American Jews or Jewish Americans?

In response to the recent PBS Special called “The Jewish Americans,” Shari Rabin posted in her Chutzpah Chronicles, part of the Washington Post’s “Faithbook,” an entry entitled “My Jewish Identity”. In it, Rabin meditates on Faithbook’s question, THE question, as she dubs it: 

“We know what ‘Jewish identity’ has meant in the past. What will it mean in the future? How does a minority religion retain its roots and embrace change?” 

Rabin expresses her concern that, in this day and age, we are first Americans and then Jews: while we don’t have to choose to do activities that distinguish us as American, we do have to consciously choose activities and friends that allow us to distinguish ourselves as Jewish. We have to actively seek out those Jews in our immediate world, and have to specifically live in places where we know there will be other Jews, lest we assimilate into secular society. I agree with Rabin’s assessment. But, as I posted as a brief comment to her above post, I am more concerned with a different, yet related subquestion: Are we Jewish Americans, as the title of the PBS special  indicates? Or, are we American Jews? Is there a difference?

In discussing this with my father last night, he neatly averted a clear response to the question by saying, “I am Jewish, and I am an American. They’re both adjectives. Why does one have to be more important than the other?” His answer rings somewhat true. I am an American. I have American values, believe in American government, and I thrive while living under American public law. But the core of me is Jewish. I identify with other Jews, anywhere in the world, while I don’t have the same connection with other Americans around the world. I live my life Jewishly, and I keep kosher, keep Shabbat, and let halakha rule my life. On the other hand, my Americana also defines my Judaism: American social values are the reason the Conservative Movement within Judaism started in the first place. The idea of “Tradition and Change” is an idea that can only rule if we are in a society that allows us to practice both, a luxury that not everyone in every country has.

To be a “Jewish American,” I would have to let the “American,” the noun of my existence, be influenced by my “Jewish” adjective nature. To be an “American Jew,” though, allows myself to be defined as a “Jew,” the true noun of my existence, and the core of my character, to be influenced by my “American” adjective nature.

I am an American Jew.

A New Attempt at Blogging

So I have tried this a number of times, and have never really kept it up. Why? Not really sure. But of late I find myself jotting more and more notes on the backs of receipts, only later to look at them and say, “I don’t remember what I was thinking,” or “yeah, that was interesting, but what could I do with this idea?” as I despairingly chuck the scrap into the trash can.

This time will be different. I hope. So much goes on around me which I find it hard to avoid pondering. When you spend your days watching people, just to notice their behaviors, it is very difficult not to notice the thing blaring us in the face: people, in general, are nuts! Everyone around us is odd, and the oddness continues on with us as a society from day to day, from year to year, from generation to generation. As Americans, we have social idiosyncrasies that are not only strange as we perceive them ourselves, but that are also impossible to match anywhere else in the world. Of course, that is not to say that everyone else doesn’t have their own ideas of what is and isn’t insane. And, for the record, I think I have just used four different synonyms for the word “weird” (which is also, by the way, the exception to the i-before-e-except-after-c rule) in the last paragraph. They are all chosen wisely.

You may be wondering about the name, “And Who Are These?”. Or, maybe you’re not, but I feel like musing on it for a few minutes. I don’t fancy myself a “sociologist”. That title implies has a double-meaning for me, in that on the one hand, it will be my musings on the things I see people do and say during the course of my days. On the other hand, it will also be musings specifically on Jews. “Who are you?” is an essential question that each person has to answer, and perhaps I will answer this myself, or I will help you answer it for yourself.

I hope you enjoy what you read. Feel free to post comments on anything I write, and I’ll be happy to listen to your feedback.