The Forward is partnering with other Jewish newspapers to offer our readers a peek at some of the best stories from around the country, as selected by the editors at those papers.
We will offer a selection of unedited links with brief introductions from the editors of the papers.
From the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles
The Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project issued its “Portrait of Jewish Americans” on Oct. 1, setting off alarms throughout the Jewish community about the future of Jewish life.
Among the greatest concerns is this statement: “Among Jews in the youngest generation of U.S. adults — the Millennials — 68% identify as Jews by religion, while 32% describe themselves as having no religion and identify as Jewish on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture.”
To hear the voices behind the statistics, the Journal invited Millennials to speak for themselves about what it means to them to be American Jews.
The Israeli election in January was widely lauded as a testament to the revival of Israel centrism. Coming out of nowhere the brand new Yesh Atid party won 19 seats — almost a sixth of the Knesset’s mandates. Is this revival now over?
A poll just conducted for the Globes financial newspaper found that if elections were held now, Yesh Atid would poll at just 12 seats, down by 7.
The two main parties to the right of Yesh Atid have, between them, increased their support by the equivalent of 6 seats, which would appear to indicate that Yesh Atid voters have shifted their support rightwards. Yesh Atid’s loss is the gain of Likud and the religious-Zionist Bayit Hayehudi.
But how much is this shift about ideology, and how much is it about the honeymoon period of celebrity-turned politician Yair Lapid ending, hitting Yesh Atid support hard? Has the ideological direction of Israel changed, or have Israelis just lost their love of Lapid and looked around at which other parties are options for their support?
And if the shift is ideological, is it as simple as it seems? With the Likud-led government participating in peace talks with the Palestinians, many Yesh Atid voters may have turned to Likud but remained avowedly centrist on the peace process. Their logic most likely goes: why support a centrist party when the stronger Likud party is following the centrist policy of negotiating?
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went a long time to neutralizing Lapid’s appeal on social issues, which had been strong, by cornering him in to the role of Finance Minister. Now he could be stealing his thunder as a centrist.
The Knesset returns to work this week after a long summer break. Whether Yesh Atid’s woes stem from personality factors or Likud bursting its bubble, if is to survive as an electoral force, it desperately needs to prove its relevance.
Israel’s political golden boy Yair Lapid has been making the rounds in Washington this week, filling up some necessary gaps in his resume.
The telegenic Lapid, who until recently was a newspaper columnist and TV host, had hardly had a chance to establish ties with the American political elite before pulling a huge surprise in last year’s elections and becoming the leader of Israel’s second largest party.
Now finance minister, Lapid has replaced his trademark black T-shirt with a dark suit. And he is making sure not to miss any required stop on the power tour.
In his week long tour of New York and Washington, Lapid spent an evening speaking to PBS’s Charlie Rose and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board; in Washington he met with the House and Senate leadership; sat down with the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC; and gave what is almost a mandatory presentation for any aspiring Israeli leaders coming to town – a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
In coalition negotiations with Benjamin Netanyahu following the January elections, Lapid initially aimed for the post of foreign minister, but after Likud members insisted on keeping the position open for Avigdor Lieberman, Lapid opted for the treasury. The trip to Washington was timed to fit his participation, with other finance ministers from around the world, in the fall meeting of the International Monetary Fund.
But Lapid succeeded in packing his schedule with diplomatic meetings and speeches, indicating that his interest in the foreign ministry, or, as many speculate, in running for prime minister in the next elections, has not subsided. The administration rolled out the usual tribute it reserves for up-and-coming Israeli leaders: a one-on-one meeting with the vice president. Biden and Lapid met for more than an hour on Thursday and the meeting, according to official readouts, focused on Iran’s nuclear threat and the upcoming negotiations with Tehran.
When I was a kid, my mom told me, “Dress British, think Yiddish.”
