the not-so-stable world of residential real estate to support us. My dad, who I still saw quite frequently growing up, is a taxi driver. Cab driving is another career that isn’t too lucrative, especially since the introduction of Uber and Lyft. My mom never went after him for child support. As she always said when asked about that, “You can’t get blood out of a stone.”
I grew up on Medicaid (which I still receive to this day). For most of my teenage years, my mom and I were on food stamps — the 2008 recession put a huge damper on the real estate biz.
I grew up hearing the stories of my paternal grandmother who escaped the Nazis in Poland and my maternal grandmother, who was one of 13 kids born in London to Russian-Jewish immigrants (who fled Russia in the 1800s because of the pogroms).
So when I hear about all these anti-Semitic conspiracies about Jewish people owning the media, or read articles by other Jewish women about experiences I can’t relate to at all (“Yeah, we have a condo in Boca,” says someone who has obviously never come home to an eviction notice slipped under the door), or even see portrayals of the so-called Jewish experience (like in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) on the screen, I often don’t feel included.
I’m Jewish, but that isn’t my life. Those aren’t my experiences.
Even now, I cannot really afford to live in New York City, although this is the only home I’ve ever known. I work two part-time jobs and do freelance work. I’m about $30,000 in debt for my college degree — which, despite graduating two years ago, has yet to land me a full-time position. Luckily, I have a partner with an amazing family who doesn’t mind paying our rent. Regardless, I still give my partner a few hundred dollars a month for food, utilities, and other accommodations. It’s all I can afford.
Like my parents, money is a huge worry for me. The saying “money can’t buy happiness” may be accurate, but it can buy security and stability. It can buy a feeling of not being so stressed out all the time. It can buy peace of mind and the ability to focus on other things.
While it’s true that Jewish people are among the nation’s wealthiest demographics overall (perhaps due to the value many Jews place on education), there has been a rise in Jewish poverty for many years now — particularly in New York City.
In 2013, the UJA Federation of New York published a report about the rise of poverty in New York’s Jewish community. The report found that one in four Jewish households in NYC are poor. 90% of poor Jewish households and 84% of near-poor Jewish households are located in New York City. 60% of both poor and near-poor Jews are just managing to make ends meet.
This rise in Jewish poverty mostly affects children and seniors. The report found that 45% of Jewish children in New York live in poor or near-poor households. The largest group of poor Jewish households in NYC belong to Russian-speaking seniors. In second place is the Hasidic community. In fact, Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn are the largest beneficiaries of Section 8 housing (ya know, in spite of Jay-Z’s belief that Jews own “all the property in America”).
“Poverty in the Jewish community continues to grow at an alarming rate, much faster than the Jewish community as a whole,” said Dr. Jacob B. Ukeles, who led the poverty report.
Globally speaking, a 2015 report showed that it’s actually Christians — not Jews — who own the majority of the planet’s wealth (a whopping 55%), while Jews hold just 1.1%.
But will these statistics ever stop all the anti-Semitic caricatures of hook-nosed Jews scrounging for pennys?
“This trope of money, power, education is what keeps the Elders of Zion conspiracy going: it is responsible for much of our eradication and demise,” writes fellow Poor Jew Alyssa Pinsker for The Forward.
At the end of 2017, The Forward published another piece where 22 rabbis from different areas of the country and of different denominations agree that Jewish poverty is an issue we can no longer ignore.
“As a rabbi working with young adults in Manhattan, my community members are largely affected by college debt and the high living costs of the world’s most expensive city,” said Orthodox Rabbi Avram Mlotek.
“There is poverty in our Jewish community that is often unnoticed. Many believe the myth that there is no such thing as a poor Jew, but there is,” echoed Conservative Rabbi Shalom Lewis.
So the next time you see this stereotype being perpetuated — that Jews control the media, the government, all the financial resources — keep this essay in mind. Think about all the Jews who live in poverty, who struggle to make ends meet, and then who are faced with discrimination because of this inaccurate trope.
Rafaella Gunz is a writer and journalist based in NYC. She’s passionate about inclusive feminism, combatting online harassment, and ending herpes stigma. Visit her website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.