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Personal and Collective Jewish Identity

February 12, 2009 by

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We are in the midst of a tremendous transformation of Jewish collective identity, and have been for several centuries. In the United States, where I live, and in other parts of the Jewish Diaspora where I have also lived, Jews who identify in any way with Jewish life seem to be seeking personal meaning and connection through Jewish affiliation. An awareness of a collective identity surely forms an element in that search but the critical focus appears to me to be more the meaning that Judaism has for the individual Jew. This sensibility ties in with the emphasis on individualism that is a core element of modernity. While critics of modernity have attempted to resuscitate in one way or another the need for community and belonging as an antidote to the anomie and alienation that extreme forms of individualism may promote, my sense is that Jewish communal affiliation in the Diaspora is derivative of the drive for personal relevance. It may be that at some point this personal meaning will lead to a new definition of collective identity, but at the present time, the inward turn of many serious Jewish seekers does not point to such a redefinition, at least for the vast majority of Jews who live outside of the State of Israel.

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Why I’m not making Aliyah

January 29, 2009 by

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Le-an atah nose’a? (To where are you traveling?), asks the automated ticket machine at the train station. The choices are not Tel Aviv, Rishon Le-Tzion, or Haifa. On the list I find my destination, Penn Station, NYC. I am standing at the Long Island Railroad train station in Hewlett, NY. One of a dozen stations where Hebrew is an option for ticket buyers. In other neighborhoods, you might find Russian or Korean. The LIRR bases its language placement on census data.

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Why I’m making Aliyah

January 29, 2009 by

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In a few short months, we – my husband Baruch and our three kids – will pack up and move to Israel. Most people who know us well don’t ask us why we are moving – maybe because they have an idea about our reasons, or maybe because they’re tired of hearing us talking about wanting to move for years – but every once in a while, someone does ask me. Why do we want to move to Israel? Why would you pick up, uproot your family and move halfway around the world? Why would you want to leave America? The simple answer is that we are Zionists – we believe strongly in Israel, identify with Israel and want to live there. But there are many parts to a longer answer. Sometimes I delve into the many factors involved with our decision – there are obvious issues like religion – we feel a connection with the history and symbolism found in the country. There are financial issues – we want to send our kids to day school, and with tuition these days it makes much more sense to send our kids to day school in Israel, which is basically free. There are cultural attractions – like the amount of independence and freedom that children in Israel grow up having, especially in small communities. There are also things that I can’t quite put my finger on –like how I feel when I’m in Israel, like the feeling of being home.

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Reviewing the Reviews

January 27, 2009 by

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When I was growing up, The New York Times Book Review arrived on our doorstep every Saturday morning with the rest of the paper, and I was always the first to read it. I had little interest in the front-page news; each week, I cast aside headlines about wars and elections and dove straight into the book review. I was excited to see what new books had come out, which of the authors I had already read had published a new book, and how readers had responded to the previous week’s reviews. Later, when I began working in publishing, I had other reasons for my addiction to the Book Review section: I wanted to see whether any of the books I had worked on had made it to the bestseller list (um, never), and how the books published by rival companies had fared. I wouldn’t leave the breakfast table until I had read the whole section cover to cover, which meant that on most Shabbat mornings, I arrived quite late to shul….

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The borders of hope

January 24, 2009 by

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I have had the privilege of being in the USA several times during this last year and this was the first time that I became really enchanted with American politics.

Steadily, over the long marathon of primaries and the presidential campaign, I found myself drawn to the drama and humor of the New York Times, the Huffington Post and Jon Stewart. No doubt it was helped by making my way through all of the seasons of The West Wing on DVD and sensing that here was a moment when the real world might genuinely parallel fiction. One could cry to have Jed Bartlett as a fallible human, moral and intelligent President, who despite the necessary ego drive managed to capture something of the dignity of the office.

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The many faces of Chanukah: a view from Australia

December 21, 2008 by

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I have just seen Baz Lurhrmann’s epic film about the place I call home, Australia. Set in the 1940’s, one of the many storylines featured is of a young Aboriginal boy named Nullah, whose captivating dreamtime songs are his best defense against the government policy of removing mixed race children from their families. At the heart of the film is the belief that each human being has a story they must tell in order to exist. This started me thinking about the upcoming festival of Chanukah. Down under, this is a fabulous summer festival that occurs a week into the school holidays during the summer solstice, a time when the sun shines on this wide brown land until way after young children should be up spinning dreidels.

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The Frankfurt Book Fair

December 19, 2008 by

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Makom editorial note: this blog was written before the current situation in Gaza but we have held it offline until now. Now that the situation appears to be stabilizing, we are putting the blog up, and hope that our blogs will continue to look at wider perspectives on the place of Israel in Jewish life.

I attended the Frankfurt Book Fair as an emissary of the State of Israel, though it was only after I returned that I realized that this was the case.

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My taxi-driver on co-existence in the Galil

December 14, 2008 by

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My taxi driver was upset. “I really have nothing against Arabs. I don’t. I work with them, get along fine with them. I know there are people who are plain racist – that’s not me.”

He’d just watched the latest episode of “Blue Document”, the troubling documentary series of Haim Yavin, exploring the intractable issues of Israeli Arabs in the Galilee area. The program had seemed to focus on the most moderate of Arabs, and the most vicious Jewish racists.

“I grew up in Acco. Spent over 30 years there. It’s a mixed town. I lived in an apartment block with Jews and Arabs together. No problem. All’s fine, until the block turns majority Arab. Then everything changes. You know that Muslim weddings are celebrated in stages, and the first stage is when you invite the future in-laws to your house. It’s always on a Friday night. So it’s a lovely tradition. I respect it, and I’ve been invited quite often. But when the block is majority Arab, then they party in the grounds of the building. Put up fencing around the entire building, and fill the whole grounds with a massive party. Outdoor grills, loud music – hafla!

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From Jerusalem and Against the War

December 14, 2008 by

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In the interest of full disclosure: I live in Jerusalem, I am married with 2 young children, a son who is six and a daughter who is nine. I am a human rights worker, I have an MA in Jewish Education and I am a PhD student. I grew up in a Reform congregation in NJ and I made Aliyah in 1995, after spending a year as a student in Jerusalem and meeting the woman who is now my life partner. I am also against the war. I was against the war from its first day and remain absolutely opposed to it. I am also against the Occupation, the settlements, and work to expose and stop Israeli human rights violations.

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Desperately Seeking Sundays

December 11, 2008 by

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Israel needs lots of things. It needs peace; it needs water; it needs pluralist civic religion. More than anything else, though, it needs Sundays.

Ah, Sundays! I remember them well. Sleeping in a little… eating a relaxing breakfast over the New York Times… popping to the mall… seeing friends in the next town… taking in an afternoon movie… organizing some bits and pieces around the house… getting the filing in order… a day for leisure, entertainment, and catching up on those odds and ends that get lost amid the week’s frenzy.

I WANT MY SUNDAYS BACK!

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