Rushkoff, Silcoff and SieradskiSo I was reading this article that I found thanks to Jewschool (Dull Piece on Jewish Cool). Titled “From Jew to Jewcy: Has a pop culture phenomenon replaced the need for community?” it was, as described by Jewschool blogger, Reb Yidlicious, dull. It’s also too long. And whiny. The author goes into this long self referential spiel about his alienated generation of young hipster Jews and how they want to connect with their Judaism but like, in a new way… 1,206 words into the article the author mentions Torontonian Mireille Silcoff and her monthly salon “for people who, like me, who wouldn’t think of going to synagogue but still want to talk about stuff.” (Shinan Govani, National Post: Toronto Scene; Dec. 13, 2003, Pg. TO01)

This sidetracked the shit out of me because Mireille Silcoff used to be former Montrealer Mireille Silcott, author of 2 books on ecstasy, Montreal Mirror party/DJ culture/rave scene columnist (3am eternal) and all around scenester herself. She started off as Silcoff, and changed her name to the less Jewishy Silcott and is currently back to Silcoff. Now living in Toronto where she’s an editor for the National Post, she is being trotted out as an exemplar of the new generation of hipster Jews seeking to build a community for those who feel uncomfortable with traditional Jewish communal organizations, like synagogues for instance.

Mireille started her monthly salon due, at least in part, to her participation in the annual gathering of this organization called Reboot (Mireille must have also been inspired by her attendance at this Montreal salon). Reboot is funded, in part, by the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and is yet another one of their projects dedicated to fostering Jewish continuity without neccessarily having to deal with boring stuff like, you know, the Jewish religion. Mireille got invited to the annual retreat in Park City, Utah (??) because she was considered “an insightful chronicler of youth culture” who happened to be Jewish.

Not to be too mean spirited or anything but I find it ironic that the same woman who chronicled rave culture while in Montreal, is now writing articles like this: “Bar mitzvah king: he runs a successful event-planning company, two swank party venues and a popular downtown bar. But in Forest Hill, North York and the rest of Jewish Toronto, Corey Mandell is better known as the DJ who makes a fortune driving 13-year-olds wild.” (Toronto Life Magazine, v.38(4) Ap’04 pg 81-86) I loved her article about Dov Charney and American Apparel: “A real shirt-disturber: Dov Charney conquered America with his fitted T-shirts and posse of strippers. For his next trick, he plans to topple capitalism. Now, if he’d only put on some pants” (National Post, March 8, 2003 Saturday National Edition, Saturday Post; Pg. SP1) – Mireille beat Jane Magazine’s “Charney is a perv” story by 4 months! But I digress. (for more Jewlicious on Charney click here)

So, Mireille gets invited to this annual Reboot thing, goes three times and eventually starts her salon gig, along with the requisite “It’s Almost Christmas — Let’s Hanukkah” fab-o opening party at the Chelsea Room. The National Post did an article about the whole thing (Turning Jewish chic on its head: A new generation embraces the culture of their religion by Siri Agrell, The National Post: December 20, 2003 Pg. A3) – here are some quotes (none of the stuff cited here is available online):

” ‘Jewish’ is not f—ing Burberry’s,” she says. “It’s not a brand, not some lifestyle accoutrement. It’s a people.” The salons, in which people engage in passionate — if not always serious — debate, are the antithesis of contrived Jewish chic. ” ‘Cool’ has to do with coasting above something, not being completely engaged,” Ms. Silcoff says. “So if you will, this is completely bloody uncool.”

“What I’m trying to do with the salon is create a kind of Jewishness — not Judaism but Jewishness — that feels relevant to me,” says Ms. Silcoff. “I want to locate a kind of Judaism that is both the type of person I am and Jewish.”

Now where have I heard stuff like that before? Oh yeah! From Douglas Rushkoff and his Open Source Judaism Project. You ought to know who Douglas Rushkoff is, his Speaker Press Kit describes him as a “Social & Media Theorist • Author • Professor of Communications, NYU.” Turns out, Rushkoff invented Reboot at the request of Roger Bennett of the Bronfman Philanthropies and Rachel Levin of the Righteous Person’s Foundation. Rushkoff also wrote a controversial book called “Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism.” His, err… unorthodox ideas about Judaism eventually made him fall out of favor with his benefactors and he is no longer involved with Reboot.

