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Thursday, March 22, 2012

That's SO Jewish!

I LOVE being Jewish. Really, I do. I love the culture, religion, and I am totally in love with Israel. On a Jewish scale of 1 to 10, I'm an 11 when it comes to saying loud and proud 'I'm a Jew'. I love bagels and lox, Purim and Sukkot, kugel and latkes. I love putting spicy mustard and hot pastrami on rye bread. I don't mix meat and milk. I DO NOT eat treif (ie. shellfish, pork, gelatin). I go to schul most Saturdays (weather permitting). I make sure to attend synagogue services on every holiday. I have teffilin and tzit-tzit. However, on the religion scale, I'm either 'too Jewish' or 'not Jewish enough' (depending on who you ask). I'm 'Conservadox' (somewhere inbetween Orthodox and Conservative). I don't really buy into the whole labels within Judaism, though. I'm Jewish, and I live my life the best way I can according to what the Torah teaches; I do believe, by the way, that the Torah is a living, breathing organism.

However, the point is that I believe a Jew is a Jew. We are all 'Hashem's chosen people, right?' Some of my friends have issues with the whole 'chosen' thing because it means that other religions aren't 'chosen' and that we're 'right'. However, I also believe that every religion is right to be wrong (or vise versa). A wise friend of mine once said that 'there are many ways/paths up to the mountain top, but when you reach the top, it's the same view for everyone'. I don't believe in proselytizing or telling others how to follow their religion. I only know that Judaism is true for me (though I do enjoy talking about religion, especially mine with others). I follow what I believe to be G-d's light, the plan as it lays out for myself. I try to be the best human being I can be every day, realizing that I am not perfect; I make mistakes. We all do. So, I take issue with religious fanatics who feel they can 'do no wrong' and live above the rest of us on a pedestal.

This whole religious fanaticism and extremism that has become a trend scares me. Muslims, Jews, and Christians have been swept up in the fervor. The way they practice their religion is within a very specific context, and it is seen as the 'Right' way and 'Only' way to do it (notice I put right and only in caps; it was purposeful). Even within religions, there is dissension and squabbling. Take Judaism, for example (since that's the theme of this post already.) Within Judaism, you have: Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, Orthodox. I need to explain that Orthodoxy, in American terms, is 'reactionary'. It is a kind of counter-Enlightenment that was a backlash against assimilationism and secularization of American Jews. Orthodox literally means, 'strict' or 'traditionalist' views (in this case it denotes the Torah). So, there is very little bending for very traditional Jews; the Torah is followed word for word. Orthodoxy, even breaks down even further into: Modern Orthodox and Hasidic (in Hasidim there is Lubavitch, Satmar, Bobov, Breslev etc..the list goes on). Note, by the way, that A Bobov Hasidic Jew does not agree with how a Satmar practices (and vise versa).

I won't try to explain all the nuances about Hasidic Jews. Instead, I will encourage you to do some research:

Basic Definition of Hasidim
PBS info on Hasidic Jews
info on Orthodoxy and Hasidim

Also, a good source for outsiders to Judaism is Oprah's visit/look inside the Orthodox/Hasidic world of Judaism:
Oprah and Hasidic Jews

Look, I'm not trying to blast my own religion here. I love being Jewish, and I LOVE JEWS (even the ones who hate Israel and tell me I'm not a real Jew). My view is that we (Jews) have enough enemies in the world to be fighting like this. I get the whole view that one's way of practicing seems more 'authentic' than another. However, I feel that we should be elevating each other, as Jews, to gravitate a more holistic and fulfilled way of practice (whatever that means to each of us), rather than pointing fingers and saying 'you're not Jewish enough.' All the attitude does is create schisms between Jews and prevents us from doing what the Torah tells us is a golden mitzvah, staying together as ONE people.

It literally hurts my heart that Jews fight so much. I mean, I'm not going to yell at a Jewish friend for eating bacon. I used to eat it too, until I decided to not eat it anymore. And that was a personal choice; I was on a personal journey (and still am) to be more spiritual and feed my Jewish soul, so to speak. I wouldn't tell someone who doesn't keep kosher that they are wrong or bad. That isn't my job as a Jew, as a human being. G-d is the only judge; I really believe that. So who am I to tell someone else that they can't eat a cheeseburger and then have ice cream? We all make personal choices, and we're all on our own personal spiritual journeys. We should help one another to do our best as Jews, as humans.

I know this sounds a little wishy-washy, but I really do believe that Jews have a chance to come together. This stranglehold on Israeli culture/politics and soon American Judaism by the religious right will not last forever. One day I hope that some of my fellow Jews realize that just because a woman doesn't wear a sheitel (wig) or a man wear a black hat that those people are STILL Jewish. In fact, I will stick my neck out there and say that it is very ironic that the Jews who point fingers at other Jews saying they desecrate Torah from not observing Shabbat or adhering to all mitzvot and Jewish law that they, in fact, are also desecrating Torah. The Torah forbids Jews to admonish, embarrass, or judge other Jews.

Not only that, but in the act of making another Jew feel bad and isolating him/her, you are separating that person from Judaism (which is a no-no when it comes to the Torah). I know what people of the religious right would say. They would say that non-observant Jews bring it on themselves, and that if they were to be invited in that a whole exalted way of living would be in jeopardy. However, the Jewish religion is already in jeopardy, in my eyes. All of this internal fighting gives excuses for anti-Semites to lash out against Jews.