The credo for Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) now is “Learn ‘Litv-ish,’ daven ‘Hasid-ish,’ act ‘normal-ish.’”, according to Rabbi Daniel Landes, who on Sunday formally installed Rabbi Asher Lopatin as the second president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.
The installation ceremony, held at the historically-significant Orthodox Park East Synagogue, formally invested Lopatin as YCT Rabbinical School’s successor to founder rabbi Avi Weiss.
Lopatin has served as the rabbi of Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation, a cutting edge Modern Orthodox Synagogue in Chicago. He is a scholar in Medieval Arabic Thought, and is a double ordinee: by Yeshivas Brisk in Chicago, and by Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.
Yeshivat Chovevei Torah has for the past decade and more promoted the idea of “Open Orthodoxy,” a pluralistic approach to Modern Orthodoxy that pushes a number of envelopes in Orthodox practice — including the role of women in leadership positions — while maintaining a commitment to traditional modes of rabbinical study and Orthodox ideology.
Numerous speakers at the ceremony re-affirmed the Chovevei mission, but each put his or her own stamp on the event.
Weiss offered a thoughtful exploration of organizational transition, which reached back to Jewish history and tradition. He closed with his signature expression: leading the assembled in the singing (and dancing) of a traditional hymn. In anyone else’s hands, the moment would have been hokey in the extreme; done by Weiss, the moment was moving, indeed profoundly so.
Rabbi Dov Linzer, Chovevei’s dean, set the tone for the event with a traditional d’var-Torah. Historian Marc Shapiro was both thoughtful and moving in connecting the dots between the work of Rabbi Jehiel Yaakov Weinberg, one of the 20th century’s great halakhic scholars who headed the famed Hildesheimer Seminary in Berlin, and Chovevei. Shapiro argued that Rabbi Weinberg’s scholarly and pluralistic Orthodox Hildesheimer was a model for Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.
Lopatin, in his response, picked up on the Weinberg/Hildesheimer theme. In an unusual d’var-Torah, Lopatin wove together “Ger” Chasidism from the classic Sfas Emes with a responsum from Jehiel Yaakov Weinberg’s classic S’ridei Eish, demonstrating the power of bringing together classic themes in Modern Orthodoxy, and the importance of bridge-building.
The installation was preceded by a symposium on “Training New Rabbis for a New Generation.” Discussants included Rabbi B. Elka Abrahamson, president of the Wexner Foundation; Dr Arnold Eisen, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary; Rabbi David Ellenson, president of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion; Rabbi Arthur Green, rector of the Hebrew College; and Lopatin.
It was Steven Bayme who, from the audience, best summed up the event. To Bayme, National Director for Contemporary Jewish Life at the American Jewish Committee, “The event demonstrated the power of an Orthodoxy that is truly modern, in the sense of synthesizing modern scholarship and culture with Judaic tradition and learning, and an ‘Open Orthodoxy,’ open to all Jews and open to hearing other viewpoints. It is a beautiful reflection of what can be accomplished when Jews, notwithstanding profound theological and halakhic differences, can work together in the spirit of Klal Yisrael for the betterment of the Jewish people”
What does the Lopatin installation presage for Orthodoxy, and by extension for American Jewish religion and religious groups and movements?
Given the data of the recent Pew study on American Jews, with its findings of increased polarization within the religious communities and continued vibrance of Orthodoxy, my sense is that as Modern Orthodoxy goes, so goes the future of intra-communal Jewish relations.
As Bayme put it, “The future of intra-Jewish relations depends in large measure on a vitality within Modern Orthodoxy, and its ability to construct bridges with the rest of the Jewish world. The Lopatin installation symbolized a vibrant segment of Modern Orthodoxy consolidating its leadership, a leadership that is capable of building those bridges.”
Jerome Chanes is a fellow at the Center for Jewish Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center, and is the author of four books on Jewish history, public-affairs, and communal issues.
