Mar 09 2010
As I fly from Toronto to Tel Aviv, I think of what it means to belong to the Jewish community in Canada.
The old challenge of fitting into a host community still remains in my day, though the circumstances are much to be appreciated.
A Jew in modern Canada need not fear that too ostentatious a show of cultural life will attract pogrom-minded peasants with cudgels and pitchforks. On the other hand, an authentically Jewish lifestyle can seem a pointless aim in an overwhelmingly secular and multicultural society.
When Jews no longer need to “stick together” as ghettoized victims, when we have been so successful at making the most of our newfound freedoms and enjoy the company of our fellow global citizens, roots that once grounded an individual are seen merely as limiting this person to a single boring and unfree spot.
I am a perfect example of this phenomenonI had a Bar Mitzvah when I was thirteen. I enjoy Passover dinners with my cousins in Vancouver. I enjoy explaining the story of Chanukah to my gentile friends, who are invariably surprised to find out that it is one of the least important holidays on the Jewish calendar. When dramatic news footage comes on following yet another suicide bombing or rocket attack on some Israeli border town, I tend to sit up and take notice.
That said, I’m as secular as they come. I don’t believe in God. I never have. I wonder at how 18th century Polish ghetto attire became the default standard of Orthodox Jewish fashion.
I don’t speak Hebrew and would much rather spend time practicing French or Cantonese. My wife is of Chinese ethnicity/ Our “mixed marriage”, far from being an acrimonious disaster burdened by incompatible value systems of different cultures, is in fact a happy union very much guided by universal values of showing love, respect and (at least on my part) a constant gratitude for being with someone who is smokin’ hot.
Those of my Jewish friends and associates who did marry other Jews do seem at least as happy as the general married population. But I am not convinced by those who would say that intermarriage puts an extra burden on the married couple, not to mention the larger question of Jewish continuity.
Still, I am not wholly apart from my heritage. I feel an intellectual (though not always emotional) solidarity with diaspora Jews worldwide. I feel a special obligation to understand well the twentieth century’s alternately horrific and awe-inspiring history. Of course, the Jewish state figures prominently in my online essays and occasionally in my conversations.
Does this make me an authentic Jew? Am I any less a Jew than, say, an Israeli, who is most likely the product of immigrant parents from Eastern Europe, the USA or the Arab world? More to the point, will I feel a sense of belonging when I touch down in Tel Aviv?