What? When Heeb does it it's cool and edgy!What is Jewish identity? There, I asked you. Is it identification with a culture? With tradition? With people within a community?

Whatever your definition of Jewish identity is, now make like the Food and Drug Administration, and institute guidelines for lower-calorie versions of the real thing:

New Jewish Identity: Same general formula, but a little bit sweeter, maybe fizzier. Depends who you ask.

Jewish Identity Classic: Same as it ever was, renamed and repackaged. Shiny, but appeals to traditionalists.

Diet Jewish Identity: Made with half the eggs, a third of the margarine, and whole wheat noodles. And Splenda.

And Jewish Identity ‘Lite’: Now, with half the calories and fat of regular Jewish identity…cholesterol free and with only 2g of carbs per serving!…with all the originally rich guilty taste preserved to intellectually haunt you like a waking nightmare. Spread it on your bagel, cover it with a nice piece of lox and bring it to your next neo-klezmer concert.

In his latest soon-to-be-a-classic piece in the Jerusalem Post, Ariel Beery continues his inquiry into the way our generation relates to and identifies with Judaism, including his reaction to a study put forth by sociologist Steven M. Cohen and historian Ari Y. Kelman, and funded by the UJA-Federation of New York and the National Foundation for Jewish Culture:

The findings show that the majority of the Jews found attending cultural events – parties thrown by Heeb or surrounding klezmer music – already have extensive Jewish backgrounds. Graduates of Hebrew schools, day schools and Camp Ramah, these Jews do have a history of engagement with the Jewish community – even though their current status is formally “unaffiliated.”

This finding turns the tables on many assumptions: If young American Jews are not affiliating despite being more educated and engaged then ever, what causes Jews of my generation to leave the community behind?

What, indeed. As one of the people who grew up with all of the blessings of a rich Jewish environment–educationally, culturally, religiously, and pretty much any other “ly” you could find–I should, by all rights, have found my place, and be happy within my humongous New York Jewish community. But while I wouldn’t necessarily call myself unaffiliated, I do feel adrift, like my engagement in the community is perfunctory. By birth, I’m here. And this is the only place I know. So here I remain, even if it’s not perfect, and even if it’s unsatisfying.

Just one example: I believe that women should have the right to equally participate in the service. But in my 14 years of day school education, I also know that technically, we’re not obligated to, and therefore, we cannot count to the minyan or be considered of equal prayer stature to the men. I never learned to read Torah, never learned when in the service you’re supposed to open and close the ark, and still feel like I’m doing something wrong if I even lead Kabbalat Shabbat. Unhappy in an Orthodox synagogue, I belonged to a Conservative synagogue for the principle of it. And shuddered silently when people less Hebraically and Judaically knowledgeable than I made mistakes. If I wasn’t willing to step forward and lead myself, how could I complain?

I also feel guilty of my educational and traditional privilege. Maybe it’s the feeling that there are too many options out there, or an overinvolvement with traditional Jewish organizational life, or the fact that traditional Jewish life doesn’t know what to do with single women in their thirties, but I still don’t feel like I’m home.

Of course, for a writer, nothing beats a good dose of alienation. Feeling disenfranchised and adrift is grist for the mill. In the absence of traditional resonance, today’s Jewish twenty- and thirty-somethings are creating their own structures–whether they be indie minyanim, Jewish-infused hip-hop acts, magazines of varying and non-competing audiences, or the vast range of approaches represented in the blogosphere–which are enriching the cultural landscape of Jewish life. But will they, in the long run, be good for the Jews?

For more posts by Esther, see My Urban Kvetch and JDaters Anonymous. 

About the author

Esther Kustanowitz

For more posts by Esther, see EstherK.com, MyUrbanKvetch.com and JDatersAnonymous.com.

60 Comments

  • Shlomo who died and made you G-D?

    in Parshat Lech Lecha

    it referrs to Abraham and Sara and

    “the people they had gathered…”

    Literally, ‘the soul that they had made,’ or ‘the souls that they had made.’ It can be interpreted to mean the servants they had acquired (Rashi), or the people that they had converted to God’s cause (Rashi; Ibn Ezra). It can also denote the spiritual gifts that they had acquired (Sefer Yetzirah 6; Raavad ad loc.)

    The state of Israel identifies a Jew when they state they are a jew and grants them Aliyah!

    There are many aspects of Jewish culture and identity and a bunch of Ortho Rabbis cannot deny that other Jews exist other than them.

    I hope for a world where we cherish those based on their acquired sprirtual gifts and it is in that measure we ascertain someone being jewish.

    Quoting Halakah in this matter over and over sounds like a joke to me when Torah is accesable to all.

  • Yosef 94114: Abraham was a prophet who spoke to G_d. His method of gathering followers is not instructive and certainly doesn’t apply to us. As for Israel, they allow non-Jewish family members of Jews to make aliyah. It’s a humane decision but aliyah does not in and of itself make one Jewish. Adherents to tradittional Judaism and their rabbis are allowed to believe whatever they like. By stating that cultural judaism or judaism acquired by spiritual gift do not meet the standards of an Orthodox conversion, they are merely stating fact. One is also free to disagree with them and base the acquisition of Judaism on whatever standard one likes. But what one cannot do is deny the rabbis and the orthodox the right to believe whatever they want to believe, and the right to protect their way of life.

  • Why are young Jews not affiliating? Well, for me it’s because the Jewish community around here is too strict and isolationist.

    It feels like I’m one of the only people who thinks of my “Jewishness” as a cultural and ethnic identity rather than as a religion.

  • ck, I see your point about Aliyah and Jewishness (I don’t necessarily agree with it) but can you clarify what you mean when you say Israel allows “non-Jewish members of Jewish families” to make aliyah. Does that mean non-converted non-Jewish members, or those who have not converted in line with the most recent Supreme Court cases? It seems to change every year. The last time I did any real research was the early 80s when the Rabbinate was trying to recodify right of return in relation whether or not a non-Jewish mother converted under Orthodox tutelage. It seems to have changed quite a bit since then.

