Dynamic Belonging

Dynamic Belonging: Contemporary Jewish Collective Identities

Harvey E. Goldberg
Steven M. Cohen
Ezra Kopelowitz
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Dynamic Belonging
    Book Description:

    World Jewry today is concentrated in the US and Israel, and while distinctive Judaic approaches and practices have evolved in each society, parallels also exist. This volume offers studies of substantive and creative aspects of Jewish belonging. While research in Israel on Judaism has stressed orthodox or "extreme" versions of religiosity, linked to institutional life and politics, moderate and less systematized expressions of Jewish belonging are overlooked. This volume explores the fluid and dynamic nature of identity building among Jews and the many issues that cut across different Jewish groupings. An important contribution to scholarship on contemporary Jewry, it reveals the often unrecognized dynamism in new forms of Jewish identification and affiliation in Israel and in the Diaspora.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-258-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. INTRODUCTION Dynamic Jewish Identities: Insights from a Comparative View
    (pp. 1-28)
    Harvey E. Goldberg

    This statement by anthropologist Clifford Geertz, describing a community in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, many of whose members had left for France or Israel, is emblematic of the ubiquitous riddle that arises when Jews strike local roots while maintaining and recreating their own traditions. In the settings of post-emancipation Europe and in America, which Jews entered from positions often depicted as “marginal,” they struggled with becoming part of nation-states that appeared to demand far-reaching conformity as a component of membership. In the course of the twentieth century, the outcomes of these struggles were various. In central Europe, Jews...

  6. Section I. The Fluid Nature of Jewish Belonging

    • CHAPTER 1 Religion, Ethnic Identity, and the Sense of Belonging
      (pp. 31-45)
      Stanley Brandes

      I would like to begin here with reflections on my own childhood, which we may take as a kind of ethnographic data. For most of my early childhood, I lived in a building of twenty-four one-bedroom apartments in the Mosholu Parkway area of the Bronx. All the residents were Jewish, except the superintendent and his family, who were Polish gentiles. At a tender age, I knew they were different from us only because they erected a Christmas tree every December. This family invited all the children in the building to see their tree and I remember looking forward to this...

    • CHAPTER 2 Conceptual and Pragmatic Aspects of Binarism: Examples from Israeli Society
      (pp. 46-64)
      Harvey E. Goldberg

      It has become a truism to state that Israeli society is split along a number of basic dimensions: politically, religiously, ethnically, and nationally. Typically, these splits are phrased in binary terms: political left vs. right, religious vs. secular, Jews from Europe vs. those from the Middle East, and Jews vs. Arabs. Discourse that accepts and uses these categories bridges everyday conversation, the various media, and academic discussion.

      At the same time, current academic writing is normally cautious and suspicious with regard to the binary depictions of social phenomena. A standard and generally accepted claim is that such classifications simultaneously hide...

    • CHAPTER 3 From Security to Insecurity: British Jewish Communal Leadership in the Context of Multiculturalism
      (pp. 65-73)
      Keith Kahn-Harris and Ben Gidley

      On 1 September 1991, Britain’s new chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, delivered an impassioned induction address in front of a packed congregation (and TV cameras) at St John’s Wood synagogue in London. Much of the address was dominated by a rhetoric of crisis. While Sacks emphasized that Jews were “one people,” he argued that “[they] are more deeply divided than at almost any time in [their] history” and that “these are fundamental rifts which threaten the very integrity of Jewry asam echad,as a single people.” He concluded that “the Jewish people,am Yisrael,has lost its way.” As well...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Jewish Question Again: From Collective Identity to Social Vitality
      (pp. 74-82)
      Philip Wexler

      To examine the meaning of Jewish collective identity would require nothing less than a history of civilization. Fortunately, I am limited to a few comments about the modern sociological tradition and its potential contribution to understanding Jewish identity. The following remarks indicate some current issues in analyzing collective identities, pointing both to continuities with older concerns and recent refinements. I then consider convergences between these trends and concerns from within Jewish life and religion. This leads to ideas about the development of a “Jewish sociology,” in contrast to a “sociology of Judaism.”