I just wish that more Hasidic sects would practice more like the Lubovitch Jews, who believe that every Jew has a fire within ready to be lit. They invite Jews from all aspects of life into their folds and teach them about the laws and practice of Judaism. I have actually been told before that I have some a little Chabad mixed with Chovevei Torah, Carlebach, and Tzvat; basically a new age crunchy musical/artsy hippie kind of Jew who is into practice but doesn't get too carried away.

Below is a clip that explains my point of view pretty well. It was made by Andrew Lustig, a Jew living in Jerusalem (who I believe is studying at Pardes where I also studied):

"I Am Jewish" You Tube video

I want to explain, though, why I am writing a whole post about being proud of my Jewishness. Well, last night I attended a Jewish book panel entitled: 'The New Yiderati: Redefining the Jewish Experience in Literature'. The authors on the panel were Sharon Pomerantz (Rich Boy), Michelle Haimoff (These Days Are Ours), Jeff Oliver (Failure to Thrive), Joanna Smith Rakoff (A Fortunate Age), and Adam Wilson (Flatscreen). Many interesting ideas/questions came up. There was a discussion about how a Jewish writer feels a burden to represent the entire Jewish religion. If done wrong, one has the possibility of misrepresenting the religion and angering many. This happened to Sharon Pomerantz, as she related a story being in Harrisburg and being yelled at by a woman who didn't think her book had 'enough Jewish values'. If you have read about Deborah Feldman and her book Unorthodox, you would know that she has received death threats (from her OWN family).

Further reading on the Housing Works' Jewish author event:
Prosen People Blog

There is now a boom in contemporary Jewish literature. On the panel, it was discussed how the writers of Jewish literature used to be Chaim Potok, Philip Roth, Elie Wiesel (whose name didn't come up but I'm adding it), and Saul Bellow. For women, it was Gertrud Kolar, Cynthia Ozick, or Grace Pailey for a long while. Now, however, there is suddenly a plethora of Jewish female voices as well as Orthodox/Hasidic views. Both Shalom Auslander and Deborah Feldman grew up within the walls of Hasidic Judaism and now write about it. The panel brought it up, and I agree, that amongst Jews, we have a fascination and fetish for Orthodoxy. For some, it's the draw of its mystery and seclusion. For others, they find the laws and structure fascinating. I would add that, among non-Jews, there is too a fetish/obsession with Judaism that always teeters the line between bigotry and hatred.

So, Jewish writers risk hitting a nerve with both the Jewish and 'goy' world (btw, for the record I hate the word 'goy', a derogatory term for non-Jew). It is much riskier, however to write for a Jewish audience, as Jews have something to say about just about everything (Haven't you ever watched Seinfeld?)

Jews, as a whole are very well-read and opinionated. Also, there's the joke that if you have three Jews together in a room, you will have four different opinions. Another joke is about two Jews trapped on an island who build three synagogues/schuls. The punchline is to ask about the three schuls if there are only two men. There need to be three synagogues so, there's the one I go to, you go to, and the one where you say 'Uch, oy gevalt, I'm not going there'. In summary, the burden for a Jewish writer is great.

The authors talked about what makes a writer 'too Jewish' or a book 'too Jewy'. Adam Wilson determined that if you are 'more Jewish than Larry David' than you're probably 'too Jewish'. The authors also discussed if a Jewish author automatically writes a Jewish novel even if the book has nothing to do with Judaism. The answer was yes. Jews get each other and we like to talk about our experience being Jewish in a country that is overwhelmingly Christian. Do you celebrate Christmas (for the spirit of it) and have a Hanukkah bush? Do you eat ham or bacon at a friends' dinner party just 'to be polite'? Or, do you try to make your kids as 'waspy' as possible and try to fit in by not 'being too Jewish'?

I say say it loud and proud: I'm JEWISH! Wear that yarmulke, eat that brisket, be a bar/bat mitzvah, learn fluent Hebrew, go to Israel on Birthright, keep milk and meat separate, light the menorah, dance the Hora. However you choose to do it, if you're Jewish, you're Jewish; that's all.

Before I leave you, I will give a list of 25 books that fall (mostly) under the category of contemporary Jewish literature whose authors are all/mostly Jewish:

(*- denotes that me or my wife have read them and you can ask me or her for a review)

~Lipshitz 6 (Two Angry Blondes) by T. Cooper*
~Almost Dead by Assaf Gavron*
~A Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs*
~Rage Against the Meshugenah by Danny Evans*
~A Seat at the Table by Joshua Halberstam*
~Book of the Unknown by Jonathan Keats*
~Rich Boy by Sharon Pomerantz*
~Sotah by Naomi Ragen*
~God Bless America by Steve Almond*
~Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman*
~Foreskin's Lament by Shalom Auslander
~Flatscreen by Adam Wilson
~Failure to Thrive by Jeff Oliver
~The Believers by Zoe Heller*
~Devil in the Details by Jennifer Traig*
~Matzo Ball Heiress by Laurie Gwen Shapiro*
~All Other Nights by Dara Horn*
~These Days are Ours- Michelle Haimoff
~A Fortunate Age by Joanna Smith Rakoff
~Born to Kvetch by Michael Wex
~Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safron Foer
~The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
~Frozen Rabbi by Steve Stern
~The Plot Against America by Philip Roth*
~Night/Dawn/The Accident (trilogy)- Elie Wiesel*

I will also give a link to Israeli keffiyehs and other Judaica paraphernalia made by Baruch Chertok, who I have met. He has reclaimed what has become a symbol for Palestinian solidarity to remake it as a symbol of Jewish/Israeli pride/solidarity!
Israeli Keffiyeh



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