    Another question – I think the government has two right of return standards, one for conversions inside Israel and for outside. If so, do the most recent Supreme Court cases, specifically(Sholomo, you were referring to Justice Barak, correct?) the ’05 case, only apply to conversions within Israel? I could google all this but if you guys know the answers it would be sooo much easier.

    Last question for Shlomo – to satisfy your definition of a Jew, does one need to satisfy both 1 and 2? Or if they pass 1 are they exempt from 2?

  • You guys know me–I’m totally down for fostering healthy debate about “who is a Jew” even if it leads to all of you yelling at each other.

    But I’d like to commend those of you in this thread who really addressed the question, which was not “who is Jewish” but “what is Jewish identity,” and why aren’t Jews in their 20s and 30s affiliating within the traditional community structures? And I’d really appreciate thoughts on that issue…

  • good article, nice post, i have some thoughts…

    redhead, i know exactly where you’re coming from. one can feel jewish because of jewish culture, separating themselves from religion. but i don’t think culture can separate itself from religion.

    the lawyer jokes, the phenomenon that most jews can’t drink, controlling the media…in the end, it all comes back to the book(s). religion, and yes, torah, is what holds jews together, jews of all streams. and esther, that’s my hypothesis as to why we’re becoming unaffiliated. because the structures in place, i.e., federations and fat synagogues, simply SUCK at making religion a valued experience, a place and vehicle to have a fun, meaningful experience. And eve though they cannot accomplish the task themselves, the corpojewcracy is reluctant to let go of power, kesef, and the spotlight. but as a jew, i maintain steadfast hope. because in 5-7 years, all these current models are going to tumble down, get more outdated than they already are, and get replaced by whatever’s next, some type of judaism 2.0, with more power spread evenly amongst lay leaders and people with real, effective ideas. no more rescue missions to ethiopia and former ussr.

    give us the money, give us the space, we’ll get it done.

  • Esther- When these conversations come up here I find myself taking a step or two back in my jewish identity. I know people like ck exist in the community i’m in, people that wouldn’t count me in their minyan, don’t count me as jewish, but would probably do a great deal to help me towards an orthodox conversion, but frankly it doesn’t make it easier for a Ger to read “the truth” about jewish conversion. Ck, i’m not slighting you here by the way. There are others who would not, the simple rule is gerim are not welcome.

    Look, you have people who identify as jewish, who are in far more cases than not EXCITED about identifying and being active, and they are being cast aside. On one side these folks’ connection to judaism and the jewish people is undeniable and this identity is not going to change. On the other side, the very premise of these aformentioned people’s identification is rejected. At some point we were bound to reach a major impasse. We have.

    My reaction, is to be very independent…I mostly go to one of two orthodox shuls on shabbos, or I stay home and daven. I think i’m drifting now….so i’ll stop, hope i made some sense

  • Shy Girl: Good grief! The Australian Union of Jewish Students is funny… yeah go ahead, watch the video. The video, Jewish Girls Really Love a Good Bra, a take off of Video Killed The Radio Star is pretty funny. There are problems with the audio sync but I guess large hooters don’t guarantee technical skills. Man… we need to get to Australia…

  • I see exactly what you’re saying, too, encino. My synagogue was… well, I REALLY hate to say this, but it was embarassing. There were not enough young people to provide enthusiasm to the services/plays/festivals, so it was a bunch of elderly folks hanging around trying desperately and failing to attract young people. I felt uncomfortable and completely out of place there. If I hadn’t felt strange, I might have had a “valued religious experience”, but I certainly would NEVER have had any fun.

  • I do agree that synagogues aren’t doing much for people in their 20s and 30s. There isn’t anything out here for us. I am looking for some kind of young adults group around here, and it turns out I have to start it up myself in order to do anything. And I don’t just mean social things, I mean Shabbat dinners and holiday celebrations. Nobody wants to go to shul when they’re surrounded by old people and babies. If my job didn’t (basically) require going to shul and being officially affiliated, I don’t think that I would.

    And shuls try to bring in young people by having services be more musical and more like concerts, hoping to make them less boring. Which I’m not sure actually attracts anyone (and in fact drives some people away). But they have no good programming for people in their 20s, no way for people to meet, and not just singles mixes.

    Ours is a generation grown up in youth groups and after school programming. Maybe if shuls catered to that kind of mentality, there would be more affiliated Jews my age.

  • Jews have their own culture because they kept/were kept seperate.

    They kept/were kept seperate because of their deeply held beliefs and convictions.

    That is: the horizontal, human relationship between Jews that creates culture and community is inseparable from the vertical relationship between the Jew(s) and G-d.

    When Jews apply the Torah’s yardstick of values to the society around them, they will remain Jewish and automatically create “Jewish culture”. Assimilation will not be a problem – depending on the surrounding culture, they may be isolated, persecuted, or relatively welcomed, but the Jews will know who they are, and why.

    When Jews start judging Judaism by the yardstick of the surrounding culture’s values – it don’t matter how funkalicious it is, it’s a pathway to assimilation and self-negation. Previous generations tried to get pearl-necklace WASPs to accept them into their country clubs. If all that’s changed is that know the nerdy Jewish kids are begging hip-hop clubbers for acceptance – nope, no progress there.

    And that’s what I see:

    -The lack of mention of G-d and Torah.

    -The Seinfeldesque self-flaggelating irony about being Jewish (Beery himself refers to his generation as “about as Jewish as the characters on Seinfeld, which is not much”).

    -The distancing from stinky old Jewish community while toying with more funky models.

