Thursday, 31 October 2013

Jewish Tribune: But What Does Jewish Pride Demand Of You?

In my latest Jewish Tribune article, reproduced below, I presented some thoughts on Pew. To see the original on line go to
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But What Does Jewish Pride Demand Of You?

The recent Pew Research Center Survey of U.S. Jews —“A Portrait of Jewish Americans” – has received much attention, not only south of the border but throughout the Jewish world. The results are deemed not only to reflect upon the present picture of American Jewry but also to give us a perception of what possibly to expect in the future. This is not to say that what is being predicted is what will occur; oftentimes in the past, projected results from surveys have been proven wrong (for example , in the fifties, Orthodox Judaism was projected to disappear in America by the end of century). It does, though, inform us of issues that do need to be addressed if we want to ensure that the worse possible conclusions do not actually occur.
The various articles I read about this Pew study thus, obviously, attracted my attention. I was so drawn by the extent of this survey that I felt it best to actually download and read it, all 212 pages of it. However, right at its initial sentence I was immediately struck by what I felt was a most significant statement -- effectively causing me to stop reading. The opening line of the survey reads: “American Jews overwhelmingly say they are proud to be Jewish.” I was hit by the weight of the words.
I thought back to the many discussions I had, over the years, with professionals within the Jewish community about the problems of assimilation and intermarriage. So many of them felt the problem was the absence of Jewish Pride and the need was to re-instill it within our Jewish youth. Their answers were, always, linked to emotion. Just get people to feel pride in their Jewishness and they will want to identify with the Jewish community, want to marry a Jewish spouse.  I contended that it wasn’t enough. This Pew survey would now seem to support me.
More explicitly, later in the survey report, it is declared that no matter how individuals may define themselves as Jews, they are proud to be Jewish. It would thus clearly seem that Jewish pride is not the answer to the growing intermarriage rate. Jewish pride is also not the answer to assimilation as the survey further showed the trend within all the subgroupings within the Jewish community is towards less tradition and involvement. The question is not really whether one feels pride or not. The real question is: what is the effect of this feeling of pride? What does it demand of you?
There are many reasons for why a person may experience an emotion of pride. There are also many reasons why a person would want to experience this emotion. In response, though, we may wonder if the emotion is appropriate – should I feel pride in someone from my home town winning the marathon because we both come from the same place? Our conclusion may be – and this would seem to be the general view within society -- that it doesn’t really matter. If you feel the pride, which is a positive emotion, why not embrace it? The challenge though emerges if there are responsibilities that arise with this pride.
Being Jewish marks you as a member of a certain group no matter how you may then wish to define this group. Feeling pride in being Jewish thus means you feel pride in being part of this group. It is true that if you do not feel pride in being part of this group, there is no way that you will want to identify with this group – and this is what the many communal professionals were indicating when they argued that we had to instill pride in our youth – we had to make them want to be part of the Jewish group. What they missed, though, was this further challenge. This group identification as a Jew must also play a definite role in the existence of a proud Jew. It is not enough to simply feel pride. There is a responsibility that goes with this pride. That is not just a matter of emotion.
This is what the first sentence in the Pew survey conveyed to me. I suppose I implicitly understood this idea when I debated with others about the sole value of emotional pride in the battle of Jewish identity. It just became further articulated in that opening statement in this report. It is fine that Jews, of all stripes, feel pride in being Jewish. Jewishness, however, is not static. It is not something that simply exists to which one can respond (or sadly not). Jewishness is a living, breathing entity that affects existence and thus demands from those who wish to identify within its grouping. It is a pride that is demanding. It is a pride that is imposing. The question is not simply whether you feel pride in being Jewish. The real question is how this pride has made you different and causes you to act differently, to attempt a different path in life – for the good. This must be the follow up question to this Pew survey.


Rabbi Rich Wolpoe said...

My rabbi growing up was William Cohen of West Hartford. He was a big supporter of YU Torah Leadership Seminars.

I once heard him speak on Keiruv...
And he said that

You can certainly attract followers with emotions. But you only keep them when you add the Torah Knowledge later on. IOW emotion alone is unsustainable.

Unknown said...

Such an excellent article here by Rabbi Hecht. What value is there in “Jewish Pride”?
I’d like to add that “Jewish pride” can manifest itself as nothing less than a twisted sense of self-importance. And to that end, allow me to share a few stories:
Readers may recall that several years ago, two Jewish guys raped a female student at a York University student residence. I specifically remember it being reported that the assailants had first asked the victim if she wanted to get "lucky" with two Jewish guys. How sick a of a sense of “pride” is that!? Secondly, many years ago I was involved in some road rage with another car of two youths. When they pulled up along side of me, one called me a "goy" and then spat at me.
Lastly, two of my teenage daughters, who at the time were both in Jewish day school, agreed to the statement that Jews were better than other people.
There may be something very wrong with the sense of” Jewish pride” that has been instilled in our national identity.