Jewish Identity in America
Published on: January 12, 2011
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  • Kudos to Peter Berger for an excellent and thoughtful piece. I wholeheartedly agree as an American Jew–one who also holds Israeli citizenship–that Jewish identity cannot and must not be based on fear. On the other hand, no Jew, no decent and aware person, can deny that anti-Semitism has indeed returned with a vengeance in the Middle East and Europe, although not in America–and that today’s anti-Semites, who usually prefer to disguise themselves as critics of Israel, are at base not willing to spare any Jew based on his or her choice of identity, unless that identity consist wholly of obsessively condemning Israel and calling for its destruction.
    While any call for Jews to abandon America seems misguided to me, it seems to me that being Jewish is not wholly a matter of choice, and not only because the anti-Semites will not let it be so. The stubborn persistence of certain Jewish cultural characteristics such as a concern with social justice among even thoroughly secularized people seems to me another and more positive aspect of this “fate.”

  • Haim

    This whole discourse comes down to one idea: Jews in America must confirm to the societal norms Gentiles had created around them; Jews in America should embrace the fact that they have an option to stop being Jews; Jews in America are the best and the fortunatest of all Jews on the planet, especially of this failed experiment, Israel.
    But the reality is different. Israel is the only place in the world where Jew can be a Jew in his own way, orthodox or not, without caring for the opinion of the Gentile society around him. Jewish “liberalization” in America was driven by the craven impulse to prove to the Gentiles that they are just as loyal, progressive and Westernized as their Protestant neighbors – that’s why the Reform Movement in its infamous “Pittsburgh Platform” had renounced all ties to Jews worldwide, the letter of Torah and even to Zion. Today, the non-orthodox part of American Jewry is melting away, swamped by all this “freedom” from any meaningful Judaism, bolstered by an egotism which dares to demand from their Israeli brethren to confirm to their ultraliberal worldview masquerading as “Zionist ideal”. Indeed, in one aspect the author is correct – Antisemitism is not the gravest threat to the Jewish future in America – liberal Jews are.

  • pdh

    They are not all Israel who are of Israel.

  • Irma

    I am a convert, a Jew by choice. My husband was born a Jew, his father, was one of a very few number of children
    who survived the Warsaw Ghetto. I have often discussed with my husband why it is that Ashkenazi Jews seem to define their Jewishness in terms of the Holocaust and
    the modern state of Israel. It is as though over 4000 years of Jewish history and culture and even the Bible itself are trumped by a terrible event that encompassed about 5 years and a country less than 100 years old.
    His response was an interesting one- modern day Jews
    particularly American Jews know very little about Jewish History- hence the focus on recent events.
    Oddly enough, my husband’s identity as a Jew grew and even matured because of his relationship with me.
    I approached Judaism during a search for a religious community. I was raised Catholic but eventually rejected
    Christianity. Much to my surprise, while I did not regret my decision to leave the Christian faith, I realized that I was not an atheist and moreover that I needed a religious
    community. A Jewish friend suggested that I investigate
    if Judaism would fill in that need- it turned out to be
    very good advice. Of course, I got much more than a religious community. Mr. Berger is correct – my conversion was essentially an adoption witha legal document to corroborate the event.

    I agree with Haim that the biggest threat to the future of
    Jews in America is not antisemitism . The biggest threat is
    the failure of Jewish Americans to educate themselves and
    their children regarding Jewish history – all of it not just the last 70 years. We are so much more than that.

  • Pingback: Peter Berger discovers Contemporary Judaism | The Book of Doctrines and Opinions:()

  • Chris E

    I don’t think Berger is saying that; he’s simply observing that Jews in America take on some American characteristics (such as placing importance on choice and diversity). He goes on to say that if this is felt to be a problem, then concentrating on the Holocaust as a means of pulling things back together may not be the healthiest long term answer.

  • Len Moskowitz

    “a surprising number of American Buddhists are of Jewish origin”

    Based on the most recent Pew Forum report on religion in the US, the percentage of western-born Buddhists in the US who come from Jewish backgrounds is no more than 6% and probably less. That works out to a maximum of a bit more than one-hundred thousand Jews.

  • Adam Garfinkle

    All very well said.

    But Peter, you mention Ruth Wisse and not my book on JEWCENRTRICITY, which covers all these matters in some depth. Ouch.

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