You might say that Arielle Angel sees herself as the voice of her Jewish generation.
Angel, 35, is the editor of Jewish Currents, the leftwing Jewish magazine launched in 1946 by the Communist Party and recently relaunched under new millennial management, with significant funding from the Teaneck-based Puffin Foundation.
On Sunday night, she will appear in a virtual panel on “The Evolution of the American Jewish Electorate,” presented by Congregation Beth Sholom in partnership with the Davar Institute and Temple Emeth. (All three of those groups are in Teaneck.) Her fellow panelists will be Loretta Weinberg, the New Jersey senate majority leader, and Leonard Saxe, a professor and demographer at Brandeis University. (See box.)
Ms. Angel grew up in Miami, where she went to a Jewish elementary day school and belonged to a Conservative congregation. She moved to New York for college. In 2006, she graduated from NYU with a degree in studio art and creative writing. In 2012, she earned a masters degree in fiction from Columbia University.
In 2014, in response to the Gaza War, she got involved with the activist group If Not Now, which brought protests of Israeli policies toward Palestinians to Jewish spaces like the offices of New York’s UJA-Federation. There, she found herself with other young Jews who had grown in up in the community’s day schools and summer camps, only to become disenchanted with the community’s narrative around Israel.
“The 2014 Gaza War was the first time I fully allowed myself to confront the reality of what was actually going on in Israel/Palestine,” Ms. Angel said. “At a certain point, if you’re really paying attention, it becomes hard to ignore. Something I’ve found about most liberal American Jews—who tend to care about human rights and democracy and civil liberties generally in every other domestic and global context—is that the more unconditional their support for Israel, the less they seem to know about what’s actually happening on the ground. They support things in Israel that they would never support in the U.S. And I understand that, because it’s extremely painful to confront the truth. There is a soul-level identification with Israel when you’re raised the way many of us are, in the shadow of the Holocaust.
“For me, when the narrative of a just Israel shattered—when the reality of the daily violence and humiliation of military occupation came into view—I spent weeks crying alone in my room.”
Then she found If Not Now, “and I realized there was somewhere for me to go to process this with other people going through the same thing. In that sense, I didn’t choose to be an activist; I got involved out of deep need.”
This left her thinking that the Jewish world needed an institution to represent secular progressive Jews. “That’s basically 75 percent of the Jews in America at this moment, though you wouldn’t really know that from looking at Jewish media,” she said. “You would think that it was flipped, that religious or conservative people made up the majority of the Jewish community.”
In 2018, after five years as director of operations for the Sustainability Laboratory, an environmental non-profit, an essay she had written on an unpublished novel led to an invitation to meet with the new publisher of Jewish Currents, Jacob Plitman; the two realized that Ms. Angel’s desire for a new institution matched what Mr. Plitman wanted to achieve with the magazine.
Soon after, the magazine was re-launched with a new design, the new publisher, and a new editorial team. Jewish Currents hosted a party in Brooklyn to celebrate. It drew 500 people.
“We realized we created this thing where there’s really this need,” Ms. Angel said. “Every issue’s launch party has been like that full of ecstatic young people that feel they’ve found a scene and a home that makes sense to them.
“We are run by young people. Everyone else is in a room with old men saying, ‘Where are the young people?’ who haven’t spoken to young people or who assume there are young people who are not bristling at their ideas. Jewish Current is not an artificial thing where you’re trying to speak in the voice of young people as an octogenarian. We are those people. We are doing what we want to see in the world, with the politics that appeal to us.
“Before this, there was a growing community of progressive Jews that had basically political organizations. Political organizations are wonderful, but they don’t represent the whole of what a human needs. It doesn’t represent a more cultural realm, it doesn’t represent a more intellectual realm. These things take a back seat to action.
“We felt it was very necessary for the Jewish progressive world to have a cultural center and an intellectual center in the form of a magazine.”
Ms. Angel believes there is a clear generation gap in both Jewish and non-Jewish America today. “People 45 and younger prefer Bernie Sanders by a very large margin,” she said.
“There is a way where some of the politics in this country are generational. There is also a way where the older generation has refused to relinquish any power.
“They think the exceptional moment they came up in is going to repeat. They think that it’s possible to have endless economic growth, that climate change is going to be sort of solved by science. There’s this optimism about what is possible.
“There’s also a refusal to make sacrifices or change their political lenses to actually fight some of these things. They just don’t want things to change and don’t think they have to. It’s a refusal to reckon with the realities of the Trump years. They don’t think something drastic is required to solve these problems. It just seems strange, looking at the extent of the collapse both environmentally and politically, to think we can just go back to the way we were before.”
She reads the Jewish media and doesn’t like what she sees there.
“It’s sort of a climate of fear overall. Many of the readers, especially the older ones, have a politics where they are sort of the primary victims of oppression in America and anti-Semitism is literally everywhere. So if you look at some of the most read articles in the major Jewish media, it’s usually a host of articles that are about anti-Semitic incidents, whether on campus, or remarks by a prominent Black American or politicians.
“We’re living in a really scary moment with white nationalist militias. My grandparents are Holocaust survivors. I don’t think this is not real. We’ve had some very very high profile attacks. These are things to take seriously.
“But the lived experience of most Jewish in America today is not one of being discriminated against, of being attacked by police. The idea that Palestinian groups on campuses are oppressing Jews — it just doesn’t make sense.
“They’re in a loop with these media organizations where they feed them stories where they’re being victimized that provoke their outrage and it allows them to say in a very comfortable space where they are the primary victims. I was at a wedding before coronavirus having a conversation with a friend of my mother. She was telling me ADL numbers and saying that the Jews are the most oppressed group in America. I find it hard to believe when we’re looking at the result of historical redlining and the inability of Black people to get homes and their inability to rise into the middle class and being shot by police.
“If old Jewish people in the upper middle class in America consider themselves to be the most oppressed people in America, then it’s difficult for them to understand the kind of radical moment we’re in.”
So what would she say to people who believe that?
“There’s nothing I can say. I think the only way that you change a person’s mind is through sustained contact and sustained conversation. You have to be quite close to a person and have sustained access to them to do that. I’m thinking about my conversations with my family around Zionism, and the actual situation on the ground about the way the Palestinians are living at the hand of an Israeli military occupation and blockade. The conversation I’ve been having with them has gone of for years and moved incrementally.”
But at Jewish Currents, “We’re here if they’re interested in engaging with us. The reason we exist is to create that alternative. I hope people will take advantage of that.”
What: Panel on the evolution of the American Jewish electorate, featuring New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, Brandeis Professor Leonard Saxe, and Jewish Currents Editor Arielle Angel.
When: Sunday, October 18, 8:30 p.m.
Where: On Zoom. Visit cbsteaneck.org for more information and to register.