The question “why be Jewish?” has always been an entry point into a polite but relatively innocuous discussion about the grandeur, traditions, values, literature and ennobling heritage of Judaism. Until recently.
Now, the discussion in the United States and especially among young adults on campuses, in social media groups and other points of peer assembly has become a literal one. “Why, in fact, should they be Jewish,” they ask one another?
Michael Chabon, the young talented novelist, recently conferred upon this troubling conversation his unique form of cultural blessing in a commencement address he delivered at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles. He referred to marriage within the Jewish faith – one Jew marrying another Jew – as a “ghetto of two”, “a gated community,” “a restricted country club.”
And thus, the mission that has been the millennial, even sacred, guiding beacon for every generation of Jews has been reduced to a consideration of lifestyle convenience.
Oh how far we are falling. Where are we headed?
Andrew Silow-Carroll, the editor in chief of the JTA, provided a partial answer to Chabon last week. In an op-ed, titled “The non-misogynist, non-hypocritical case for Jewish continuity. With music.”
“The goal [is] not to shame people into sticking with the tribe,” Silow-Carroll writes, “but to identify and promote what it is about Jewish life that is worth preserving in the first place: a textual inheritance; a particular moral and ethical language; a series of distinct and meaningful rituals; a living awareness of a Jewish past, in all its glories and horrors; a profound sense of connection with people who share that story.
“That’s not tribalism; that’s not Bubbe saying she’ll sit shiva if you marry out. That’s a deep kind of cultural engagement that even Chabon should appreciate.”
That “deep kind of cultural engagement” is best reached through Jewish literacy. That has always been the paramount message of Jewish history. It is also our message.
And the best way to achieve “deep cultural engagement” with Judaism is through Jewish education.
We must all do our utmost to support Jewish education, in particular, to make it affordable for all families that seek it for their children.
Please consider donating to The Jewish Tuition Assistance Fund by calling the Jewish Foundation of Greater Toronto at 416.631.5703.
As we wrote last week, doing nothing risks everything.