There’s a new weapon in the anti-BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) arsenal. It’s a viral video by Cleveland-based Orthodox hip-hop artist Ari Lesser, and, based on the more than 18,000 hits it’s gotten since Monday, it’s proving to be pretty powerful.
Lesser raps “Boycott Israel,” a catchy reggae number pointing out the hypocrisy of boycotting Israel when countries all over the world are committing human rights violations—many of them far worse than anything Israel is doing to the Palestinians. Lesser points out specific offences and atrocities committed globally—from North Korea to Syria to Russia to Ecuador, and every point in between.
The song’s refrain pretty much sums up Lesser’s point:
Boycott Israel if you think that’s just, But unless you have a double standard you must Also boycott the rest of the nations, Where there are human rights allegations. We’re not perfect, but if you think we’re the worst, First take a look at the rest of the Earth. Don’t pick and choose, to pick on the Jews, Pick up the paper and read the news.
The musician was commissioned by Here Is Israel, a new pro-Israel campus advocacy group, to write and perform the song.
“It’s not to say that Israel is always right — I definitely criticize when I disagree — but I don’t think a boycott of the whole country is honest,” Lesser told The Times of Israel. “Really, you see if you’re not willing to boycott every major country — and minor country — in the world, then BDS is anti-Semitism, or anti-Israelism, or whatever.”
President Obama’s nomination of Janet Yellen to be the next chair of the Federal Reserve will, if confirmed by the Senate, make her the first woman to lead the bank since its creation nearly a century ago. But she’ll be far from the first Jew.
Yellen, whose nomination to head America’s central bank was reported Tuesday, will follow her immediate predecessor Ben Bernanke who was Jewish, and Bernanke’s immediate predecessor, Alan Greenspan, who was Jewish, too. There have been two other Jewish fed chairs in the past century. In fact, the other frontrunner for the position, Lawrence Summers, was Jewish too.
Yellen, 67, was born in a working class neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, to Julius Yellen, a family doctor, and Anna Blumenthal, who was a school teacher. A recent profile of Yellen published in the Financial Times described the family as “Jewish, although not particularly observant.”
Yellen studied economics at Brown and Yale and has spent nearly two decades in the academic world before joining president Clinton’s economic team. She served as a Federal Reserve governor, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, chair of the San Francisco Fed, and until now, vice chair of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.
Ever since Pew published its new study of American Jews last week, we’ve been hearing a lot about what Jews aren’t.
Jews aren’t as religious as they used to be. They don’t go to synagogue as often. Jews aren’t marrying other Jews or raising their kids Jewish or affiliating with the Conservative movement.
Here at the Forward, we think that what’s been missing from the conversation is an exploration of what Jews are. Ninety-four percent of all Jews are proud of being Jewish. Even among demographic groups that don’t send their kids to Jewish summer camps or attend Passover Seders in overwhelming numbers, the vast majority says they’re proud of their Judaism. Only 24% of Jewish 18 to 29 year olds say they always or usually light Shabbat candles; 96% of that young demographic say they are proud to be Jewish.
So what does it mean to be proud to be Jewish if you don’t light Shabbat candles? You tell us.
We’re looking for Jews who have their own real connection with Jewish life.
The mom who struggles to bring her kids up Jewish in the age of Miley Cyrus. The guy who doesn’t celebrate Hanukkah, but plays Klezmer-influenced hip-hop at a go-go bar in Queens. The woman who sees her Palestinian solidarity activism as an extension of her Jewish background. The old-timer whose Texan synagogue needs him to make a minyan. For the teenager obsessed with artisanal gefilte fish even though she’s never set foot on Orchard Street.
Help us find the 94%. Tell us the stories of today’s proud American Jews. Tell us who they are, describe what they do that’s important to all of us and we may feature them in an upcoming issue of the Forward.
Let us know your name, your email, and the name and story of the person you are submitting in the form below.