    -The pegging of identity on “Jewish” cultural references that are already 2 generations removed from any real spiritual/moral content.

    It’s hard for me to shake the impression that this is just another retread of the old “please like me” path of cultural appeasement – the “educationally advantages” Jews figuratively or literally trying to leave their “outer borough” nerdiness behind and be accepted by the hip Manhattanites.

    Esther, when you write that you understand that women are not as obligated as men in prayer – obligated by whom? Just the community – is the quest for “where do I fit in” all horizontal – just “bein adam la-chavero” on the lowest, most secularized level?

    Where is G-d in all this?
    Becaue without Him, talk of “Jewish culture” is pointless.

  • ben-david,

    nice to meet you. we see eye to eye on certain things, primarily the need for a religiously infused culture (and of course, to varying degrees for various people)

    your comparative comment regarding the current generation’s desperate struggle to shed pieces of their identity and get accepted by the mainstream is blanketing reality. sure, the clubs are there, and i go out tho dance and meet girls, but i’m not buying drinks at the bar thinking “shit, i hope he doesn’t assume that im not gonna tip him well” and drop a $20 just to fit in. there are tons of programs and events out there that target only jews, and they’re not all lame.

    the comedy, the irony, seinfeld, curb your enthusiasm…i dont get your point…what’s the problem? i LIKE those shows. they crack me up.

  • It is not bad that the young are not affiliating. What IS bad is that they are not putting shoulder to wheel.

    It is their JOB to believe, and to do.

    The young have to stop looking UP at their elders, and wondering how to fit in with them, and start looking OUT at their age-mates. Then, believe, and make a new Jewish world. Based on the Torah. Back to the real stuff.

    Believe that the first commandment in the Torah is “go forth and multiply”.

    The point is, marry. Make a Jewish home. Guilt is silly. Judaism is not about guilt, it is about the exact opposite: when we do the mitzvot we are ASSURED on the highest authority that we are holy. It says so right in the prayer. “… You have made us holy by means of the mitzvot …” . So there. No guilt at all.

    Believing is actually a lot easier than wondering just how much, and how literally, to believe. Just plain believe. Accept the Torah. Guilt goes away.

    It is easier to deal with a crying baby than a crying inner voice. The baby will to to sleep eventually. And make sense someday. The other will do neither.

  • esther, thanks for pulling us back to the post (even though I didn’t get some of the answers I was hoping for from ck and Shlomo). Please realize for those us growing up in the 60s and 70s, so much of our Jewish identity was formed – within our synagogues, hebrew schools, community centers – by our relationship with Israel. Isreal was still in the process of creation and young American Jews were emigrating in droves to be a part of that. In a way, Israel was our connection to our religion – maybe moreso than how we observed. So how Israel defines who can legitimately make aliyah does matter to me. Not just whether or not I feel at home in my American synagogue.

    Having said that, I found it interesting that when you did attend a Conservative synagogue you didn’t jump on the chance to learn to chant Torah. Maybe it just was encouraged. The synagogue of my youth went out of it’s way to encourage young women to be involved in all aspects of ritual. Women in our congregation ran the gamut of observance from fairly secular to wearing Tallit to donning Tefillin. Girls of Bat Mitzvah age were encouraged to learn to chant Torah, be Chazans, lead services, wear Talllit… the only limitation was a woman did not count in minyan. It was the opposite of alienation. One of the hippest, most artistic groups I’ve been in was our Torah reader’s society (we chanted all readings not covered by the Bar/Bat Mitzvaher). We had as many women as men and a majority of us became professional musicians. Chanting connected our musical and Jewish selves. I think you would’ve dug it. Or not have shuddered silently too much.

  • Quote:

    Jewish Mother Says:
    October 30th, 2006 at 1:30 pm
    It is not bad that the young are not affiliating. What IS bad is that they are not putting shoulder to wheel.

    It is their JOB to believe, and to do.

    The young have to stop looking UP at their elders, and wondering how to fit in with them, and start looking OUT at their age-mates. Then, believe, and make a new Jewish world. Based on the Torah. Back to the real stuff.

    Or to paraphrase John F. Kennedy:

    “Ask not what your synagogue can do for you. Ask what you can do for your synagogue.”

  • Huh? I don’t care if you ignore your synagogue, if you are too busy taking care of your Yiddele Hubby to get there much.

    You missed my point completely. I do not CARE about “affiliation” at least not as a primary concern. Eventually. Whatever. That will fall into place eventually. Who cares.

    BUT are you a believing Jew? Are you keeping one warm? Are you making more?
    That’s what I am advocating.

    Judaism is not a chowder and marching society.

  • I stayed right on the topic. Esther asks, what is living a Jewish identity. It’s being a believer, keeping another one warm, legally, and making more.

    If all that is not possible this minute, keep davening (praying) for it.

    We must not make idols out of our institutions. The Torah does not say, Go forth and join a synagogue. It says, Go forth and multiply.

  • With all due respect to Jewish Mother–because what kind of nice Jewish girl would I be if I didn’t respect a Jewish Mother–I think it’s crucial that American institutional Jewry stop viewing married (and procreating) Jewish life as the only Jewish life worth pursuing. And if someone’s belief in God is less than rock-solid to begin with, the davening has less and less impact as time goes on. Having a Jewish identity is obviously possible even taking God out of the equation (as I hope Muffti will address) and no one asks people applying for shul membership whether they believe in God. But most importantly is that people understand that affiliation only “falls into place” when a community accepts all members equally, regardless of their marital status.

    ramon wrote: I found it interesting that when you did attend a Conservative synagogue you didn’t jump on the chance to learn to chant Torah. I was in this strange place–knowing more than the average congregant (and even, at points, the rabbi, which is a different post), but feeling less entitled to participate, since I hadn’t been raised egalitarian in practice. That said, I have a pretty good musical ear, and I thought maybe it was time to learn the Torah trop. So I did, sort of. I said I wanted to learn, and someone at the shul gave me a cassette tape recording of the aliyah they’d assigned me. I committed it to musical memory, but hadn’t learned a thing about what the notes were called or what they meant. My reading went perfectly, but perfunctorily, except for one thing–the whole thing terrified me. With my hand clutching the yad pointer and hovering the tip above the text, I felt like I was engaging in the forbidden. Instead of thrilling me into repeating it weekly, it scared me into not doing it anymore. So welcome to my complicated head. This is what happens here.

