I think what sets The Plot Against America out from other shows and stories of its genre is that, despite the title, it’s not really about America as a whole so much as it is about one (extended) Jewish family. For the most part, that means Alvin is dealing with an FBI agent following him everywhere, but it comes more from how Howard, Bess, Sandy, and Philip react to everything happening around them, particularly bad considering how much Bess’s sister Evelyn is literally marrying into the side that is oppressing the Jewish people of this story.
It’s a subtle way of doing so, too. Rabbi Bengelsdorf’s argument, one Evelyn probably believes because she’s smitten with him and which young Sandy seems to believe because he’s still young and naïve, is that Jews shouldn’t congregate in one place but should spread out and be comfortable with people other than other Jews.
On the one hand, many ethnicities that moved to America did go that route within a few generations. America as a country has a way of “Americanizing” people who move here. My understanding is that when people move to America from somewhere else speaking a language other than English, while the immigrants themselves would probably learn little if any English and live mostly in a community of people from their same country-of-origin, their children would be more bilingual and their grandchildren would only speak English and intermingle with other ethnicities. That isn’t necessarily true for everyone and I could be very wrong, but that is my general understanding of how Americanizing works for many people.
Factor in as well that the Jews have a reputation, even mentioned in this episode, as a people that look out for each other and form tight communities as a result. They are certainly not the only ones, but that is the reputation here. That would appear to come from the fact that they have been perennial outsiders in other cultures for centuries. It’s as much about mutual protection as it is anything else.
That seems to be how Bess and Herman see it. It is not how Bengelsdorf or Sandy see it. Sandy, at least, has the excuse of simply not knowing better. His experience in Kentucky was fine. The family he stayed with were very friendly, and it can’t be a coincidence that Herman’s insurance company employers are sending the Levins there. Young Philip’s reaction is to go find Aunt Evelyn and tearfully ask her why his family is being sent to Kentucky but his best friend and widowed mother are not. The mother there works part time for the same company as Herman. So, when she and her son are likewise transferred to Kentucky against her will, it really isn’t a coincidence, and Philip seems to understand it is somewhat his fault his quiet friend is moving away to somewhere where the Klan is active.
Sandy doesn’t know much about those guys.
As for Bengelsdorf…he seems more oblivious. His wedding to Evelyn (unattended by the Levins) has other Rabbis pointing out their congregations are shrinking and an attempt to get Secretary of the Interior (I think that’s his position) Henry Ford to advocate for cash incentives for the Jewish families being forcibly relocated gets rebuffed. The real Ford was a noted anti-Semite, and his response here is a cold “the reward is the job itself,” suggesting he was never much of an ally to anyone but himself, let along Bengelsdorf’s interests. Does the Rabbi see that? My guess is no.
He just wants the Jews to be more American.
Whatever that means. Probably “less Jewish” for starters.
But then there’s Herman doing something he can do, and using that “Jews stick together” stuff I mentioned earlier. While many of his Jewish co-workers can still be forced to move to more remote parts of the country, Herman himself does have one thing he can do: quit his job selling insurance and go to work doing physical labor for his brother Monty. Yeah, they’ll laugh at how out-of-shape he is, but it’s one way to stick to his guns even as Bess threatens to leave him if he doesn’t cool down a little bit.
It would seem the politics of this fictional past are driving families apart in more ways than one. I’ll have to see what happens in the final episode.