Busting the New Year's Jewish Myths

Editorial

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Published January 02, 2014, issue of January 10, 2014.
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No longer a people that needs to band together in the face of discrimination, American Jews now can be Jewish any way they please. Or not at all, as we discovered in Pew numbers that show a growing proportion of Jews who feel a tribal connection, but don’t act on it.

This unaccustomed popularity helps explain the dramatic increase of intermarriage among the non-Orthodox; the Pew survey found that 72% of non-Orthodox Jews who married since 2000 walked down the aisle with a non-Jew. The old presumption that a Jew who married outside the faith wanted to escape it simply isn’t true anymore. That means anyone from rabbis to parents to community leaders who is seeking ways to dial back intermarriage or deal with its consequences have to take account of this new reality.

3. It’s 1939 all over again for European Jews.

Anti-Semitism is a looming threat in many European communities. Burdened still by economic recession, some Europeans are resuscitating this old canard, either fueled by a virulent nationalistic right wing as in Hungary, or by the influx of Muslim immigrants who conflate anti-Zionism with hatred of indigenous Jews.

But Americans make a big mistake if they paint the entire continent with such a broad, fearful brush. Even as French Jews face attacks and pleas to emigrate, for instance, there are some 200 kosher restaurants open in Paris alone, just as many synagogues, and a vibrant Jewish cultural life.

“You don’t need a bodyguard to go to synagogue [in Paris],” Jean-Jacques Wahl, secretary of the European Association for Jewish Culture, said at a session at Limmud UK. “It’s much better to be a Jew in Paris today than a Muslim.”

Rabbi Chaim Weiner, director of Masorti Europe, said at that same session that he wears a yarmulke everywhere he goes in Europe. “People are really shocked to see I’m still alive,” he noted dryly. He is often approached by curious non-Jews, he said, “and very rarely will it end up with someone making a comment that is less than pleasant.”

Elsewhere in Europe, young Jews are eager to reclaim their heritage and sometimes their faith, as an increasing number are seeking conversions. Yet in the grand, global discussions about Jewish peoplehood, they often feel overlooked.


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