Photo: AP

The new American Jews

Young US Jews proud of their Judaism but are less attached to Israel

According to emissaries, leaders, and researchers in the US, the stereotypical image of the American Jew who attributes mystical-religious meaning to Israel, is deeply affected by the Shoah, and is heart-warmed by the sight of a Jewish soldier is departing from this world. Age is doing its thing. The younger generation – those in their 30s and 40s – and especially for its leaders, finds this image ridiculous.


Young Jewish Americans today are free of their parents’ and grandparents’ primeval fear of the “gentile” environment, great caution, and of course, of the axioms regarding the State of Israel as a substitute for religion, a home for the Jews, or a doomsday shelter. Israel will protect them? Don’t make them laugh. There are young Jewish communities in the US who no longer celebrate Israel’s Independence Day, while others are embroiled in great debate about this.


This trend cuts across sectors – it is true for “Jews” of all types (and there are quite a few of those across the US) and is also afflicting modern Orthodoxy, which in the past was considered relatively immune.


Make no mistake about it: The New American Jews do not turn their backs to their Jewish roots. The opposite is true – they are proud of it and show it off. Not only do they have no problem with life in Diaspora, they celebrate it big time. However, their Judaism is mostly being linked to cultural aspects: Music, food, literature, mysticism, and religious ritual.


The Internet and Facebook generation is also the generation of globalization – we live in a world that includes many shades, they say, and everyone has its honorable place. Our unique “shade” is poetic: The Shtetl and Phillip Roth and Kabala and Gefilte Fish, yet most of all it’s our universal aspiration for social justice and for Tikkun Olam. Israel is integrated into this, yet as a source for liberating and scathing criticism regarding the “situation” in the territories, the absence of cultural pluralism, and so on.


Uncle Rahm

Absurdly enough, the successful Taglit project (which enables any Diaspora Jew to visit Israel conveniently) played a key role in facilitating the abovementioned developments. Their stay here indeed connects the Americans to their Judaism, but also grants legitimacy to a critical approach: We all live in an open world after all, no? So why don’t we talk about everything openly?


The aging Jewish leadership in the US, which is horrified by the polls about ongoing assimilation and low birthrates among Jews, has increasing turned its attention inward during the past decade. It invests most of its energy at home, in a bid to boost the Jewish component. Meanwhile, organizations such as J Street show that, as opposed to what sociologists thought in the past, success in this area does not simultaneously guarantee blind solidarity with Israel.


The tragedy here is that all of this is of no interest to the average Israeli. Tens of thousands of Israelis fly to America every year to hang out at Times Square, gamble in Las Vegas, or have fun at Disney World. How many of them visit even one Jewish institution there? How many met American Jews in their age group?


Israel’s citizens had been pampered for many years by the warm hug of Uncle Jack from America. He was always perceived as having deep pockets, a kind and merciful heart, and tearful eyes, but also – just between us - as a friendly fool. Well, take note: The uncle has been replaced. Today he may be called Rahm Emanuel.


פרסום ראשון: 06.15.10, 18:21
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