Three Ladies, Three Lattes: Who is (the best) Jew?

Secular Pam, modern Orthodox Tzippi and haredi Danit answer your questions on percolating issues in Israel’s complicated social and religious fabric.

A member of the Jewish community wears a kippa (photo credit: REUTERS)
A member of the Jewish community wears a kippa
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hi Ladies, I’m an American Jewish grandmother, not religious but traditional, who often visits my family in Israel. This year I was saddened to see that my Israeli nieces and nephews and their families keep bread in their freezers on Passover and eat it throughout the holiday. I wonder about the sustainability of Judaism in the Jewish state...
Worried from White Plains

Danit Shemesh:
Not long ago I found out that my great-grandfather, a prominent doctor in Hungary, changed his name from Vile to Vas in the hope of not being labeled Jewish. Vile was a dead giveaway. Tragically, he and his family ended their lives in Auschwitz; his attempt to integrate into the community at large was not successful, despite his importance in society. He remained Jewish.
I wonder what he would say to me, his great-granddaughter, who brought up her children haredi. I represent a diametrically opposed viewpoint to his. I believe we need to sing out our identification on the hilltops, loudly. So, instead of socialite parties and academia, I emphasize Jewish festivities. I give this message to the next generation: tradition, identity, truth through matzot and bonfires, through head-covering and reverence for Torah scholars. I am not ashamed to be labeled for what I am: Jewish. The haredi lifestyle is sustaining Judaism in Israel and all over the world.
The age of cynicism has not yet run its course. What my great-grandfather started still exists: contempt for the spiritual, for symbolic ritual. Many Jews mock affiliation and believe integration into the world is the ideal. The Holocaust did not change that. However, I made an about-face.
Our rabbis are plagued by your very question, what can we do to ensure Judaism survives? You may not always like their conclusions, but someone needs to live with intention.
To Dr. Vile/Vas, my ancestor, the fabric from which I am cut, here’s my answer: I choose a Jewish life.
Tzippi Sha-ked:
Sustainability of Judaism? I’m worried too! Our numeric future will not be handed to us on a silver platter along with gefilte fish, shwarma or botz coffee. We’re hemorrhaging and it hurts.
I grew up attending a Conservative Hebrew school back in Los Angeles. Sadly, only a couple of friends married “Jewish.” According to this paper’s commentator Daniel Gordis, in the States today, “four out of five marriages involving non-Orthodox Jews are intermarriages.”
So how does America sustain Jewish identity? I was once invited to a holiday party in New York (which turned out to be a Christmas celebration, pagan tree and all) where 100% of the guests were Jewish.
Sadly, it’s not that much better on this side of the world. Here Judaism, stripped of its spiritual underpinning, is reduced to PC idealism, al ha’esh (barbecue) encounters and religious bashing of anything further right than one’s own coordinates. Sigh.
Is there a solution? I’d like to see bridge-building across this nation, initiated largely by grassroots organizations.
We can only conjure up scary notions of (or apathy towards) the “other” if we don’t work/live/ play together. Jewish sustainability is less the issue; I worry about Jewish involvement and accountability. We need to foster that accountability across the spectrum.
Let’s pair secular/religious together through mentoring religious and vocational programs across the board. If the government could kick in financial incentives like integrated community housing and workplaces without separating the haredim from the public at large, that would be a huge bonus.
Pam Peled:
I’m not sure I understand the question. Your nieces and nephews, I presume, go to the army? (People who keep bread in their freezers usually do; it’s the deeply, deeply religious, those who obsess over kashrut and Shabbat and covering their elbows who avoid military service.) Thanks to those kids, for the first time in two millennia Jews have a flourishing safe haven where Judaism is practiced with no fear, though we’ve still got a way to go when it comes to embracing streams of Judaism that differ from ultra-Orthodoxy. Hopefully we’ll get there soon.
Thanks to those kids, for the first time in 2,000 years Hebrew is spoken on the beach (yes, sometimes on Shabbat), and in restaurants (admittedly which are not always kosher) and on public transport (which doesn’t run on holy days).
Please explain to me again; what is it that you are worried about? Yes, the truth is that I, too, was shocked decades ago, when my pupils informed me they didn’t light candles at the Shabbat table, and knew hardly any prayers. With time I have come to believe this is largely the fault of the terribly religious; they have turned the secular right off ritual with their stringencies and corruption. This will change.
But the rhythm of the country is Jewish, and the festivals and the songs. Judaism has never flourished like this since the Exodus, and it’s greatly thanks to the kids who eat bread on Passover. Relax. We’ve never had it so good.
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