So 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 â€¢ Author â€¢ 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.