  • I am going to boil pumpkin chunks in water and a little marmelade with a clove and see what happens. Unpeeled, of course. People should never peel anything. It’s too much work, and the peel is where the fiber is.

    I like high-fiber Judaism also.

    A Judaism that loosens the rules for women also loosens the rules for men. That is the fine print.

  • You should really try to do it again, Esther. Some of the most moving moments I’ve ever had were with women leading prayers. Also, it’s perfectly normal to be nervous doing something for the first time, especially in front of a crowd. I would venture that most weren’t judging you especially because many of the people there would not be able to do what you did. With experience you’ll not only improve but lose the nervousness in front of people, I’m sure.

    This is another fine post, by the way. I’ve been trying to construct a response since you’ve put it up but in some ways I’m stumped and maybe when some answers come to me, they’ll be personally revelatory.

  • esther, is that pressure out in NY that strong? i find it incredulous…

    jewish mother…reading your ‘thoughts’ inspires to go out and get high with my mom. yay on high fiber diets, jewish or foodstuffs.

  • At least the way I see it, Jews in their 20s are not identifying with their traditional community strucures because those structures are meaningless. The vast majority of said structures are built on a 1950s Americana model; think suburbs, McCarthyism, Keeping up with the Schwartzes, “Dr. Rabbi”, and services that are based on performance-piece Chazonus rather than community participation. The only “traditional” alternative is the ultra-orthodox world; with its exclusiveness, infighting, frummer-than-thou attitudes, and other such trappings of fundamentalism.
    Young people are not “abandoning” traditional Judaism, we are creating a revolution from within. We are educating ourselves, rather than relying on existing authoritarian strutures; of mind-control institutions such as the Yeshiva, of rabbis who give a Kol-Nidre sermon about “money and membership.”
    In a “Fiddler on the Roof” world, I am Perchik.

  • Muffti believes one can have a jewish identity even when you take god out of the equation. But it ain’t easy and Muffti certianly doesn’t take himself to be a very good examplar of this. So far as Muffti understood, however, jewish identity connects faith and practice in an interesting way: isn’t hte practice supposed to be a catalyst to the faith, which in turn strengthens the value of the practice in a nice chick and egg kind of way?

    Muffti thinks that really this question is not just confusing, it is a bit confused and confounded by two separate conceptions. On the one hand there is the personal conception of Jewish identity, on the other hand there is the public sense: a series of rituals and practices that you can identify with. The trouble is that the demands of one are very different than the demands of the other and no one wants t compromise their personal sense of what is right and true in order to accomodate the religious sense. WITh good reason: you are a person first and a religious person second!

    On the other hand, there is an obvious problem. The more your personal sense differs from others, the less credible it becomes to call it a Jewish identity so much as just an identity that bears some affiliation to other jews. What does the Muffti bear in common on Yom Kippur with someone who really thinks that there is a God judging him toher than sharing the same room for a day and being hungry together that is distinctly Jewish??? We have seen massive attempts to reconstruct what a jewish identity should be by cannonizing modified and new ones in conservative, reform and the like. Nothing seems to be very stable on that front.

    So, maybe Muffti is misdiagnosing, but the problem isn’t ‘what is Jewish identity’ but ‘what is the proper relationship between your ‘identity’ as a person and your identifying with accepted cannons of judaism?’

    regretably, there is reason to think that this question has no good answer.

  • esther, learning to chant torah is a daunting task. I came to be a Torah reader because my Bar Mitzvah reading – as it fell on the first of the month – was exceptionally long and difficult. So I was given extra instruction. After my Bar I swore I’d never do it again. But the Rabbi insisted and I continued for a few years and it really, really got into me. I can’t imagine that a young woman would not be given the same opportunity as a young man to experience the sense accomplishment and spirituality in chanting to Torah. I’m being egocentric and I understand how your Orthodox background might have colored your experience. But, like middle said, try it again. I think you may find something in it.

    middle – one idea I had that wouldn’t fly: Since we had some beautiful woman readers, why not do a few readings as duets? The harmony possibilities… all these young Leonard Cohens and Jennifer Warnes… but alas, probably sacriligeous.

    And though it’s kind of off-topic (although really not) I like to throw in that our friend Aviel Barclay…

    http://www.soferet.com/

    …the only living female soferet in the world, has completed a Torah for one of our local synagogues. She’s in town for the Torah blessing and to lead a Siyum Sefer Torah. Check her blog out if you already haven’t.

  • Obviously, Jewish-infused hip-hop is nothing but an utter panacea for the ills of the Jewish community.

    Egoism aside, however, Jewish identity’s status in America is also becoming more nebulous by the added diversity to today’s Jewish communities. It is not uncommon in an Orthodox shul to see a new ba’al teshuva with long hair and tattoos who is far more learned than his yeshiva-educated counterpart, and conversion to Judaism has been through the roof in recent years. With their idealism, many of these people throw “monkey-wrenches” into many communities’ senses of status quo, and the jaded “been-there-done-that” attitude of many born Jews is in stark contrast to their inquisitiveness and relish with which they approach even the smallest cultural minutiae.