News of the death of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a towering religious and political figure in Israel, plunged millions into mourning.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Yosef “was imbued with love for Torah and his people.” President Shimon Peres cut short a meeting with Czech Prime Minister upon hearing of Rav Ovadia’s death. Ordinary people fainted with emotion and grief.
Even amid this outpouring, we should not forget Yosef’s true colors: He was a racist and inflammatory bigot.
It is true that Yosef was an instrumental and often lenient religious arbitrator throughout his decades-long career. He famously ruled that widows of Isreali soldiers who went missing in the 1973 Yom Kippur War should be allowed to remarry. When large number of Soviet Jews arrived in Israel in the 1970’s and it was unclear if they were really Jewish by traditional, rabbinic standards, Yosef found a way to ensure that they would be accepted as legitimate members of the Jewish community.
At the same time, we should not be blinded by his political or religious importance to his shameful discriminatory language. When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, Yosef said black Americans brought the disaster on themselves.
“There are terrible natural disasters because there isn’t enough Torah study,” he said. “Black people reside there (in New Orleans) Blacks will study the Torah? (God said), ‘let’s bring a tsunami and drown them.”
The rabbi’s offensive talk was not limited to the African American community. In 2007, Yosef explained that some Israeli soldiers are killed in battle because they are not observant enough.
(JTA) — I didn’t need to ask directions.
Stepping out of the Central Bus Station, I saw them, men in hats and coats walking together slowly, a steady stream moving east along one of Jerusalem’s central thoroughfares to the funeral of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. At 5 p.m., an hour before the funeral, the streets were already closed to cars – the capital’s rush-hour rigmarole giving way to foot traffic that was softer but no less intense.
From a distance it looked homogenous –aerial photographs would later show a sea of black choking the broad avenues of haredi Orthodox northern Jerusalem. But as the group coalesced, men in polo shirts mixed with boys in sweatshirts and soldiers in full uniform – some still holding their guns. Knit kippot bobbed in the crowd with black hats, Sephardi haredim in wide fedoras walked with Ashkenazi hasids in bowlers. A man in a black coat made conversation with another in short sleeves. Women, almost all with modest dress and vastly outnumbered, mostly stood to the side.
The men talked, they shook hands. A few took out their cellphones, perhaps not ready to begin the public mourning of a public leader who, to many, still felt so close. Everyone in Israel knew Ovadia Yosef’s name, but in public his followers would hardly use it, opting instead to call him Maran, our master.
On the sidewalk, a half-dozen men stood at a long table offering a sugary orange drink. Behind them, a speaker blared a recording on loop, quoting a common blessing:
“’To give life to every living soul!’ Come say a blessing over a cold drink to benefit the soul of Maran, may his holy righteous memory be blessed!”
The faithful heeded the call, crowding around a spigot, holding cheap plastic cups that formed a growing pile on the ground once the commandment was fulfilled.
Behind them, on the street, men and boys stood with oversize tins collecting charity. Paper printouts taped to the cans promised that Maran approved of the collection.
Florida Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson has never been known for holding his tongue in political debates and so his remarks about the government shutdown shouldn’t come as a great surprise.
Still, the Jewish lawmaker who won back his central Florida seat in 2012 and who’s considered to be one of the main speakers of the progressive end of the Democratic Party, caught some headlines when he offered his own analysis of the Republican Party during a discussion about the shutdown.
Speaking onHBO’s Bill Maher Real Time show last week, Grayson provided his view on the GOP’s make up. “I think there’s really 3 Republican parties,” he said. “There’s the corporate shills; there are the religious fanatics; and then there are the freedom fiends, the ones who wants to make sure you have the right to sleep under a bridge.”
Host Bill Maher added his color to Grayson’s classification of Republicans, saying that there are “Jesus freaks, gun nuts, generic obese suburbanites – and let me add, the super rich.”
“Yeah,” Grayson responded, adding that currently the “corporate shills” in the minority in the GOP and cannot force their will over the party.
