February 22, 2019

An American-Jewish Take on Identity Politics

“Jews have fared poorly both in societies committed to the leveling uniformity of the Left, or the anchored elitism of the Right. By contrast, they have thrived in the meritocracy of America’s open society. But these achievements and the accompanying social acceptance have come at a high cost to Jewish identity survival. The threat to Jewish continuity does not stem from outside violent antisemitism, such as occurred recently in the Pittsburgh terrorist attack, but from a spiraling assimilation from within.

Responding to America’s tolerant comfort zone, the American Jewish population is in a state of serious decline. Some 70% of Jews intermarry, many synagogues of the non-Orthodox variety are closing down or merging, as happened in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Congregation, the scene of the mass shooting. Having outlasted nations and civilizations such as Egypt, Babylon, Rome and Nazi Germany, which enslaved, oppressed and annihilated Jews, the lulling of 21st century American Jewry by secularism and relativism into a steady spiritual oblivion marks a staggering betrayal of those Jews who through the centuries knowingly perished in the name of the faith.

How to assure American Jewish identity? In a culture based on choice rather than coercion, for a demographically minority religion to survive, its adherents must see membership as requiring something more than half-hearted affiliation, or eating an occasional ethnic dish.

The first imperative is education – meaning, for the young, an arrangement for religious schooling. The more time spent in religious study, the more likely that this student’s exposure to texts and the Jewish story in history will lead to identity commitment as an adult. For the Jewish adult seeking more education, the Internet features hundreds of thousands of classes, lectures, interactive tutorials. Though the Torah can be taught in any language, Hebrew lends authenticity and historic depth.”

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