    However, I think that there is a sharp distinction between “Judaism” and “expressions of Jewish identity.” Very few things in Heeb for instance (much apologies to chevra over there) could be classified as “Judaism”, as a religious ideology. I, in general, approach the idea of “Jewish cultural identity” equalling “Judaism” as one would approach a minefield — I think the entire construct, especially in racially polarized America, is only a hop, skip and a shlep away from ethnocentrism and racism.

    I will probably never truly understand the internal wranglings of a born Jew faced with an overabundance of options, but I can’t help but feel as if there is, somewhere, an easier solution than trying to create one’s own personal patchwork quilt of minhagim reflecting an everchaning “what I feel about G-d”. While I don’t have the answer, something tells me the struggle doesn’t have to be as bad as this article makes it seem.

  • I am the only Jew working in my HIV clinic in the Pico/Robertson district in Los Angeles. I work next door to the OU, across the street from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a block from Yeshiva and Mogen David.

    My Jewish identity (as a Landsman) and as the one person in the office who can explain why people are walking down the street with palm leaves, has much to do with my Jewish identity.

    The fact that I cannot have children does not.

    My ability to teach my niece her Hebrew alef-bet, my memories of Camp Ramah and my ability to attend to the sick at our clinic every day for more than 15 years is an enormous part of my Jewish identity. I am practicing tikkun olam and bikkur cholim every single day of my life.

    My unwillingness to wear a skirt every day, though I am *always* observing what I feel is tznius, is not.

    I want to know. When I am doing what I believe the Torah proscribes, how is it that some people are so incredibly judgmental about my Jewish identity? Don’t tell me it’s G-d that is doing the judging – you are not G-d and you have very little right to tell me that wearing jeans to the clinic is preventing anyone from praising G-d.

  • “But I’d like to commend those of you in this thread who really addressed the question, which was not ‘who is Jewish’ but ‘what is Jewish identity,'”

    Those are not separable questions for those of us reading who are wondering whether our Jewishness is good enough to count, or whether we (even if we are synagogue-affliated 20- or 30-somethings) are not invited to this discussion.

  • LiroTov – I brought that up earlier when we were discussing aliyah and right of return (where’s my answers to that and what happened to Shlomo’s comment?). Your point is valid. But I don’t think esther was trying to exclude any ideas from the discussion more than to direct us to one aspect of it – the personal and spiritual feeling of belonging, And maybe away from what gets more than it’s share of exposure from (me included) Jewlicious commenters: The who gets to call themselves a Jew argument. It can get sometimes tedious with our statements of fact culled from scripture, midrash, or whatever. Good times except it’s nice to talk less about legal Jewish identity and more about our personal one. Maybe I’m misrepresenting esther. In any case I found this refreshing. Next time the Israeli Supreme Court hands down another right of return ruling someone here will post about it and we can resume the battle!

  • “ultra-orthodox world; with its exclusiveness, infighting, frummer-than-thou attitudes, and other such trappings of fundamentalism.”

    Waaaaait a minute. You can be Orthodox without all that. You are talking PERHAPS about certain sects of Hasidism, and even then, come on, that’t not the whole story.

    All Orthodox are not Hasidim. Modern Orthodox are just like you.

    Such sweeping generalizations from a liberal!

    Don’t be so prejudiced.

    And don’t be scared either.

    They have the same number of fingers and toes as you.

    As for being happy, you might as well be miserable with a family as be miserable without a family. It cheers the evenings.

  • Mufti, Judaism is a very do-it rather than think-it religion.

    So you are a great Jew, when you are hungry in shul on Yom Kippur. ESPECIALLY while having no sense of Anyone listening to your stomach growl. Jewish thought teaches that YOUR fast is MORE valuabe than that of the believer in the next seat. You are in compliance, and a brother. Your private feelings are nobody’s business. That’s between you and G-d, who is used to these things and loves you anyway. The guy next to you may have faith crises, too, even long, serious ones – he just doesn’t tell people. He doesn’t have to.

    We are told that ALL the famous sages had faith crises.

    So don’t worry.

    No, worry isn’t Jewish. Faith is Jewish. When you are granted it. Some people actually pray for faith. For the ability to pray.

  • Orthodoxy is the path to having a family? Right. That’s why there are no Orthodox singles in their 20s, 30s and 40s. And everyone is happy. Or at least miserable with a family. And there is judgment and are “holier-than-thous” in every movement. Modern Orthodox aren’t “just like” anyone. Even within a community, perspectives differ, so I don’t have a problem with Shlomoanarchy’s comment that such people do exist within Orthodoxy.

    LirotTov, I’m always inviting everyone to the conversation. I don’t care what flavor of affiliation or conversion or kashrut observance you have, or if you have any of those at all.

    Sophie, I feel your pain. I’m not always a fan of Chabad, but there’s something to be said for people who accept all Jews no matter what they observe or how they dress. I wish people weren’t judgmental, but on the whole, we are. If they weren’t judging you for your religious approach, maybe they’d judge you for your fashion choices, or for how you spend money or something else. Know that judgment often comes from a place of deep discontent or a resistance to nuance and the opinions of others. If that helps…

    And as for my attempted redirect from “Who Is a Jew” issue, which we often address here at Jewlicious, I was just trying to avoid the endless “your conversion isn’t valid; i would never eat in your house; just so long as you realize that by doing that, you’re not religious” discussion that we always seem to get embroiled in.

  • There is no need to pay the slightest attention to people’s judgmentalism.

    In fact, a very strong reason for marrying is exactly that. Marrying means you have one all-important person who thinks you are OK. That truly reduces the importance of everyone else’s opinion.

    Judging people is Lashon Ha Ra (evil tongue) and Judaism condemns it.

    There has to be pioneer spirit. Select someone you like, even if they do not impress your friends and relatives, are not handsome, pretty or well paid, and do not fit the ideal profile. If they are personally decent, Jewish, and your generation, nobody should say one word, inlcuding your parents.

    If that means taking a vacation from your usual posse, fine.

