AN ANCIENT TROPE
Where does the trope that Jewish People are rich/control world banking come from?
In the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church prohibited Christians from working with money because doing so was considered a dirty occupation. Jewish People, however, were banned from almost every other profession, so they turned to money-lending to survive.
Naturally tensions grew between Jewish money-lenders and tax-collectors and poor peasants. This led to stereotypes characterizing Jewish People as greedy.
Over the centuries, the trope that Jewish People are wealthy and greedy evolved. Some iterations of this trope are the Rothschild conspiracies, as well as claims that Jewish People control world banks, the US Federal Reserve, and Wall Street.
For two millennia, Jewish People around the globe faced occupational discrimination — that is, they were banned from entering certain professions. The United States was no different.
From the early 1900s all the way up until the 1970s, Jews in the United States faced antisemitic university quotas. Up until WWII, Americans restricted Jewish People from occupations such as banking, insurance, medicine, law, and more.
ARE AMERICAN JEWS RICH?
The majority of American Jews form part of the middle class. That is not to say that poverty in the Jewish community is not a real serious and pressing problem.
Currently around ~7 million Jews live in the United States, a little under 2 million in New York, where Jewish poverty is a concerning issue. 1/5 of Jewish homes in the state are poor. 1/10 are considered “near poor.”
JEWISH POVERTY (US)
Between 16-20% of Jewish households in the US earn less than $30,000. 7% earn less than $15,000.
As of 2013, 42% of senior Jewish households in New York lived under the poverty line. Among Russian-speaking senior Jews, 72% lived under the poverty line. Nearly 45% of all Hasidic households lived in poverty. Among families with a disability, 54% lived in poverty.
1/3 of Holocaust survivors in the United States are poor. In New York, 52% of Holocaust survivors live in poverty. Among Soviet Jewish Holocaust survivors, the statistics are even more harrowing, with 80% living in poverty.
A TRADITION OF GIVING
Jewish tradition places a strong emphasis on giving charity, known as “tzedakah” (צדקה).
“Tzedakah” literally means “righteousness” and is considered to be a moral obligation in Judaism, rather than a random act of goodwill.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, American Jews overall rejected government assistance, choosing to take care of their own instead.
This attitude seems to have carried on to this day, with the vast majority of poor Jewish New Yorkers rejecting the help available to them, such as public housing, Medicaid, and/or food stamps.
The myth of the “model minority” characterizes certain minority groups as successful. The term was coined in 1966 and was used to imply that certain groups had “overcome” their discrimination and were therefore “no longer oppressed.”
Jewish People are considered to be one of the first “model minorities.”
This myth is harmful for various reasons. First, it erases the very real oppression and marginalization that these groups still face. Second, it ignores the diversity that exists within these groups. Third, it drives a wedge between the so-called model minority and other minorities, which is a function of white supremacy (I recommend you read my post ANTISEMITISM & WHITE SUPREMACY.)
WEALTH ≠ SAFETY
Economic success has historically NOT been a sign of Jewish safety. In fact, because of tropes about Jewish economic privilege, Jews have often been violently targeted by antisemites (two examples: Ilan Halimi’s brutal murder in 2006 and the persecution of Jewish People in the Soviet Union).
When Jewish People were forcibly displaced (i.e. ethnically cleansed) from the Middle East and North Africa between the 1940s-1970s, their assets and properties were seized. In Nazi Germany, a policy of “Aryanization” transferred Jewish businesses to non-Jewish People.
Despite whatever economic privilege a Jewish Person may or may not have, antisemitism in the United States is institutional. Additionally, Jewish People are disproportionately targeted in hate crimes. While only 2% of the population, Jews are the victims of 62% of religious hate crimes AND 15% of ALL hate crimes in the United States.