      In 1919, Thorstein Veblen asserted: “No unbiased ethnologist...

    • RESPONSE TO SECTION I Rethinking Categories and Challenging Futures
      (pp. 83-88)
      Marcy Brink-Danan

      Although we can think about Jewish affiliation (i.e., belonging) as the stuff of emotion or as relating to family and friends (which it sometime is), the essays in this section explore the historical and social processes that order and break Jewish ties. In the spirit of “rethinking categories,” this overview considers the theoretical and methodological models that have shaped our understanding of Jewish groups, their internal divisions, and their external limits. I see the issue of categorization as a fundamentally ontological problem: what are the ontologies—the categories ofbeing—that drive Jewish belonging in such a dynamic way? This...

  7. Section II. Diverse Attempts at Constructing Jewish Sub-Cultures in Israel and the United States

    • CHAPTER 5 Fundamentalist or Romantic Nationalist? Israeli Modern Orthodoxy
      (pp. 91-111)
      Shlomo Fischer

      In the past generation or so, social scientists have placed resurgent religion, and especially religion with a political and/or totalistic character, in a central place in their research agendas. Various writers, such as Emmanuel Sivan (1995), Nancy Ammerman (1987), and Lynn Davidman (1991), have stressed that this form of religion involves a duality in its relationship to modern Western culture. On the one hand, it involves a far-reaching rejection of this culture. According to this argument, much resurgent religion either actively constructs enclaves or zones of purity from which Western values and culture have been banished or attempts to gain...

    • CHAPTER 6 Jewish Identity, Gender, and Religion: Masorti Women and the Feminist Challenge to Traditional Jewish Identity
      (pp. 112-135)
      Yaacov Yadgar

      The last one and a half decades have witnessed a dramatic increase in scholarly interest in issues of gender and religion, focusing in particular on feminism and religion. These rubrics, “gender and religion” and “feminism and religion,” encompass a wide range of issues that touch in one way or another upon the feminine experience in the world of religion. Without pretending to present an exhaustive review of the research field (for such a review, see Neitz 1993 and 2003; Castelli and Rodman 2001), it can be summarized as revolving mainly around the attempt to analyze, map, and understand (and sometimes...

    • CHAPTER 7 ʺIsraeli Jewsʺ vs. ʺJewish Israelisʺ and the Ritual Connection to Diaspora Jewry
      (pp. 136-150)
      Ezra Kopelowitz and Lior Rosenberg

      How do Israeli Jews understand and build the connection between themselves and Jews who live elsewhere? Data from the 2000 Guttman/Avi-Chai survey (Levy, Levinsohn, and Katz 2002b), the only comprehensive national survey of the Jewish identity of Israeli Jews, show the complexity of the relationship between Jews who live in Israel and their relationship to Jews who live outside of Israel. On the one hand, Israeli Jews express a high level of Jewish identification. 82 percent of the Israeli Jewish public answered that given the chance, they would choose to have been born Jewish; 95 percent feel that they are...

    • CHAPTER 8 Engaging the Next Generation of American Jews: Distinguishing the In-Married, Intermarried, and Non-Married
      (pp. 151-164)
      Steven M. Cohen

      What Caesar said of Gaul may be said of today’s American Jews under the age of forty. Those “young adults” (as they are called by members of my now middle-aged generation) may be divided into three, each with their own characteristic patterns of Jewish engagement:

      The in-married,

      The intermarried, and

      The non-married.

      “All these differ from each other,” not quite in “language, customs, and laws,” but certainly with respect to Jewish affiliation, knowledge, and interest.

      As the Jewish engagement agenda (known alternately as “Jewish Continuity” or “Jewish Renaissance and Renewal”) has come to occupy center stage in the organized Jewish...