  • I am fairly new to Jewlicious and I appreciate this discussion because my identity as a Jew has morphed over my 36 years.

    I appreciate LirotTov’s question. In some factions of the “community” it seems that some are not invited to the table, however, I do believe that Esther was, indeed, inviting all of us to this discussion.

    I imagine most of our Jewish identities stems from either our childhood or our conversion. How we relate to our individual Judaism, whether ba’alei teshuva or non-affilliated secular Jews with mezzuzot on their doors, varies.

    I hope most of us agree that the way that we identify ourselves as Jews is not, and should not, be the same. We each have unique histories, we have served in the Israeli army, this informs our Judaism, we grew up within a Catholic community, this informs our Judaism, we grew up in a Reform synagogue focused on tikkun olam, etc.

    We Jews are not automatons and frankly, Jewish Mother, we don’t all need wives and husbands (though I happen to have one so don’t start setting me up).

    Ultimately, an editor at Heeb is no more or less Jewish than I, than LirotTov, than the Rebbe.

  • What I meant was, instead of affiliating at the local tastefully appointed Jewish building, where you feel funny with the old and the babies, start affiliating in your own apartment. That’s the original Jewish community.

    For both theological and practical reasons Judaism is not going to stop favoring fertile couples over other folks. It just can’t.

    But nobody should be mean to single people.

    I’ll go further: married people who know single people and do not beat themselves with a stick for not endlessly introducing them to an endless stream of reasonable possibilities should be ashamed of themselves, sitting cozily while others are alone.

    This means you. Get with it. How dare you snuggle when others are cold???

  • JM said: “There has to be pioneer spirit. Select someone you like, even if they do not impress your friends and relatives, are not handsome, pretty or well paid, and do not fit the ideal profile. If they are personally decent, Jewish, and your generation, nobody should say one word, inlcuding your parents… I that means taking a vacation from your usual posse, fine.”

    JM, you know a lot of what marriage is all about. But also know that for some of us, and for various reasons, there are other critieria for deciding to marry and start a family. Marriage and procreation for the sake of it, or to fit into a religious community, or because the president of your country commands you to, or because it just seems like you’re supposed to, makes no sense to me. You might be one of those who think the way is to marry someone who fits the profile and hope the love part follows. That’s cool. I know couples who are content in those types of marriages. But it’s not for everyone.

    esther put up a post at JDatersAnonymous called “Why Marry Jewish“? One commenter, a woman confirmed my worst fears: women do care about what men look like! But hey, check it out. So do I (care what women look like). Even if I’ve decided to marry in-faith, attraction matters to me. That and much much more. Like love and passion. Jewish or not, the kind of love that does marriage and family justice.

    Maybe I’m wrong. Plenty of women have told me so. But I decided years ago, Jewish commandment or not, that I will have children when they’ll be able to see their parents be not only love with their religion but moreso with each other. Too much at stake to for it to be any other way. You can say Judaism is about being married and procreating. But for me it’s more than just being a Jewish badge of honor.

    Now, about that endless stream of reasonable possibilities… don’t hide it, divide it.
    .

  • There is no need to pay the slightest attention to people’s judgmentalism.

    Thanks JM; there is a need for me to tape that to my monitor. Fearing that CctsJck or someone will rip apart what I say just leaves me muddling my words and leaving my tags half-empty.

    (one wit of my acqu. even said I need to practice arguing as part of my Jewish education… but I’m not ready for Talmud, I’m still learning to lead Shacharit!)

    And thanks also to Ramon, Esther, Sophie, and everyone. Jewlicious has been such a boost for my own Jewish connections here in my outpost. (# of 20-30-somethings in my cong. on Shabbat heaps of tzedakah and visiting the sick weekly. And some of those happy apartment affiliations Jewish Mother mentions, too.

    Meantime, a major bonus of outpost living is that my shul is the only one w/in a few hours’ drive where you get > 10% of the service in Hebrew, so we get a HUGE range. I can stand between a European WWII refugee and a young teacher who carries the toRAH, hear them chanting w/different dialects, and feel connected…

    Shul-visiting is fun, too, and I appreciate getting to hear from JM and ck and all (voices of what I call “the normal Orthodox”, I hope I’m not presuming) as well as the rep’s of the avant garde.

    And my Jewish identity gets a boost from that bumper sticker about thanking the Labor movement for bringing you the weekend… makes me smile! Even bigger smile when I catch themiddle’s Shabbat photo.

  • P.S. drat, can’t use “less than or equal to 2” in symbols here. (Insert, if desired, after “cong.”, followed with, “some day, when I’m no longer a car-less grad student, I’d like my Jewish identity to involve giving…” before “heaps of tzedakah”). I hope people don’t get banned for clumsiness.

  • Lirotov – from one outposter to another (although I’m thinking your hinterlands are more hinter than mine), beautiful sentiments that express mine with much more eloquence. How can you not fall in love with Jewlicious – even when ck pulls out the daggers! Wish the blog (or the internet for that matter) was here when I was a 20-30 something! Make sure you check out the Jewlicious posters’ other blogs… and even take a shot at Jewschool…

  • Although I have yet to read the linked article, nor have I gotten past comment 7, all this article reminds me of is a very heartwrenching and painful debate during our Jewlicious/BI trip.

    During the aforementioned trip, Michael rather pointedly asked this same question: “WHAT is it that grants you your Jewish identity?” Granted, his point was about why Jews with no ties to either religion or culture (beyond growing up in, for example, a secular all-Jewish community) commit so fully, in such an environment, to their Jewishness. Or, something along those lines.

    Not that I have an answer, but I did think about that question all 10 days and for the weeks following.

