Formerly Jewish Achievers
Our Pyrrhic Victories
In 280 B.C. and again in 279 B.C., King Pyrrhus of Epirus defeated the Romans in two battles. In both fights, the Romans lost more men than Pyrrhus. However, the Romans were a far larger nation than the Epireans and in proportion to their army their losses were a great deal less than those of their enemy.
Eventually, Epirus was utterly destroyed while Rome became a vast empire.
Today, historians and others use the phrase “A Pyrrhic Victory” when referring to any success that finally leads to a serious defeat.
That is what has happened to the American Jewish community as a result of our spectacular successes during the 20th century.
Surely no one can deny that the descendants of the Jews who came to this country beginning with 1881 were great achievers. That was the year in which the Russian czar began his violent persecution of the Jews in his empire, leading to the emigration of 1.5 million Jews who arrived in the United States between that year and 1923, when the U.S. closed its doors by means of the quota system.
It has been estimated that if the descendants of those 1.5 million Jews were all Jewish now, there would be 20 million Jews in this country today. Instead, we have shrunk from 5.8 million in 1937, when we were about 3% of the American population, to 5.2 million, so that now we are only 1.7 percent of the American population. Moreover, the 5.2 million statistic is extremely generous in that it includes all kinds of people who are taken for Jews by surveyors, although at least one million of them are Jews in name only.
Our successes are of course legendary. Consider this. Although 29% of the American population has earned a college degree, including a two year diploma, 55% of Jews have a degree from a four year college. Only six percent of the general population have a graduate degree but 25% of Jews have a graduate degree.
Our obsession with medicine is so strong that it is common among Jews to say to someone with an academic doctorate: “You aren’t a real doctor,” meaning an M.D. We are of course vastly over represented among the medical profession, the legal profession and the academics, who are in fact the “real” doctors, because the Latin word docere means to teach, not to practice medicine. We are also over represented among elected officials, billionaires, musicians, artists, scientists or any achieving group anyone wants to mention. Twenty percent of professors are labeled “Jewish” although most of them are not Jewish except for their names.
An even greater “success” story has been published by Professors Gerhard Sonnert and Gerald Holton. Their book, What Happened to the Children Who Fled Nazi Persecution, traces the lives of those Jews who migrated to the U.S. from Germany while still less than 18 years old. These immigrants faced yet more problems than the eastern European Jews of the early twentieth century. The eastern European Jews usually came with their families, or they could write to their European families still living in Russia or Poland. The German Jews, however, had no families because the children who came, came alone on so called children’s transports. Furthermore, the German Jews who came here in the 1930’s and 1940’s were not only victimized by American anti-Judaism but also rejected by the American Jewish community who denounced German Jews in the same language used by the Nazis in Europe. Accordingly, all German Jews were “arrogant”, “loud”, “ungrateful”, etc. This meant that German Jews were isolated and had to fend for themselves since American Jews refused to help them. Consequently, the pressure of needing to succeed was even greater among these German Jews than among others, so that this generation of refugee Jews “made it” in one generation. Sonnert and Holton show that the very immigrants attained college educations and prominence in science, the arts, etc. thus doing themselves what took the eastern European Jews three generations to achieve.
Yet, all this is a Pyrrhic victory, because the achievers are usually not Jews. They are only counted as Jews temporarily. Many are in fact Christians, as about 400 thousand former Jews have adopted that faith mainly because they married a Christian spouse. The Jewish intermarriage rate is now about 54%, so that fewer and fewer Jews will have Jewish grandchildren. That is particularly true of Reform Jews, whose chances of having Jewish grandchildren is only ten percent.
We have a lower birth rate than the general population whose women aged 15-35 have a birth rate of about 2. Ours is 1.4, so that we are far from replacing ourselves. In short, every statistic indicates that we are declining faster and faster until we will have vanished from America.
The reason for this disappearance is our success. Our success has led 54% of Jews to proclaim themselves atheists, and more to view themselves agnostics (From Greek: gnosis means knowledge, agnosis means no knowledge).
Only about 46% of American Jews are Jewishly connected in that they are members of a synagogue (assembly-Greek) or other Jewish institution. Some Jews are Zionists, although the vast majority of American Zionists are Christians, i.e. 55 million.
Our successes also mean that the successors of the achievers are seldom Jewish. Whether it is the New York Times, founded by Jews, or the large department stores or the presidents of universities, we find that these descendant leaders of American culture may have Jewish sounding names like Sulzberger, but are indeed Episcopalians.
Here then is the Pyrrhic victory. The achievers are not Jews. Jews are really not over represented among all the rich and famous. The achievers of the first generation have only non-Jews as descendants, so that our great victories in education and everything else accrues to everyone but not to us.
So as we brag about our daughter, the doctor, our son the lawyer, our grandchildren who are of course “accepted by Harvard” (the oracle at Delphi), we need not repeat that adage about Jewish achievements. The obsession with being a physician may go on. But not for us. The doctors have left us, as have the professors and the billionaires, even as we slide into oblivion, faster and faster, until only the Chasidim remain.