Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Gin and tonics for Jews

Now that the latest round of American Jews and Zionism has been pointed out to me by three people, I guess it's time to weigh in on behalf of my anachronistic demographic: the under-30, not-right-wing, non-Orthodox, American Jewish Zionists. Or, speaking just on behalf of myself, as another member of this dying breed has already responded.

I'm saving actual paragraph-formation for the dissertation (which, lucky readers, you'll be hearing about soon, and which has diddly squat to do with matters I-P), so allow me to respond in list form. Apologies for not having read what all the young male Jewish wunderkind journalists have, I've heard tell, already said on the matter.

1) It's not cool (sorry, not respected) for young, educated Jews to be rah-rah Israel these days. Having such views is, in my generation, typically assumed to mean that one failed to properly rebel against the "establishment," the presumed parental indoctrination, and so forth. Speaking as the only member of this set to go on Birthright Israel and find that there could have been more discussion of Zionism (rah-rah would have been OK; positive and critical alike would have been fantastic), I think it's fair to say that Beinart has correctly assessed the mood of this generation of secular American Jews.

2) Weird that Beinart doesn't mention J Street. There are lefty American Jews who care about Israel, and not in the "I care so much about Israel that I'm going to devote my life to destroying its existence as a Jewish state" sense that other lefty American Jews have made famous.

3) It's all kinds of absurd to suggest that Jews are the new WASPs* (gin and tonics I consumed on Birthright Israel notwithstanding), but I think Ross Douthat's right that the importance of secular Jews as a distinct group is ever-shrinking. The fence, so to speak, that used to keep the Alvy Singers away from the Annie Halls is long gone. Demands that secular Jews in-marry or otherwise in-socialize strike many secular Jews - rightly, I think - as tough to back up, if not "racist." (Oh these cans of worms.) Jews are simply more accepted in America today than in Europe (or the US) way back when. All of this certainly does add up to the likelihood that soon enough, the vast majority of Jews remaining in the US will be ones with an active, internally-driven Jewish identity. Which is a good thing, because it means Jews are no longer being defined, from the outside, as a "race" from which there's no exit, and because Jews who felt 100% whichever nationality (German, say) but were often seen as 100% Jewish regardless are the classic victims of anti-Semitism. But it's not so fabulous insofar as it's the end of a certain cultural tradition, and really, how many Jews who identify with Seinfeld look forward to "Jewish" meaning, by default, Republican and Orthodox?

4) A quick mention/disclaimer, for those who haven't read any of my other posts on the matter, on what I mean by "Zionist" when I use the term in reference to myself.

5) The line of Beinart's that stuck out to me most was: "The drama of Jewish victimhood—a drama that feels natural to many Jews who lived through 1938, 1948, or even 1967—strikes most of today’s young American Jews as farce." Why this? Because if you have a sense of modern Jewish history that extends back more than five minutes - back to before the 20th century, say - you'll realize that every time anti-Semitism was on the rise in Place X, the right-thinking, liberal-minded, sensible Jews of Place X considered the Jews who pointed this out overreacting hysterics, because after all, we're no longer in the Middle Ages! Replace "Middle Ages" with "Nazi Germany"... I mean, of course things have been worse for Jews, incomparably worse. But there's enough precedent of mainstream, well-meaning Jews dismissing threats to Jews - either out of disbelief or out of fear that seeming whiny will spark further anti-Semitism - that I don't think it's safe to, well, to dismiss the possibility of a threat to Jews on account of mainstream, well-meaning Jews' refusal to march through the streets in protest.

*Philip Weiss, where to begin... "The Kagan moment spells not just the end of anti-Semitism, but the end of Jewish responses to it, including the Israel lobby." Just like the Obama presidency means there's no more racism against blacks. (Except this didn't even take a Jewish president to prove!) Glad that's been cleared up. Douthat quotes Weiss why, exactly?


David Schraub said...

Well put, and congrats (I assume) on the dissertation progress (I assume).

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

I don't know if congrats are in order - I know what I'm writing about, as do my profs. Which is something!