When I began this article, I had intended to write about Anna Breslaw’s article in Tablet (www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/105853/breaking-bad-karma) where she basically defamed Holocaust survivors and called them “villains masquerading as heroes.” As I tried to organize my thoughts, I wondered how many young Jews agreed with Anna’s article. I realized that maybe the problem isn’t one article but that Judaism is not being taught correctly to my generation.
One of my dear friends is a Christian and she is on fire for her faith. It glows in her eyes, it brings a smile to her face and it makes her love life. She is proud of who she is and holds her head higher because of what she believes.
I may not want her religion, but I definitely want that fervor brought to my faith. I want Jewish kids on fire for Judaism, I want us smiling when we talk about our faith, I want us to be proud and happy to be Jewish. Anna Breslaw isn’t on fire for Judaism and I want to know why.
As much as we like to kvetch about it, being Jewish is really awesome. It’s an ancient system of beliefs that has survived massive persecution to produce immense scholarship and achievement. We resurrected a language, we got a country and we have a unique contract with the One Who Created the World. Why aren’t Jewish youth walking around with a light in their eyes?
One reason a friend mentioned is that modern society seems to reject rules in favor of freedom and personal expressions. I’d accept that theory, but I see so many religious Mormons and Evangelical Christians observe long lists of rules and do it voluntarily. More importantly, they do it joyfully.
Maybe that is the problem. In a survey of Metropolitan Chicago Jews, 81% of Jews said that remembering the Holocaust was an important part of their identity and 80% said that stopping anti-Semitism was the most important. 49% felt it was important to take positive steps like donating to Jewish causes. If our relationship to Judaism is just suffering, it is no wonder that it is being rejected. It’s hard to be on fire for something so negative. If being Jewish is about remembering the Holocaust and avoiding it happening in the future, I’d mock such a faith myself.
As vital as the Holocaust is, as terrible as anti-Semitism is, it’s not what being Jewish is about. When I smile at the harried neighbor and ask how she’s doing, that is being Jewish. When I give up my seat to an elderly person, that is being Jewish. I live my life as a stich in an incredible tapestry and I am so proud of who I am. I know he might not be the best example of Judaism, but Disraeli had it right when he said that his ancestors were priests in the temple of Solomon. We have a glorious history and an even more glorious future!
We have so much positivity in our faith. There is no joy like playing Vashti in a Purim shpiel and then downing far too many Hamantashan at a merry feast. There is no sport like negotiating hard for an afikoman, or looking up at the stars peeking in between the sparse roofing of a Succah. There is no feeling that can compare to seeing the Western Wall and crying with hundreds of strangers who are instantly your family. My personal week’s highlight is when my dad lays his head on my head and gives me a blessing before he makes kiddush.
The problem is that many Jews today are missing out on those amazing experiences and all they have is the Holocaust as their heritage and the eternal terror of anti-Semitism. Who wants that?
Judaism faces a unique challenge today. We can live where we wish, work in whatever fields we wish and even marry whom we wish. There is no badge that marks us as Jews; people of the Tribe have reached the greatest heights in every single area of American life. That kind of freedom is wonderful, but it also means that unless a fundamental choice to be Jewish is made, there is little holding back assimilation. Judaism must market itself attractively and some are already ahead of the trend.