Holiday Season Underlines Shifts in Judaism as Self-Definition Fades

CuJu, BuJu and Mu-Jew Are Faith's New Drawing Cards

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By Jay MIchaelson

Published December 24, 2013.
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Not only are Jewish cultural trappings less of interest to them – they may be actively unhelpful. Spodek said that “shmaltzy, content-lite nostalgia Judaism is somewhere between meaningless and incomprehensible.”

To be sure, this is not what Olitzky and Cohen have in mind. But it is the way Jewish cultural affirmation gets conveyed today: Fiddler on the Roof. Barbra Streisand. Lox.

And yet, I don’t think Rabbi Bachman’s recipe — convert, become Jewish, dive in — is right either. ‘Conversion’ is a last-century notion.

As Bachman’s column indicated, the logic of conversion is that you’re either “In” or “Out.” Now, it’s nice that Bachman wants to bring so many people In. But is this how 21st century Americans really define themselves today? In or Out?

The folks I’ve talked to don’t. Some people are joiners, others just aren’t. Some people define themselves by sports team, religion, ethnicity, gym membership, profession, family status, sexual orientation, whatever — and some people don’t.

The notion that self-definition is essential either for personal fulfillment or communal continuity is misplaced. We should have enough confidence in the value of the Jewish tradition that we don’t require a full commitment in order to partake in it.

Moreover, this is the generation of the food court, not the restaurant. CuJus (culinary Jews), BuJus, Jewish-music Jews — these are identities that exist at the intersections of Judaism — and, not the ghettos of Judaism-or-else. The future of progressive Judaism is not tribal, whether you’re a Jew by birth, a Jew by choice, or Jew-curious. Judaism and Jewishness will thrive or fail on their merits, not because they are entry requirements for being in an in-group.

I think Rick Jacobs is right that the Jew-curious represent the opportunity of the millennium, particularly since the millennium is only thirteen years old – a mere bat mitzvah girl. Partly, this is because they are swelling the ranks of progressive synagogues. But more importantly, I think, it’s because they are productively redefining what Jewish affiliation, identity, and action mean.

Today, “Jewish” is a verb.


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