Rushkoff’s ideas just did not play well, even amongst the highly secular Bronfmans and Spielbergs. One reviewer, quoted on Rushkoff’s site distilled his central thesis as follows: “Rushkoff uses millennia of Jewish teachings to reveal that G*d is indeed to be questioned not obeyed, created not worshipped, continually revised, reconsidered, and debated – not graven in stone.” The notion of belief in G*d as being akin to idol worship was just a tad… much.

And who is his Web master? None other than Dan Sieradski. What else does Dan do? Dan used to do the Reboot Web site. Dan is also the founder of Jewschool – the very same blog that started this disjointed rant.

What’s the bottom line? Judaism is definitely not a monolith – it is many different things to many different people. The cool thing is that it was designed that way – Jewish Halachah permits for the coexistence of different, even contradictory customs and opinions as long as these are based on some kind of acknowledged and learned authority (beit Hillel, beit Shamai etc.). If however, you are interested in continuity then your Judaism better be a bit more substantial than say, a hobby. Judaism needs to be a daily part of your life and it requires commitment and substance. Judaism as a hobby is as likely to be transmitted to your children as, say, your all abiding passion for porcelain figurines or model train sets – in other words, not likely at all. The best solution for Jewish continuity that we have is the one we’ve had all along – a Jewish community based on Judaism.

Now I know that St. George’s (the tony Montreal private school that Mireille attended) Jewish curriculum is not so good (err… non-existent) and that going to a synagogue is hard when you have no idea what the f*ck is going on. I know it’s sooo much easier to just go to parties and wear t-shirts and stuff. But no one said it was supposed to be easy being a Jew. All this trendy Jew stuff will go the way of all other trendy things, but Judaism will, as always, persist. Wealthy Jewish philanthropists, Jewish hipsters, and anyone else who gives a rat’s ass about Judaism, please, please take note.

But what do I know? I’ve never even heard of Reboot until tonight, and I certainly have never been invited to Utah. Damn I suck.

Follow me

About the author

ck

Founder and Publisher of Jewlicious, David Abitbol lives in Jerusalem with his wife, newborn daughter and toddler son. Blogging as "ck" he's been blocked on twitter by the right and the left, so he's doing something right.

10 Comments

  • No, you don’t suck. You’re right on the money as far as I’m concerned.

    The marketing of Judaism as a set of cultural offerings is a last-ditch marketing attempt by Jewish philanthropies to garner teen support for Israeli security policy and, secondarily, for racial Judaism. It’s not my questioning of God the character that upsets powers-that-be as much as my questioning of the counting of affiliated blood-Jews in America, and my questioning of the nation-state Israel as the central icon in Jewish existence.

    It’s also, believe it or not, my insistence – like yours – on Jewish learning. I’m a beit midrash guy, and tend to feel (perhaps this is elitism and wrong) that Judaism starts with the text. One simply has to know that they’re talking about, and the way to do that is to engage with the texts, ideally with others. Cool Jews don’t want to have to learn, read, or work. They want to provoke people, but that’s pretty much all.

    ‘Cool Judaism’ says much more about the individuals doing it (and the people funding it) than it says about Judaism. It’s usually either a reaction against one’s own earlier shame at being Jewish, or an easy to way to get money for otherwise mediocre art ideas.

    The few people who are doing stuff that is Jewish *and* cool (say, Amichai, or the Hassidic Reggae guy, or Plotz, or Jewish Women Watching, or you, or Dan) end up getting lumped in with the “Jews are niggahs, too” slushpile – even though their intention is completely different.

