I was trying to think of a word to describe the phenomenon where the fundamental assumptions that propelled one generation (begin to) wane in the next. I thought initially of “inertia,” but there are too many negative connotations to that term… Some would suggest “progress” but rather than bore y’all with the continuing semantic search here, you can simply register what I am trying to describe and if you can come up with a catchy word or phrase that best encapsulates it, please feel free to leave me a comment.
So, I think the North American Jewish community is experiencing the above phenomenon in a number of profound ways. (That conclusion is, in large part, what drove me to write my book and what the book is about…)
And when it comes to peoplehood, perhaps it might behoove us to consider the People Israel as one based on consent not descent. Now this is a catchy phrase often employed to describe how Jews feel their connection to Judaism. These “consent-not-descent” folks might say: “One cannot assume that just because an individual has a Jewish parent or two, that makes them Jewish. They need to feel it too. They need to want it. They need to opt in.” Or one could say that we might want to shift to a quality-based Jewish affiliation instead of a perception of nation based on quantity. (This, I imagine, would make many a post-Shoah policymaker nervous.)
And though folks have argued in various academic publications like this one that the paradigm has long shifted, for some reason, a lot of folks in positions of authority, policy-making and fundraising and distributing do not seem to sense any shift whatsoever.
So, if I might suggest another cornerstone for Jewish peoplehood to replace / supplant / buttress the failing ones, it should be this:
Jews need to want to be Jewish. (It is not something that just happens, or at least public policy should not be made based on the assumption that it includes those folks that just happen to be Jewish.)
And that involves engagement. So when I say “consent,” I mean an affirmative step, an act, a saying yes and a doing yes. And that doing yes should be most broadly conceived and defined… So if someone opts to go to step class at the JCC instead of a local health club, that’s an affirmative choice to associate with a Jewish entity. That counts. Disagree? That’s fine. That’s why there is a comments section…
So if shvitzing to Human League counts, does writing a cheque? Hmm… that’s a good one. Folks, chime in here on the relative merits of chequebook Judaism. (As in, the only connection one has to one’s Jewishness is writing a fat cheque to the UJA… is that doing yes?)
And I am not suggesting that folks who are not that engaged should turn in their Elders of Zion membership cards. Settle down.
But if we are going to begin funding “peoplehood projects” with the expressed goal of strengthening the Jewish people, then perhaps we might want to consider that Jewishness / Judaism / being Jewish / doing Jewish is not just something you can just exploit for humour although Sarah Silverman seems to be doing a great job of it…
Doing Jewish should be inconvenient. Yep, that’s right. It should force the individual to have to pause for a moment at some point in their day and say to herself: “Hmmm, I could flake out here and do [fill in example of 'easy way out' here, like not paying my workers overtime] which would be the expedient, corner-cutting, easy thing to do, but Jewish teachings / mores / practice / tradition teach me otherwise. So I choose the latter…”
In a culture where speed and expedience are king, perhaps we should strive for a Jewishness which is slow, contemplative and inexpedient and cannot be multi-levelled-marketed like Nu Skin…