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.
We’ve got Anne ‘n’ Andy in this week’s quiz — Anne Frank and Andy Samberg, that is, both busy, as well as a peek at what may or may not be a real show: “Downton Rebbe.” And somehow Mariano Rivera made it in, too!
A group of people partakes in violence to prevent a rival group from praying in a site that is deemed holy to both. The authorities in charge of the area restrict access to this revered spot and forbid the second group to enter because of fears of upcoming violent disturbances.
At first glance, one would harshly condemn the police decision as violence should not be rewarded and used as a tool of intimidation. However, this scene is quite ordinary in on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem where Palestinian rioters throw stones and other objects at Israeli police and at Jewish worshipers below at the Western Wall.
The current status quo on the Temple Mount must change with both Jews and Muslims allowed to worship freely at this holy area for both religions.
“We reject these religious visits. Our duty is to warn,” said Sheik Ekrima Sabri, who oversees Muslim affairs in Jerusalem, using the Arabic name for the Temple Mount. “If they want to make peace in the region, they should stay away from Al-Aqsa.”
It is true that the Dome of the Rock is considered the world’s third holiest site to Muslims after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. However, this is not a justification to prevent other worshippers from different religions to pray at this same spot. Jews consider this land their holiest area as they believe that the first and second temples were built here in addition to other important events in their collective history.
Ahmed Tibi, an influential Arab Member of Knesset announced that Palestinians would see an increase in Jews visiting the Temple Mount as a “declaration of war.” Tibi continued saying, “The occupation is temporary and the government in East Jerusalem is temporary. The crusaders passed, the British passed, and so will the Israelis.”
Such a sentiment is an insult to Jews worldwide. The Jewish attachment to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount spans thousands of years with significant archeological evidence demonstrating the Jews’ strong ties.
Guess who sent me an email from her attic — er, I mean, loft? My post here last Thursday about Hipster Anne Frank’s tasteless tweets didn’t sit well with her, and she wanted to let me know. She wrote me saying that I had gotten her all wrong.
The email arrived two days after she called me a “Jew hater” on Twitter, which she must have meant ironically… right?
Her email was addressed to me and to writers and editors at Time and the Atlantic, who wrote follow ups to my original story. Hipster Anne Frank carbon copied some folks over at Jezebel, Jewcy, Heeb and Tablet for good measure, possibly because she knows them — or is one of them. Whoever she is, she knows the online addresses for Jewish hipness. I’m fairly certain our tweeter is Jewish based on her reference to “our [my italics] cultural comedic tradition of addressing oppression in seemingly ‘distasteful’ ways.” But at this point, I don’t really know who is behind the twitter handle. That’s because Hipster Anne Frank didn’t break character in writing to me.
I was seriously considering cutting Hipster Anne Frank a little bit of slack after reading her message. She made some good points about Anne Frank having had a sense of humor and an appreciation for popular culture, and about Jews’ historical use of dark humor to get through difficult times. I totally got what she meant when she wrote, “What I feel bad about is that most young people today only know me as that lucky young girl who Justin Bieber visited while on tour in Amsterdam.”
Parliamentary elections are held in Austria on Sept. 29 and polls suggest that the far right-wing Freedom Party will achieve one of the best results in its history — and may even shake the governing coalition.
The Freedom Party has mostly been shunned by Jewish voters because it grew out of a federation of former Nazis and has been accused of pandering to xenophobia – with one notable exception.
David Lasar is a Jew, the son of a Holocaust survivor — and a candidate for the Freedom Party. Lasar, 60, of Vienna, was elected a council member for Vienna’s local parliament in 2005 on a Freedom Party ticket, where he focuses on health care issues.
“The FPO is the only party that cares for the man on the street,” said Mr Lasar, a trader by profession .
The Freedom Party holds an anti-immigration stance and is trying to capitalize on surging rejection of bailouts of teetering southern European nations within the European Union.
“Love those that are close to you. To me, those are our Austrians,” one of the party’s current campaign posters reads, featuring party leader Heinz Christian Strache, 44.
It was a Simchat Torah celebration that surely most of the Hasidim walking past had never before witnessed: hundreds of liberal Jews, men and women, young children and the middle-aged, dancing together with Torah scrolls held aloft. Revelers twirled round and round in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza, just outside the entrance to Prospect Park.
“Simchat Torah Across Brooklyn,” as the event was dubbed by creator Joshua Breitzer, the cantor at Park Slope Reform Congregation Beth Elohim, became a nexus for Brooklyn Jewry as streimel-topped Satmar Hasidim walked past en route between Williamsburg and Boro Park and fedora-clad Chabad Hasidim walked by — a few stopping to observe the festivities — on their trek from other parts of Brooklyn to Crown Heights.
Close to 300 people responded on the event’s Facebook page that they would come. But several hundred more actually showed up. Many were members of some of the co-sponsoring synagogues and minyamin, which included Reform congregations Beth Elohim and Union Temple, Progressive Temple Beth Ahavath Sholom and Temple Beth Emeth v’Ohr to Conservative congregations Park Slope Jewish Center and the Flatbush & Shaare Torah Jewish Center.
Members of independent congregations Kolot Chayeinu and Congregation Mt. Sinai came, like some from Shir Hama’alot, Brooklyn Jews and Moishe House Park Slope, as did folks from congregations and minyans which declined to become formal co-sponsors, some because they are Orthodox and the gathering used musical instruments. There were also many in attendance who aren’t affiliated with a religious community.
You know what happens when someone achieves iconic status? People forget they were a real person before they became an icon. And when people forget this important fact, things can get really ugly.
Case in point: Anne Frank.
I’m referring specifically to the new Hipster Anne Frank (@HipstrAnneFrank) Twitter account. The tagline: “bestselling memoirist/loft dweller/voice of a generation.” (Facebook beat Twitter to it —there’s been a Hipster Anne Frank page since 2011, not to mention the Hipster Hitler page, which has been around since the year before that.)
Yeah, I get it. It’s all about applying the ironic to the iconic. Problem is, it isn’t funny in the least.
Here are some of the posts:
My skinny jeans are the skinniest.