Grayson’s remarks may have broken ranks with fellow Jewish Democrats not only in style, but also in his choice of discussing the religious beliefs of members of his rival party.
While Grayson did not refer specifically to the religious identity of, what he described as, Republican “religious fanatics,” he accepted Maher’s definition of them as “Jesus freaks,” thus breaking with longtime Jewish Capitol Hill tradition of not raising faith as a reason for political differences.
The smile — her smile — was remembered by scores of mourners.
It was reflected in the crackling flames shooting out of a backyard pit, and in the grief-stricken smiles of loved ones. In a circle around the makeshift campfire, on lawn chairs set on the damp autumn ground, sat a group of people intent on doing justice to the life of a young woman gone far too soon.
The memorial for Deb Tambor, a 33-year-old ex-Hasidic mother of three who died a little over a week ago, was held last Thursday evening. This was an invite-only event, hosted by OTD Meetup, a New York social group for those who have left Orthodox communities. Held in a modest backyard of a private home in Suffern, N.Y., the organizers at first considered capping the attendance at 30. Instead, at its peak, the group of mourners swelled to 85.
I arrived an hour late, in typical Hasidic fashion. I tried to quietly make my way to the circle, avoiding the gravel in the driveway. A dark, solemn silence greeted me. Backs hunched over, tears streamed down faces, and that fire spat flames into the night sky. There was a melancholy magnificence in the air.
“I never met a person who had so much love to give. It was never about her, but always about someone else,” said one of Tambor’s closest friends, amid sobs. “She went through so much pain in her life, but she always thought about others. She worried about others. It genuinely bothered her when someone was suffering.”
This sentiment was echoed throughout the night. Deb Tambor was remembered as a beautiful soul – a selfless woman who cared about fellow humanity more than she cared about herself – helping them with every fiber of her being, as if giving was the ultimate joy.
“She got light from helping others,” her grieving boyfriend, Abe Weiss, said to me the day before. He thought that her concern for other’s well-being is what prevented her from sharing her own pain. This, he said, is what ultimately killed her.
“She did not have a bad bone in her body,” Weiss said.
It was almost a moving moment. A Palestinian child, only 6 years old, goes up to a Jewish child of Israeli settlers and offers him a handshake.
The Palestinian boy isn’t even supposed to be there. The Israel Defense Forces closed off this area of the restive West Bank a few months ago to avoid having to deal with confrontations provoked by the settlers, who often try to drive Palestinian farmers away.
The two lock hands and the Palestinian child quickly turns and walks away. His family cheers for him for the gutsy little gesture. A small aberration from the norm of occupation.
But then the Jewish child picks up a rock. Effortlessly and naturally, he throws it in the direction of the Palestinian kid; and then another one.
It’s not even like he seems concerned with actually hitting him. It’s a reflex, almost as if he was programmed to do so, he just picks up and throws. It doesn’t matter what happened just a moment earlier, or what will happen afterwards.
The Forward is partnering with other Jewish newspapers to offer our readers a peek at some of the best stories from around the country, as selected by the editors at those papers.
We will offer a selection of unedited links with brief introductions from the editors of the papers. Now that the high holidays are behind us we expect more content in the coming weeks.
From the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles
Just over six years ago, in the lush Upper Galilee of northern Israel, the nation’s first large-scale harvest of legal medical marijuana was flowering on the roof deck of Tzahi Cohen’s parents’ house, perched on a cliff overlooking the bright-green farming village of Birya.
Until then, fewer than 100 Israeli patients suffering from a short list of ailments had been allowed to grow the plants for themselves, but this marked the first harvest by a licensed grower.
The new PEW survey on Jewish life paints a bleak picture of our future. Among the findings were the fact that 58% of Jews now marry non-Jews, two-thirds don’t belong to a synagogue and 32% of Jews born after 1980 say they have “no religion.”
