I do make a conscious effort to keep this blog as positive as possible, but let’s face it–sometimes we all need to kvetch a bit. As sleep seems to elude me on this particular night, I recently found myself scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed. By nature of my interests (Jewish thought, study, practice, etc.) I have a myriad of Jewish websites and organizations whose posts flood my feed. I have noticed a trend that I do find a bit disturbing, and I am not calling it universal. Perhaps what I am witnessing is just a case of synchronicity, but I am beginning to doubt that.
While the majority of periodicals, websites, and writings that concern Judaism are thoughtful, educational, and often inspirational, there do seem to be many exceptions. I am going to target some millennials now, and I am absolutely allowed to do this due to the fact that I am considered to be a part of this group. The vast majority of the articles and posts that I see on many pages (I won’t name them here) that are meant to appeal to millennials and Gen-Z are…well…cringeworthy. If I see another article with the variation of the titles, “10 signs that you’re a Jew in New York City” or “25 Reasons Why Bagels in Williamsburg Should Have Mustaches” (OK, I made that one up. But, it’s really not that far off), I might have to blow into a shofar or something.
Don’t get me wrong. Anyone who knows me is aware of my lively sense of humor, and my willingness to find the fun and lightness in all things possible. I am however, starting to get a bit worried. I read numerous articles around the holidays wherein young Jewish writers referred to themselves as “grinchy” and “scroogey”, and then went on to write about secondhand shopping, and navigating how to date people who work on Wall Street, as legitimate activities of Judaism. Yikes.
As a Jew who happens to be a millennial, these facts worry me on a couple of different levels. Are younger Jews so void of Jewish education and interest that a “Jewish” website or periodical featuring The demographic of interest has been relegated to promoting material that is reminiscent of some reality TV Jewish-Kardashian type of schlock? I know that when I write a post, I want it to be thoughtful and attempt to at least touch upon some Torah, or Jewish teachings, thoughts, and ideas. Also, if one is truly a practicing, educated, or well-informed Jew, we should know that being called a “grinch” or “scrooge” is anti-Semitic in that it implies a Jew’s lack of Christian practice as a hostile act. We should be bothered by being labeled as such, and we should absolutely avoid using it in reference to ourselves!
I do believe that much of these issues harken back to the religious non-affiliation of the young Jew in America. When Jewish places of worship and study do not interest and draw in the millennial or Gen-Z Jew, we are left with generations of Jewish people whose Jewish identities are relegated to their memories of summer camp, their favorite Jewish delicatessens, and witnessing how their parents observe Judaism. Many young Jews seem to be identifying largely in a cultural sense that lacks any sort of profound practice or affiliation. If one does not daven, read Torah, study Hebrew, or engage with Jewish texts, what remains appears to be some idea of Judaism as it exists in the minds of those who view Jews as archetypal cultural caricatures eating bagels and deli, while also possessing strange attitudes about Christmas.
Perhaps much of the material that is out there is a reflection of the times that we live in. Easy reads and instant gratification rule the day. It is obviously much simpler to read a list of “25 things every Jewish 20-something needs to know about J Date” (or something) than to delve into an article that deals with a topic that tackles Jewish perspectives on current issues with a Torah-based backdrop.
I recognize that we, as Jews in the Diaspora, are constantly walking the line between assimilation into dominant culture versus maintaining healthy Jewish identities. When I see the promotion of trivial cultural writings on popular mainstream Jewish sites that employ the usage of anti-Semitic tropes, I worry. I am not intending to be judgmental, but only aspiring to maintain Jewish interest, study, and engagement that recognizes the robust and bountiful beauty of spiritual life and knowledge that is Judaism.
I sincerely hope that the millennial and Gen-Z Jews of America will find their way to a Judaism that is deep and meaningful as I have been able to. I feel it is my responsibility as a member of the demographic to let my fellow young Jews know that it is OK to feel moved to pray, to study, to read. If we do not lift one another up to see the rich profundity of Judaism, we will be stuck with more lists about the best everything bagel in Bushwick in place of thoughtful discussion on pressing Jewish issues. We must move into the future as educated, enthusiastic Jewish people if we are to continue thriving.
And thrive we must!
Thank you for letting me kvetch a bit.