Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Ask the right questions

"With the arrival and maturation of my generation,
the Millenials, the question “Who is a Jew?” is rather passé."
David A. M. Wilensky is a young man with whom I have strictly - so far - digital relationship. I began reading his work when he was a college student writing for Jewschool and have been and remain impressed with the depth and creativity of his ideas. He published a piece in The Jewish Standard a few weeks ago that I just saw. I think he makes some very important and interesting points.

When I was in high school (in the 1970s!), the big conversation still revolved around Jewish identity in juxtaposition with American identity. Are you and American Jew or a Jewish American? Which is the noun and which is the adjective? When I first began teaching (in the 1980s) we were still designing lessons and activities around those questions. We over-did it. To my almost 16 year-old son, those questions are meaningless.

Following the CCAR decision on patrilineal descent, in 1983 and ongoing efforts by the religious parties in Israel to amend the law of return to require conversion according to halacha (Jewish law) and officiated by approved Orthodox rabbis, the conversation became "Who is a Jew?"

Now add a variety of Jewish population studies, studies of how Jewish communities are structured and now the Pew Report, and we find our lay and professional leaders wringing their hands and panicking over the imminent death of  (choose any or all): day schools, synagogue schools, synagogues, Jewish Community Centers and/or the continued cohesive existence of the Jewish People as a distinct group in America.

Please read David's article. It splashes some cold water on those of us still fighting about things that don't really matter to the Millenials. And while I do believe we have put a bit more emphasis on Young Adults in Jewish life than is appropriate, they will soon be 40 year olds and able to learn Kabbalah and be treated like the rest of us!

It begins here, but the full article is worth reading and can be read on the Standard's web page. There are a number of comments there as well. I invite a conversation, there, here or on JEDLAB (in Facebook), in particular on the implications for us as educators. Thank you David for permission to cross-post.

Ira

David A.M. Wilensky is a program associate at Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute. He lives in South Orange, and he is single, straight, and utterly shameless. 


David A. M. Wilensky
Published: 6 March 2014

So, really, why be Jewish?

With the arrival and maturation of my generation, the Millenials, the question “Who is a Jew?” is rather passé.

Forget the halachic dimensions to this endlessly debatable topic. Forget all the moralizing arguments over the issue. Forget the demographically induced paranoia, the post-Holocaust hand-wringing, the Israeli legal maneuvering (not to mention the pandering that comes with it), and the denominational infighting. And — for heaven’s sake! — forget the Pew study.

The fact is that “Who is a Jew?” is the wrong question. To maintain our relevance — to regain it, really — the question we must ask today is “Why be Jewish?”

The problem with the who-is-a-Jew question is the binary premise from which it springs: that there is an “us” and a “them.” (Worse, perhaps is the accompanying hope that we will one day delineate a set of criteria that define who is an “us” and who is a “them.”) The premise itself is as boring and potentially harmful as the question it gives rise to. It has infiltrated our national debate in a variety of guises: Who is affiliated and who is unaffiliated? Who is an insider and who is an outsider? Who is a member and who is a non-member? Who is inmarried and who is intermarried?

And, of utmost importance in the case of Millenials: Are your parents both Jewish? For 48 percent of us, the answer is no.

In each version of the question, the implication is clear: One is good and one is bad. When we make these questions central, whatever our intention in asking them, the question that many people will hear is this: Are you a good Jew or a bad Jew? And labeling people “bad” Jews probably is not the best way to draw them into deeper engagement with Jewish life.

 At the very least, the Millenials I know are bored with all this who-is-a-Jew business. And at the worst, the idea that this question will be useful as we confront the challenges now before us is a complete misunderstanding of the nature of the changes we see today.

continue reading the rest of the article

 

ShareThis