The Conspiracy

American Jews or Jewish Americans?

So there are answers to the “Where is God?” question after all. I’d like to respond to a couple of comments that appeared on my last post that both validated my observation of God’s absence but provided different reasons for it.

Benjamin Siegel’s main claim was that “God is nothing more than a very compelling literary character, created by a literary people several thousand years ago before they understood the nature of reality.” This vision of God hardly resonates with my own, but let’s consider it. If God were merely a character in a book—remember, the book at hand is the Torah, an essential element of Judaism and a building block of monotheism—then it would be rather difficult to integrate Him into day-to-day life. Granted, the Torah’s descriptions of God’s supernatural power don’t exactly match 21st –century current events. When placing God in this context, yes, Benjamin, I agree that He’s nothing more than an “imaginary friend” of the Jewish people. Why would he play a role in today’s Jewish innovation?

Perhaps “God” is too flimsy a word to use when assessing the new-age philosophy of Jewish youth. I’ll steer away from it briefly and instead use the term “spirituality.” I made the argument for incorporating tradition into Jewish communal innovation on the premise that Judaism is, at its core, a religion. Which, in fact, I’m pretty sure it is. Our greater community wouldn’t exist if there were no spiritual life code that required all those who practice it to band together and exist as a unit.

This phrase “exist as a unit” leads me into something else that another commenter, Mik Moore, suggested in just one neat little sentence: “Follow the money.” Our funders simply aren’t concerned with God, as Mik points out; religious tradition isn’t really a priority for them either. “The entire Federation system, set up in large part to provide social services, is secular by design. Almost all Jewish groups are. This is true for both philosophical and legal reasons—the separation of church and state looms large in the Jewish consciousness,” Mik wrote.

And there you have it, folks—assimilation, the glorious controversy facing American Jewry. Jewish federations and JCCs, though intended for the use and benefit of the Jewish community, are designed to service the typical American. Facilities, many classes, and much programming often have little Jewish religious content. If Americans don’t include God in their regular day-to-day lives, why should Jewish Americans? Hence our Godless, secular communities.

Really, the only place for God in our secular lives (if this is how we choose to live, that is) is His book—the Torah—as Benjamin stated. This fits right into Jewish community leaders’ apparent goal of satisfying the ‘American’ in the Jewish American—or perhaps I should say American Jew. But allow me to reiterate the point I made last week:

What about the JEWISH?!

Don’t get me wrong: The “Jewish” is often present—but it’s clearly not enough to reaffirm a solid Jewish identity in American Jewish youth. According to this JPR News Release,
[Professor Jonathan Sarna, Professor of American Jewish History and Director of the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University] observed that some Jewish organizations in the United States either have, or are close to being merged into non-Jewish organizations. He said that today Jews seemed confident — maybe too confident — that deals could be made with secular non-Jewish or even avowedly Christian organizations, without Jewish identity being lost.

Call it God, call it spirituality, call it Torah, call it tradition. Whatever it’s called, it’s not here. And it needs to be.

One Older Response to “American Jews or Jewish Americans?”

  1. Gabriella Adams
    August 1, 2010 at 1:01 pm #

    i think that spiritual life is much more important compared to our earthly life..*’

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