  • I am humbled. This blog hardly deserves to be graced by such a distinguished poster and we’re totally not in the same league as the accomplished “cool” and “Jewish” entities you mention. Funny thing is I actually am a homey – my entire family is from Africa (North, not south), I grew up in a really rough neighbourhood and I count drug dealers, gun runners, pimps and (gasp!) NYC lawyers and stock brokers as some of my closest friends, acquaintances and associates. I actually am ghetto! But I’ll never be Mr. gangsta, playa, hip hop yid – a mosaic wigger from a well monied suburb who talks the talk but crosses the street whenever a bro’ comes by. And it’s not because I have anything against hip hop culture – it’s because I’m white. Rap is at its best when it reflects righteous indignation. I have nothing to be indignant about. Plus I can’t dance worth shit.

    But having said all that, I agree with many things you say, and other things I am in total disagreement with. And I mean total. Still, thanks for popping by. You and the wife don’t be strangers now!

  • Bialik is the polar opposite of Beis Rivkah – mixed classes, secular orientation founded by like labour Zionists or something. I thought she went to St. Georges though…. same thing as Bialik but without the annoying Jewish stuff…

  • […] enthusiast, only began blogging after my repeated insistence that he did so). Likewise, since Jewlicious began, I have been the repeated subject of posts there, both flattering and unflattering. Suffice to say, […]

  • Alex Mazelow of Toronto muses about coming from a “totally secular family with absolutely no connection to Israel…. I figured I had nothing to lose…worst-case scenario, I would have a free 10-day trip with my friends. I was wrong.” Describing the unexpected feeling of “belonging” Mazelow writes: “When I got back to Montreal I immediately contacted McGill Hillel… worked for Hillel, volunteered at Federation in Montreal to plan the Montreal Yom Ha’atzmaut Rally, which I was unable to see because I was back in Israel on the March of the Living.” Natalie Schweid of Dusseldorf, Germany, felt in a bind: “… living in

  • There was this guy see.
    He wasn’t very bright and he reached his adult life without ever having learned “the facts”.
    Somehow, it gets to be his wedding day.
    While he is walking down the isle, his father tugs his sleeve and says,

    “Son, when you get to the hotel room…Call me”

    Hours later he gets to the hotel room with his beautiful blushing bride and he calls his father,

    “Dad, we are the hotel, what do I do?”

    “O.K. Son, listen up, take off your clothes and get in the bed, then she should take off her clothes and get in the bed, if not help her. Then either way, ah, call me”

    A few moments later…

    “Dad we took off our clothes and we are in the bed, what do I do?”

    O.K. Son, listen up. Move real close to her and she should move real close to you, and then… Ah, call me.”

    A few moments later…

    “DAD! WE TOOK OFF OUR CLOTHES, GOT IN THE BED AND MOVED REAL CLOSE, WHAT DO I DO???”

    “O.K. Son, Listen up, this is the most important part. Stick the long part of your body into the place where she goes to the bathroom.”

    A few moments later…

    “Dad, I’ve got my foot in the toilet, what do I do?”

  • There was this guy see.
    He wasn’t very bright and he reached his adult life without ever having learned “the facts”.
    Somehow, it gets to be his wedding day.
    While he is walking down the isle, his father tugs his sleeve and says,

    “Son, when you get to the hotel room…Call me”

    Hours later he gets to the hotel room with his beautiful blushing bride and he calls his father,

    “Dad, we are the hotel, what do I do?”

    “O.K. Son, listen up, take off your clothes and get in the bed, then she should take off her clothes and get in the bed, if not help her. Then either way, ah, call me”

    A few moments later…

    “Dad we took off our clothes and we are in the bed, what do I do?”

    O.K. Son, listen up. Move real close to her and she should move real close to you, and then… Ah, call me.”

    A few moments later…

    “DAD! WE TOOK OFF OUR CLOTHES, GOT IN THE BED AND MOVED REAL CLOSE, WHAT DO I DO???”

    “O.K. Son, Listen up, this is the most important part. Stick the long part of your body into the place where she goes to the bathroom.”

    A few moments later…

    “Dad, I’ve got my foot in the toilet, what do I do?”

  • Genuinely when someone doesn’t know afterward its up to other viewers that they will assist, so here it occurs.

Leave a Comment