In response, Slate’s Jessica Grose wrote about her mixed feelings of culpability over the decline of Jewish life in the U.S. and her lack of interest in organized religion. Grose, who married a non-Jew, says she does want to teach her baby daughter about her Jewish background, but is at a loss as to what exactly her religious life will, or should look like.
The notion that American Jews are eschewing religion so broadly makes me a little sad, or worried for Jewish continuity (or guilty for being part of the problem). But I can’t see myself bringing my daughter to temple every Friday to honor a God I don’t believe in. What’s the solution?
Mark Oppenheimer, a Forward contributor and religion columnist for the New York Times, wrote a post on his blog offering Grose a few solutions. He tells Grose that it is clear that Jewish affiliation means something to her, otherwise why would she feel so guilty?, and that she should see this as a call to explore her community and traditions.
He (unfairly) suspects that she, as a Brooklyn writer, follows the “religion” of liberal consumerism, you know kale, wood-only baby toys, yoga, and says this is ultimately a flimsy, unsatisfying identity. And then agrees with her that occasional attendance to a Reform synagogue might not make for a sturdier identity.
Ultimately he recommends a deeper, more thorough engagement with Jewish tradition, culture and thought which will, he believes, give her the ability to inhabit them on her own terms. He says:
It may be Torah study, if only to learn the stories that will give you cultural common ground with other Jews. It may be regular, inquisitive synagogue attendance, not to “pray to a God [you] don’t believe in,” which is not at all why most Jews attend synagogue, but to try to learn over time why Jewish routine and ritual can, for some, be comforting and inspiring, and at some synagogues pretty rocking. It may be celebrating more Jewish holidays than the two you grew up with.
When Jennifer Teege saw ‘Schindler’s List’ as a student in Israel, she was moved and horrified.
But she didn’t realize she was part of the story.
Now, the book that explains it is causing a firestorm in Europe. Amon: My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me explains how the half-Nigerian mother of two learned of her blood link to Amon Goeth, the notorious “Butcher of Plaszow” commandant portrayed by Ralph Fiennes in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film.
Teege’s mother was Goeth’s daughter. And Teege’s father was a Nigerian student with whom her mother had a brief affair.
“Now I know that, as I have black skin, he would have seen me as sub-human like the Jews he killed,” she writes.
Teege recounts how she enjoyed a middle-class upbringing in Munich, according to Britain’s Daily Mail. Although she occasionally saw her natural mother, the family secret was kept from her. Nor did she learn it from her grandmother Ruth, who worked as a secretary to Goeth and lived as his lover in Plaszów, which was located near Kraków in German-occupied Poland. Ruth gave birth to Monika, Teege’s mother, in 1945.
In the book, Teege explains how she “discovered the horrifying truth only by chance when she picked up a book about the SS captain in her local library,” according to the BBC. “It was written by Goeth’s illegitimate daughter, whose picture looked like [her] own mother, who had given her up for adoption.”
It’s Olive War season. Unfortunately, we’re not talking about a gourmet reality television show, but rather a several-week period of clashes where Palestinians and settlers try to hit each other in their pockets, via their olive groves.
In recent years, attacks by Palestinians on settler groves and vice-versa have increased significantly. Of course, it’s more than just a financial warfare — it’s about deflating morale, flexing muscles, and spreading fear as well.
The harvest is about to get in to full swing, and both sides are already getting defensive. The Samaria Residents’ Council, a grassroots settlers’, organization, is urging Jews in the West Bank to get cameras ready to record “provocations that are bound to come.” Among the Palestinians, there are already reports of settler vandalism, with Bethlehem-based Maan News claiming that settlers destroyed over 50 olive trees today in the south Hebron hills.
Recent months have seen the start of some ugly Palestinian-Israeli confrontations in Jerusalem, which have been calmed and contained quickly. However, out in what some commentators call the Wild West Bank, where tensions are less carefully managed, mutual olive grove attacks could conceivably spur nastier violence.
