Sunday, April 6, 2014

In Case You Missed It... Why We Need to Shut The Door On Identity

From earlier this week:

Indeed, not inculcation of Jewish patterns of life, nor transmission of Jewish culture and history, but measurement and management of identity became the constitutive act of the modern Jewish communal apparatus. It’s no coincidence that the most lavishly funded communal project of our generation has not been universal comprehensive Jewish education, but rather, an identity making vacation whose goals are no more controversial than encouraging passive Zionism and getting young Jews near each other.  This is the insidiousness of the identity ideology. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Rokhl! First I should say that my knowledge of the situation of American Jews is rather limited. Nevertheless I find your opinions very universal.
    I think I can notice a kind of tension between personal and institutional dimensions of, well, identity (any ideas of a better word?) in your paper. On the one hand you’re critical – and rightly so as it seems - of various institutions providing Jewish education (i.e. basics of identity) or speaking on behalf of the American Jews; on the other, one of the links in the text describes your personal quest towards a reconnection with Yiddishkeit, accomplished thanks to your personal effort and engagement, without or with very limited assistance from any kind of institutions (if I’m guessing it right). It seems then that institutions aren’t that necessary. With right levels of personal engagement one can skillfully navigate the seas of identity without their assistance.
    However, as the late Jacek Kuron once famously observed 'Don't burn the committees, set up your own', probably meaning that even if we’re critical of certain institutions we shouldn’t underestimate their general significance. Hence new and supposedly better institutions could be helpful in providing the intellectual tools enabling future generations to construct their Jewish identity somewhat easier and in a more thoughtful way (in one of your tweets you mention the importance of “universal, low cost Jew. ed.” so probably you would share this view).
    However one problem remains: such tools are nothing without personal effort to make use of them. Without such an effort one would still be left with “identity without content”, which probably isn’t identity at all.
    The question is then how to inspire people to be seriously engaged about their own identity, in order to save them from having none or (at worst) passively receive its versions cooked up by know-it-alls of this world?
    Maybe my slightly disorganized remarks verge on banality, but it doesn't make personal engagement less crucial I think.