Agreed. Take a look. A.B. Yehoshua puts things better than I ever could, and while I'm with him perhaps 98%, I'm going to give an explanation to something more personal--why do I care? Or, as I'm asked by those who've known me for a long time, what's with all the Jewish stuff all of a sudden (i.e. the last few years)? I'll try to explain:
I'm a fan of wearing pants and various other things not compatible with an Orthodox lifestyle, but do not see how this is incompatible with a more nationalistic Jewish identity. (Living in America as opposed to Israel might be, but that's another matter entirely.) But I understand the impulse to idealize the more religious types, within the context of America, because "cultural" Judaism--though it produces some great art--is about the least appealing identity I could think of.
Q: Has there ever been a Jewess [among your girlfriends]?
A: Never a Jewess. I kissed one once — she tasted like me. I couldn't take it.
Q: You found it narcissistic.
A: Incredibly! I said, "You know what? I'm just going to go home, make out by myself. I don't need to pay for this dinner." I've never conjugated with a Hebraio American. Anything could happen, but it would be very unlikely.
A: I grew up in a very particular kind of environment, much different from most American Jews, who, I think, grew up in a kind of freedom.... The Hebrew school experience was so awful that it left no doubt in my mind that although I would have many Jewish friends — I live in New York, I'm a writer, I mean what the hell — I wanted to branch out in terms of relationships. And also, I do think it's very interesting to have, if I was ever to breed, a child that has more than one culture....There are probably 30 different reasons. I don't specifically go out there and say I won't date one, but it never clicks the way it does with other groups.
I have never met Shteyngart, have no romantic feelings towards him, and so do not take it personally that he would not, in theory, go for me. Nor do I ask individuals not to have specific romantic preferences, even if these preferences would be fairly considered offensive in all other arenas. But the idea of Jews tasting one way when you kiss them and non-Jews another is rather frightening, and--as if I had to point this out--entirely false. (Shteyngart and his Jewish date must have just shared an especially pungent dinner.) It's one thing to be attracted to certain traits or even races more than others, but to have a theory behind the whole thing strikes me as a bit odd and, given his preferences, a bit unoriginal. An American Jewish man with a preference for non-Jewish, especially Asian-American, women... it does fit a certain mold. Would a Shteyngart who was happily married to a Jewish woman be able to write as brilliantly as he does? Perhaps, but in the vein of Roth and Allen? Hard to imagine.
What I look for in novelists is not what I look for in politics or identity (or, thankfully, in men). I find the situations presented by an Allen, a Roth, or a Shteyngart amusing--especially amusing, because I come from that same, liminarily Jewish background and thus get the references--but I find it politically and in a certain sense aesthetically revolting. Judaism does not have to be a choice between self-hatred and Hasidism. This is the appeal of Jewish nationalism, which I understand to mean a sense that there is a Jewish people, not a uni-racial Jewish people, but a Jewish people all the same, and that this people has its national center in the state of Israel. While those with a strong sense of Jewish nationalism have good reason to live in Israel, a sense of being of Jewish nationality can also exist in those who do not. Dual loyalties--no more or less so than someone Belgian-American who identifies as most truly a Belgian but is, for all political and civic purposes, part of the United States. While Jewish citizens of nations other than Israel should not be considered political representatives of the country, they may be identified with it the same way that Spanish-Americans, Spanish-identified citizens of France, and so on, may be identified with Spain. While some of Jewish nationality will end up blending into their respective countries, the continued existence of the state of Israel as the Jewish national center ensures that Jewish continuity is not up to Gary Shteyngart's sudden discovery that, gosh, Jewish women are great. Ideally, with Judaism as a nationality, Jews living in the Diaspora would not feel the need to express their identity primarily by marrying other Jews, but would, like members of all other nations, be free to go off with whoever strikes their fancy where they are living, or to move to Israel if their identity was something they cared enough about.
While few American or other Diaspora Jews have actual, ancestral roots in the modern state of Israel, all have such roots in a Jewish nation as perceived by those of earlier generations. I've written about this before, but to reiterate: even if your grandparents lived in Eastern Europe and wouldn't have known what to make of zatar or tehina, the nation they were a part of is now based in a specific geographic locale, and that is Israel.Which brings me to what I was initially addressing, which is why do I care? Certainly, I am reacting to post-9/11 anti-Semitism the world over, glamorization of the Palestinian cause, nose jobs all over Manhattan, but perhaps most of all, the repulsiveness of self-hatred. I would remain neutral--and in a sense, I am neutral, and do not believe in being proud or ashamed of facts of one's birth--but apathy doesn't strike me as an option.