  • Yeah! Geez! That was NOT a popular question! Talk about your sullen stares…

    To add further backstory, in response to all the Birthright kids’ sudden display of rapturous affection for Israel and their Jewish identities, I asked them what exactly distinguished them as Jewish when they lived lives absolutely indistinguishable from their non-Jewish peer groups, and if anything did, whether it was something worth basing ethnic pride on. This is why I’m a bad madrikh. I just have to pop everybody’s “YAY ISRAEL!!!” balloon, even though I’m crazy about Israel. Maybe I’m just a bastard. Barri can attest to this!

  • Ramon Marcos, you are right.

    “You might be one of those who think the way is to marry someone who fits the profile and hope the love part follows. ” – NO, not at all!! I don’t hold much with slavish “fits the profile” attitudes. I said that.

    I think people should see a whole lot of folks who, yes, do loosely fit a very general basic profile, by being: Jewish, your generation, decent, and people you would not mind being stuck next to at dinner. Not crazy, not stupid, not boorish.

    Once you have seen a whole lot of them go by, not at night, just doing their day, consider which ones you interest you strangely and create a short list. Talk some more.

    It is very important to learn to observe people with rapid, penetrating accuracy, right away, before you start wanting to like them. The first impression is the unbiased one. That skill gives one confidence to leave the house.

    I would never advocate marrying without attraction. Neither would the strictest bearded rabbi. Yes, they refer to “Adam knew his wife” as meaning, “his married life really consisted of getting to know his wife which takes time”. But a feeling of attraction has to be present, to go further. Not just the right SAT scores, enough inches of height, and snappy clothes.

    Objections to Orthodoxy are often based on WRONG conceptions of what Orthodoxy advocates, exacts, says or thinks.

    Institutional Jewish communal life is like moonlight. Moonlight is valuable and pretty, but it is only reflected sunlight. No sun, no moonlight. No Jewish home means no Jewish community. The sunlight, the original source of everything, is the Jewish home. Making the institutions comfy and home-like may have obscured that.

    It is important that people know they CAN TOO make a Jewish home, and that they SHOULD long for one. There will always be exceptions, people who do not marry, which is fine. But they are exactly that, exceptions.

    If they WANT to – why shouldn’t they?
    If they are not comfortable – maybe that discomfort is saying something useful.
    If they don’t feel good enough – maybe that is nonsense.

    Are you clean?Reasonable-looking without being model material? No police record? Manners? Been a few places, and pulled off survival? A committed Jew? HAVE SOME SOUP. You are fine. You pass. This is my friend ……………..

    Michael is right too. He is cutting to the chase.

  • JM – see, this is how we get to know one another. I make a rather impertinent judgement of you and you eloquently explain why it’s invalid.

    If I came off as implying that you’re family isn’t based in both a love and Judaism I apologize. While we don’t completely agree on Judaism vis a vis family institutions, I don’t want to disparage the choices you make. But I’m sure you’d agree that there’s many within Orthodoxy who don’t have as healthy a view of family as you. Just as I hope you’d agree that not all who seek Jewish community are obliged to find it in marriage and children.

    My looks? Not bad for my age. I work out, watch my weight. I like Ontario in the fall and romantic mountaintop picnics. My criminal record’s been expunged although Canadian customs can’t seem to let it go. I’ve traveled the world (although I’m not sure what you mean by “pulling off survival”). I like gefilte fish and despise bad bad matzoh ball soup. Whether or not I’m a committed Jew is a matter of Jewlicious debate. My only real drawback is I sing “Aveinu Malcheinu” in the shower. Real loud. Send me the digits.

  • I agree to all that.

    Pulling off survival means still being here, having endured setbacks, passed exams, and been lost. Exactly how, is what people want to hear. That’s how they develop interest in and respect for each other.

    Thank you, but what is so healthy about my view of family life?

    How would you know what goes on within Orthodoxy?

    But Esther wanted to hear about affiliation issues.

    I opined they were the result of trying to make a home out of the community, which I opined could not be done, because a home is a home and a community is a community, and I further opined that our wonderful young people should like each other better, and marry, instead of applying silly templates to each other to please their friends and parents who think everybody has to be rich, gorgeous and tall when nobody is and meanwhile everybody gets old, hurt and tired, waiting for to get into a club that won’t have them because, to paraphrase Groucho Marx, who would want someone who is like, and would want, me.

  • (I haven’t seen any dagger-wielding-type responses from any hosts, just speaking for myself, and I have seen them usher some over-the-line folks to the door. Rapierlike skewering of the pretentious, though…)

    Esther, what would you think of complementing your film critiques with an occasional what’s-on-your-Judaic-playlist thread? I enjoyed finding some Y-Love and [Rabbi Yonah’s friend]’s clips through this site.

    Not to compete with any of the other online media offerings, but because maybe music feeds identity for more people than YL and myself.

  • I assumed from your comments you’re someone who puts thought and energy into family and religion (presumptous?). Which, in any case, is healthier than those who simply marry and procreate because it’s what they think it’s what they’re supposed to do.

    I erred in not differentiating between Orthodoxy and ultra-Orthodoxy. An insulting sweep of generalization. What I know, or knew, about Orthodox lifestyle – and this relates to esther’s original question about affiliation and belonging – is from a midwestern Conservative background that didn’t preclude me from worshipping and socializing with Orthodox Jews. A different era, place. I grew up in the largest Jewish community in the region (which didn’t say much). We intermingled in our youth groups, hebrew schools and synagogues with kids of all different levels of observance. There wasn’t a shul to cater to everyone’s level of observance like you find today. The one small Orthodox shul wasn’t evolving fast enough for many, mostly young women who weren’t allowed to read Torah or bind at the Orthodox shul. So they came to our congregation. I’d be reciting the Tallit prayer while the person next to me would be davening and binding (I know that Tefillin is not solely the domain of the Orthodox). What’s weird is that now this suburb is the epicenter of the region’s Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox community, with it’s own neighborhoods, businesses and shuls. A whole different look. But for some reason all the good Jewish delis are gone.

