15 Jun 2024

reading differently with jewish currents

M:The best story — that sums this whole thing up, in the way that I think your analysis is so wrong about ‘our failure’ to reproduce something — is, 1974, I decided I was, like, moving to Israel, I was going to the furthest left kibbutz I could find. My plans were to spend time on the communist kibbutz. And I told my immigrant granma, ‘Granma, I’m going to Israel, I’m moving to Israel.’ And she said to me: ‘Michu, you’re an American.’ And she got it exactly right. I’m an American, my son’s even more American, my granddaughter is even more American — and you’re still a Jew through all this! And it’s something that I always tried to teach my son, that we’re Jews, and so we’ll always be different.

A:I’m not different than most of my peers in my age group who are not Jewish.

N:I just think this is really at the heart of the question. To me, that vision of Jewishness is, like, very appealing, and, also, I think there’s a real — I put it lightly — question about its indefinite reproducibility. You know and maybe it’s fine that it dies out — but if you have any investment in the possibility that it would not, I think it’s clear that the further that Jewishness gets from the source in which it has a different kind of grounding textually or historically, it can feel like kind of a performance, or put on.

And I think for those of us who are white, especially, and who are fully assimiliated, you know, I think there is a real element of the reclamation of religious practice and religious texts that has to do with a kind of interest in undoing a kind of assimilation, of recovering some of that alterity, and to thinking, what are the ways that are available to us to do that? You know, I think — and just what you were saying, Mitch, the idea of, ‘We’re Americans’ — for those of us on the Jewish left, I think we see that, and we feel that, and that’s not what we want for ourselves. Seeing the way in which that identification that our ancestors strove toward has made us complicit in a project whose politics we don’t agree with.

And I think that — just, on the other side, as Arielle was talking about earlier, the way in which Zionism has come to stand in — those have been kind of like the twin nationalisms that have been at the heart of what American Jewishness has become. And the interest in religion is one key way, I think, of exploring, like, a way out of that, toward this sense of Jewishness as alterity. I don’t think it’s the only way. But, I think, left to our own devices, there will be no Jewishness that is not Americanist or Zionism.

Mitchell Abidor, Arielle Angel, and Nathan Goldman, from a conversation recorded for Jewish Currents’ podcast On the Nose, coinciding by chance, just a couple of days apart earlier this month, with my last occasional longer thing. For me, this discussion among members of the Currents community sits usefully, provocatively — not to say simply neatly correspondingly — alongside what I’d been wanting for a long while to do some thinking about, there, in blog-post form. So the timing is nice.

[UPDATE 16 June: ] I’m appending below a link to the latest episode of Yahav Erez’s Disillusioned, which was published Tuesday and which I’ve just listened to. In its first half, as the guest recounts family history and upbringing as West Bank settler, this theme of complexity of place of religious text in contemporary Jewish life both secular and religious comes in recurringly.

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