    • RESPONSE TO SECTION II Dynamic Belongings of Younger Jews and the Transformation of the Jewish Self
      (pp. 165-170)
      Rachel Werczberger

      The last one and a half decades have witnessed the development of new and creative collective forms of Jewish engagement on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. On the Israeli side, one notes the proliferation of activities related to the Jewish Renewal Movement, such as pluralisticbatei midrash,secularbatei tefilah,and the ordination of “secular rabbis” (Azulay and Tabory 2008; Azulay and Werczberger 2008); the upsurge of interest in traditional Jewish liturgy, likepiyyutim;the establishment of Jewish Renewal communities intent on renewing Judaism by amalgamating a spiritual New Age perspective with Hasidic ethos (Werczberger 2011); and the emergence...

  8. Section III. Diverse Ways of Connecting to the Jewish People

    • CHAPTER 9 Constructing Jewish Belonging through Mass Tourism: Self-Narration in Israel Experience Programs
      (pp. 173-189)
      Shaul Kelner

      In the early 1990s, a tinderbox of American Jewish apprehensions over its collective future was set alight by a national Jewish population survey that found evidence of dissipating group cohesion. Spurred by a sense of crisis, leaders of communal institutions poured resources into a variety of educational endeavors to foster Jewish commitment. The most prominent of these interventions was Taglit-Birthright Israel, a large-scale effort to encourage Jewish affiliation in the Diaspora by sending hundreds of thousands of college-age Jews on all-expense-paid tours of Israel. Although the program was greeted with a certain amount of skepticism regarding the ability of a...

    • CHAPTER 10 A Jewish and Democratic State? How American Jews Discuss Israelʹs Identity Dilemma
      (pp. 190-205)
      Theodore Sasson

      The issue of Israel’s character as a Jewish and democratic state has come to the fore in Israeli political discourse. Indeed, most observers agree that were it not for the struggle with the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, Israel would be thoroughly preoccupied with battles over the proper relationship between religion and state and the rights of Israel’s Arab minorities. These battles create a fascinating dilemma for those American Jews who are attentive to developments in Israel: On the one hand, it is only insofar as Israel remains a Jewish state that American Jews will feel a special...

    • CHAPTER 11 In Search of Roots and Routes: The Making and Remaking of the Diasporic Jewish Identity
      (pp. 206-218)
      Elan Ezrachi

      The discourse in the American Jewish community, as well as in other western Jewish Diasporas, has not developed a rich discussion on the meaning of contemporary diasporic identity. A sustainable diasporic identity is essential for relationships with Jews around the world and with the State of Israel. A diasporic identity must assume integration of Jewish symbols and experiences from other locales as part of its self-definition. Socialization to the Jewish collective has to be broader than the sum total of local symbols and experiences. Most Jews, and particularly the younger generation, lack such images; their ability to imagine themselves as...

    • RESPONSE TO SECTION III Hummus, Challah, and Gefilte Fish: Israel in Diaspora Jewish Culture
      (pp. 219-222)
      Sarah Bunin Benor

      The essays in this section, two descriptive and one prescriptive, discuss the relationship between American Jews and contemporary Israel. Kelner shows how the American Jewish community uses Israel to help young American Jews understand who they are as Jews. Through a “time-out-of-time” experience combined with opportunities for reflection, the leaders of Birthright Israel trips give Jews in a prime period of identity formation the tools to place themselves inside the collective Jewish narrative. Sasson looks at an older population and shows that many American Jews of diverse denominational affiliations are knowledgeable about Israel and its internal issues. The Jews who...

  9. AFTERWORD ʺIʹm a Gentile!ʺ Border Dramas and Jewish Continuity
    (pp. 223-236)
    Jack Kugelmass

    ITEM: Growing up in Fredericksburg, VA, Todd Gray said, he could count all his town’s Jewish residents on one hand.

    So when Mr. Gray, the chef and owner of Equinox Restaurant in Washington, down the street from the White House, became engaged to Ellen Kassoff in 1994, her father decided to acquaint him with Jewish culture in a way they could both relate to—through food.

    They traveled from Washington to New York, where they ate pastrami, corned beef, gefilte fish and herring at Katz’s, the Second Avenue Deli, and the Carnegie Deli.

    “They bonded over food,” said Ms. Kassoff,...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 237-256)
  11. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 257-262)
  12. Index
    (pp. 263-268)