    It’s the million-dollar question, Jewish Mother, when to stop trying to get into the club that won’t have you. I’m for letting the younger folks go for brass ring for awhile. Have faith they’ll know when to stop window shopping and settle down.

  • OK I will have faith.

    HEY! Wait a minute! Don’t you get it? The once-mixed area you describe went totally Orthodox because those folks have the most children.

    If surviving is the first test of any strategy, without which nothing else means much, well, it looks like they have won the argument. Not by making nifty, nuanced philosophical points, but by getting down with the real world and the work of the real world.

    THANK YOU FOR MAKING MY POINT much more convincingly than I ever could because you are just reporting facts, without being especially pleased by them, while I am biased toward what I like and think works.

    There just IS a connection between 1) belief 2) doctrine 3) religious level of observance and 4) family structure and 5) birth rate. Thoughts matter. They have big consequences in the real world.

    Words lead to facts. An empty chair is not a lovely object.

    Maybe an overworked woman is not a lovely object either, but she makes more noise. It is silence that bothers me.

    What do you mean “For some reason the Jewish delis are gone”? For some reason? Those people don’t need take-out food because they cook.

    Seriously, the non-Orthodox are 90 or 95% of American Jews, so the future of American Jewry is hanging in the balance. Even if the Orthodox have lots of kids, they are such a tiny percentage of American Jews that American Jews will disappear very well anyway.

    The Jews of two hundred years from now will all be Orthodox, worldwide, because the other kinds have extinction birth rates, and, they will not be terribly numerous. Today’s numbers will be a distant dream.

    I hope not.
    It’s not money, although that is important, but there are really wealthy people who have few children. It has to do with what you want. There are Orthodox women who are thrilled to have eight children! Really! They are not tied to the bedpost like brood animals. They LOVE having lots and lots of children! Ask them. And their husbands feel the same. And they are not all rich. It is just what they want and find meaningful. HOW THEY THINK.

  • I’m trying to dilineate what part what you’re saying is directed at my last comment and what part is it you expressing yourself. I get the feeling you’re taking umbrage with my last comment? So I’ll answer what I can.

    I haven’t lived in that town for over twenty years, although I go back often. Makes sense the increase in an Orthodox presence be due to breeding? Here’s a little background, take what you want from it. In the sixties and seventies, when the urban Jewish community was – for various reasons – taking flight to the burbs, this burb became it’s new nest. This was because this was the only burb where real estate agents weren’t red-lining Jews. In my youth 40% of the metro area’s Jews lived in this one suburb. My generation of Conservatives and Reform Jews eventually moved to other areas to start their families.

    During the seventies, when it was particularly bad for Jews in Russia, our Jewish leaders worked diligently to bring over as many Russian Jewish families as they could. If you remember those times, a lot of “Let My People Go” signs at synagogues and community centers. A big Russian Jewish community sprung up. Then the fall of the USSR, Russian Jewish emigration… I’m deducing here, but a people escaping persecution managing to make it to U.S gravitate towards their own people who have already made it. Also, I think this place became a place for Jews who wanted to practice Orthodox to want to move to. An illustration – a modern Orthodox woman is arguing before the city council against a proposed city-wide wi-fi system. From the transcript: “She suffered from Electrical Sensitivity… She noted she is an Orthodox Jew and this is the only community she can live in.”

    The only community she could live in. So maybe what you said about breeding, and more. As to why the Jewish delis are gone? They weren’t New York style delis – they were restaurants. And frequented by as many non-Jews as Jews. Now the only kosher deli is take out. It’s just sad, that’s all. Anyways, that was my real world.

    As far having faith that the kids will be allright, I meant I have faith.

  • No umbrage at all. I appreciate your thoughtful remarks. I just get like that.

    If I understand you correctly, you say there are plenty of non-Orthodox in other suburbs. They don’t have to walk to shul, so they can live anywhere. People who have to walk to shul have to live near one, and also in an area where one can walk at all. So these different religious views create defined communities.

    Fine. But my rants and howls about the negative birthrate of the Saturday drivers still stand.

    That’s just my schtick.

    Another aspect of my schtick seems to be illuminating the modern people about the ways of the traditional people. The traditional know a bit about the modern, but don’t want that. The modern know nothing, ganz, bubkes, about the traditional, and don’t want that.

    But if they know more, they might not think it was so terrible, because it is not.

    And if they knew the full consequences of modernity, they might consider a little bit of traditionalism, especially once they found out it was not so terrible.

    Nobody is advocating Suffering For The Future of The Jews, like Close Your Eyes And Do It For England. But family life, even big family life, is not suffering.

    The traditional and modern people are, in my opinion, about equally exasperated.

    Their misery quotient is the same, so why not have descendants? They can be a lot of fun, actually.

    I think people should define having a marriage, and one child, at least, as a right. Not a brass ring, that only a few manage to snatch, the few lucky winners.

    The modern people know so little about the traditional, that they do not know that they don’t know. They don’t know even that.

    Animal words used on people give me the willies. “Procreate” and “Breed” could stay in the barnyard, no? How about “Childbearing” and “Child-rearing”.

    Cockroaches breed. We have children.

  • Ummm… I wouldn’t say plenty. Plenty is not a word that describes our Jewish community. Maybe Lirotov can help me out here… maybe words like concentration, percentage of total population, etc…

    It is everyone’s right to marry and start a family. Unfortunately too many exercise that right without thinking about longterm consequences and responsibilities.

    For some it is a brass ring – finding that combination of compatibility and forever love while being in a situation (financial, career) where they’re they can happily raise a family. Others may be happy not reaching for it.

    Your generalizations are getting more and more sweeping. As far as semantics, let’s compromise and call it “having kids.”

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