Every olive harvest puts the West Bank on edge, but this one in particular, with both settlers and Palestinians feeling frustrated with the international community, their own leaders, and the other side, will prove particularly challenging.
I decided to figure out who they do represent.
The Pew survey interviewed 3,500 Jewish people across the country, many of whom have little to do with the Jewish community. Most of them said that they are skeptical of the Israeli government, but Jewish leaders asserted that they don’t answer to unengaged Jews.
“Part of Jewish leadership is leadership,” Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman told me. “We lead.”
So who chooses who leads? Mostly wealthy donors and local activists. Below, I identified the electors who picked six of the men heading the core Jewish establishment advocacy groups.
Almost two thirds of Palestinians think that a third intifada is round the corner if the current Israeli-Palestinian peace talks fail, according to a new poll.
The Palestinian Center for Public Opinion asked Arab residents of the West Bank and Gaza whether they “anticipate the outbreak of a third Intifada in case the peace process ends in failure” and found that 58.4% do. Only 26% said no, and the remaining 15.6% declined to answer.
The results of this poll are noteworthy not only because they underscore that the Palestinian public sees the negotiations as a high-stake exercise, but also because they point to a gulf between the declared position of the leadership and the public. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said repeatedly that there will be no third intifada as long as he is in power.
It’s unclear from the poll whether the 58.4% that foresees an intifada if talks fail think that Abbas would break his word, or believe that the breakdown of negotiations would discredit Abbas and force him to resign.
True or not, Eskimos are famed for having 40 words for snow: Jews on the other hand have Yiddish — a whole language for being funny, featuring a vowel combination that is synonymous with hilarity.
That turns out to be handy because Jews — at least American Jews who don’t have to worry about anti-Semitism either violent or genteel or about existential threats to their country — now value humor more highly than observance of Jewish religious law.
Never mind Rabbi Susan Silverman and her quest to pray at the Kotel, let’s embrace the far more authentically Jewish jokes of her cross-wearing sister.
According to the massive Pew survey out today, 42% of American Jews think that having a good sense of humor is what it means to be Jewish.
That’s about the same as the 43% who think you need to care about Israel but more than twice as many as those who think you need to observe Jewish law (19%).
It’s good that those 42% do have a good sense of humor because they can have a chuckle at the 34% of American Jews who think that believing Jesus was the messiah is compatible with being Jewish. Denying the Inquisition and refusing to bow to a millennium of Christian oppression is so passé. Dying for your beliefs is so Old World, so quaintly European.
There’s a classic story in my family about the time many years ago when we sat around the table at Aunt Sarah’s house loudly debating what it meant to be a Jew in America. Bubbe Esther, my husband’s grandmother, sat quietly in the corner until someone thought to ask her.
How do you define being a Jew, Bubbe?
I’ll never forget her answer: A Jew is what a Jew does.
For the religiously observant, Yiddish-speaking immigrants of her generation, the outlines of what “doing Jewish” meant were clear and defined. But no such clarity existed for my generation, and my children’s. Ever since I became editor of the Forward in 2008, I became more and more convinced that too many people claimed to speak for American Jews politically, religiously and culturally without much proof for their assertions. The surveys that existed were suspect. The last major one, the 2000 National Jewish Population Survey, was so rife with problems that the version expected in 2010 was cancelled.
There’s a reason why this was a long, complicated and expensive undertaking: Jews comprise such a small percentage of the American population but are so diverse and dispersed that surveyors must reach out to an incredible number of people just to ascertain a representative sample. An even larger task was deciding how to categorize Jews. Are we a religion? An ethnic group? A modern tribe? All of the above?
That’s when I approached some folks I knew at the Pew Research Center with the idea of conducting one of their trademark national surveys on a group they’d never researched in the past in such detail — American Jews. Or, as Pew refers to us, Jewish Americans.