Jul 1, 2006

Am Yisrael

A. B. Yehoshua said recently to a delegation of American Jews that secular Jewish identity outside of Israel is meaningless. He said, in fact, that for him "there is no real alternative ... I cannot keep my identity outside Israel. Israel is my skin, not my jacket. You (Jews in the Diaspora) are changing jackets ... you are changing countries like changing jackets." This, of course, is interesting considering the recent discussion of secular conversion. It makes me want to ship Yehoshua, a brilliant and acclaimed Israeli writer, a letter asking him how he feels about in-Israel secular Jewish conversion. Perhaps he'd approve? But he definitely would not approve of a former Catholic converting to secular Judaism in Davenport, Iowa, would he?

Point: Before Zionism, secular Jews identified largely with being Jewish as an ethnicity, a race perhaps. This, also, of course was before the psychological revolution that began to rip apart at the fabric of identity, creating layers of race, culture, ethnicity and other identifiers. With Zionism, secular Jews found a home in the idea of being the member of a "nation." There are religious Jews, ethnic Jews, Jews of the nation. But aren't they all still Jews? And wasn't the ideal of the "nation" that which encompassed ALL Jews in all spaces, giving them a PHYSICAL nation in which to "return" to? There is the nation and then there is the land with nation. Yehoshua doesn't believe in the idea of a nation -- the people with a common thought spread throughout many lands. Then again, many Orthodox Jews I've spoken with lately also don't agree with that idea.

So where do I fit? I find it hard to wrap myself up in a bow of one color these days because it seems like my Judaism is challenged. Too Jewish, not Jewish enough. Judaism light. I can't haul my ass out of bed on Saturdays to go to shul, but every Friday night I have off I schlep myself to the Temple up the street. I converse with Jews of the male persuasion and dream of settling in a community where maybe I can teach at religious Sunday school. I read Philip Roth and dream of becoming a Jewish scholar, speaking the finer languages of Hebrew and Yiddish and Ladino. I'm trying, but I worry that until I leave my country, marry a man strictly of Torah and gather up three sets of dishes I won't be okay. I worry that my past will become more important than the choices I made and the passion I have for who I am now.

But I refuse to humor Yehoshua's idea that the Jew is a Jew only in Israel. Secular or not. Identity is more than where you plant your feet and the thought of becoming a nationalist with blinders is not something I smile at. (Not that Israelis are nationalists, not all of them, but let's be honest, sharing isn't in the list of specialties.) Anyhow. That's all for now, I think.


Nina said...

I'd love to read your thoughts on this post now, particularly since you have fulfilled your prediction of "marry[ing] a man strictly of Torah and gather[ing] up three sets of dishes."

Do you see feel insecure or questioning in your identity as a Jew? If not, when did that get put to rest? Was it with the passage of time a growing out of your early 20s, was it becoming secure a welcomed in a stable Jewish community, was it with your Orthodox conversion, or do these worries and pressures still sometimes come up?

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