Many multiracial people claim that they are the future of the world. That is, they often claim that most people are going to be multiracial in the coming years so they are only the face of the future. Well, I don’t agree. I am sure that increasing numbers of people are going to multiracial, sure. But that doesn’t mean that everyone, or even majority of the people are going to be. Besides, this seems a rather ethno-centric point to make, but I digress and this is a discussion for another time.
The point in this post is to say that I realized that a large part of American-Jews interest in religious practice and increased rigor has to do with a sense of identity crisis.
Jews have become “white” in America. But they had such a history of being minorities. Even when they achieved racial equality, their religion set them apart (the way the Irish’s Catholicism set them apart for decades even after they started “blending in” visually). Now, though, Judaism is a viable option and no longer weird. People pleasantly talk about “Rosh Hashanah” and “Yom Kippur” in the big cities–they are no longer a weird or heathen customs. It’s now acceptable to be a follower of the Jewish religion, which makes Jews even “whiter.” Even in areas where Jews are not prominent, I believe everyone knows about Chanukah and Passover. The latter not just because it’s key in Christian history.
Jews are no longer set apart for being ethnically or religiously Jewish. This, I think, has thrown many younger Jews into an identity crisis.
What makes you a Jew? That your parents are Jewish is no longer sufficient. Then you are only Jewish-descended. If you have Holocaust survivors in your family, that tends to be a strong anchor. But if not? Then perhaps practicing your religion? Yes, that’s an option. And not only practicing it, but practicing it so stringently that it makes it difficult for you to hang out with not only non-Jews, but also your non-observant Jewish friends and family members.
Being Jewish as an observant Jew becomes this authenticating rarefied experience. Elevating yourself again, to the oppressed minority status, that your (ideal) Jewish parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents lived in the shtetl.–I am not really mocking Jewish observance. After all, I am an observant Jew myself. But I must say that it sometimes frustrates me to see people being needlessly exclusive, using religious observance as an excuse to self-segregate, and then to turn around and talk about discrimination of Jews in today’s USA.
At the same time, it made me realize why Jewish observance might be on the rise among younger American Jews. It is increasingly difficult to “just be Jewish” without something that proves your Jewishness.
Having to assert who you are by your behavior or daily practice is familiar to me. That’s me. If I don’t assert how Japanese I am everyday–by keeping up my Japanese, by staying engaged with Japan, Japanese stuff–,if I don’t assert my Jewishness–by knowing my Hebrew, knowing my religious rituals, staying connected with a Jewish community–my ethnic identities will be unrecognizable to myself and others. I need them anchored. That is the life of a multi-ethnic person who strives to stay connected to her ethnic/cultural/religious identity/ies.
I do think that with the world become smaller and smaller, as they say, and the cultures becoming more and more homogenized, this is the reality of many people and countries. What distinguishes you as a part of —(fill in the blank)? It is increasingly difficult to claim a single ethnicity without justifying, at least in today’s America. In this sense, perhaps, the many multiracial/multi-ethnic activists have it right that the our experience foretells the future. Surely, for the US. But for the world? Perhaps.