To mark the end of the decade we asked a handful of our staff writers to look back on the decade that was and pick out some of the key trends and defining moments. Below, we bring you their findings; a sweeping look at some of the important issues we reported on over the last ten years. It’s by no means an encyclopedic guide but, from Gilad Shalit’s release, to the JCC bomb threats that weren’t, to the watershed 2013 Pew report, to our own #MeToo reporting, it’s an inside look at a Jewish community under pressure.
Restructuring of Jewish life and demographic changes
In the last 10 years a change in religious identity that had been rumbling during the previous decade — dissatisfaction with the traditional categories Jews were expected to fall into, Israel as a wedge issue, and an increasing, if begrudging, acceptance of intermarriage — emerged from the fringes of the Jewish world to bedevil the mainstream. Young people have declared that they’re not satisfied with the status quo, and without changes from within they’ll break off and create alternatives for serving the Divine…or leave the fold altogether. Traditional Jewish life in the 2010s was less about making wholesale changes than it was about taking action as a response to the overall frustration wrought throughout the previous decades.
What anti-Semitism looked like over the last 10 years
This was the decade that anti-Semitism came home to the United States with a vengeance. Whether in Pittsburgh and Poway where 12 Jews were murdered in synagogues, in Jersey City last month where 2 chasidic Jews were killed in a kosher grocery store, or in Brooklyn, where Orthodox Jews have been the victims of violent attacks on the streets, the 2010s were a decade of renewed anti-Semitic violence that shocked American Jews.
But while the renewed anti-Semitic threats of the 2010s may have been a surprise to some, the lack of consensus on the source of those threats and what to do about them should surprise no one. While those on the right blamed rising anti-Semitism on Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaigns against Israel on college campuses, those on the left blamed the violence on white supremacists encouraged by right-wing populist governments. Whether in France, Germany, Hungary, or right here in the United States, this decade served as a sobering reminder of the anti-Semitism simmering beneath the surface in every society.
A peek into Israel over the last decade
The last decade in Israel has been dominated politically by Benjamin Netanyahu, who was elected prime minister for a second time in 2009. Although his Kadima Party came in second, he was able to form a government with other rightwing parties, a coalition that retained power throughout the decade by being reelected in 2013 and 2015. His future is more in doubt now, however, after her failed to put together a government after elections last April and September, and he faces a trial on corruption charges, although his prospects are looking stronger after a neat win over his rival in the Likud primary.
Netanyahu added charedi or ultra-Orthodox parties to his coalition in 2015, and these parties have made Orthodox Judaism paramount in Israeli law. They control such lifecycle events as marriage, divorce and burial. As a result, secular parties have accused Orthodox parties of wanting to create a theocracy in Israel, and the Orthodox have complained that secular parties want to deprive Israel of its religious character. That divide has led to an increasing number of American Jews feeling uncomfortable in Israel, with many suggesting it could result in a permanent schism and their withdrawal of financial support for the Jewish state.
Although there have been two Gaza wars in the last decade – in 2012 and 2014 – tensions between Palestinians and Israel escalated in May of this year after two Israeli soldiers were wounded by sniper fire from the Gaza Strip. Israel responded with an airstrike and the Palestinians replied by launching hundreds of rockets at Israel. This exchange continued for several days before a ceasefire was arranged by Egypt, which is now said to be negotiating a permanent ceasefire between Hamas and Israel.
Reckoning with our own #MeToo, cleaning up our act
In October 2017, The New York Times published several allegations of women who claimed to have been sexually harassed or assaulted by former famed film producer, Harvey Weinstein. The investigation broke a damn of cultural silence and helped spark the international #MeToo movement, a deep reckoning with sexual harassment and assault. In what is now termed the “Weinstein effect,” many powerful men previously protected by networks of allegiance and secrecy were held accountable for sexual misconduct in the workplace.
The Jewish community faced its own #MeToo reckoning, precipitated by investigative reporting found in the pages of The Jewish Week. Over the course of 2018 and 2019, The Jewish Week did not shy away from holding figures of authority accountable. Powerful communal figures and philanthropists were called to task for decades of alleged sexual misconduct. The effects of these investigations continue to reverberate, as our community works towards creating more respectful, equitable places of work and worship. The true work of systemic change within our institutions still lies ahead.
Another investigative series looked into the state of subpar secular education at chasidic schools in New York City that were the recipients of government funding. The series, conducted with WNYC, was the finalist for multiple awards, and led to a Department of Education investigation.
In arts & culture: Creative storytelling flowers in new forms
Whether through podcasts and Instagram – both unknown at the beginning of this decade – or more traditional forms like theater, film, books, painting, photography and television, we’ve seen a flowering of storytelling.
Artists from Israel, from the chassidic communities (and those who have left that world) and the gay and transgender worlds are adding their Jewish voices, imaginative images and new sounds, sharing their truth, with new confidence as well as new questions.
Many of these works are informed through engagement with traditional Jewish texts, whether in the original or in translation and now easily accessible through the internet and a great invention of this decade, the online library Sefaria. Jewish themes and characters appear regularly in mainstream media, like the Jewish family in, most recently, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
Culture and politics are often intertwined, and some Jewish arts are tied to activism. Strikingly, still, almost 75 years after the end of World War II and the liberation of Auschwitz — many untold stories of the Holocaust keep emerging.
To close out 2019, we also asked prominent observers to share their views on 11 of the most compelling issues that marked the last decade. The writers look at how we might overcome the intense polarization that defined the past 10 years. Read their essays here, and find a timeline of the decade’s key moments here.
This section was produced by Miriam Groner and Shira Hanau.