Hey CNN! I’m a “New Jew” too!


While doing my usual CNN check at work – to be completely caught up on important news, not celebrity gossip, no way – I was caught by surprise at the homepage. Right there on the front is a picture of the back of somebody’s neck with a tattoo reading “Kosher” and a picture of a pig. The title reads ” ‘New Jews’ stake claim to faith, culture.”

Wonderful, I thought. Another article that will (only) talk about hipster Jews and how cool they are with their tattoos and alternative culture.

But reading through the article, I was actually kind of impressed. A nice spectrum of individuals were mentioned and interviewed, including Ramah California’s own brag-worthy Aaron Bisman of J-Dub records. Yes, we all laughed at his Jew-boy, red-head dreadlocks back in the summer of 2000, but he’s turned his company (and himself) into something really worth talking about (and I can say truthfully, some of their bands are awesome!). We  get a little of Heeb magazine, a bit of Jewish punk – but there is Elie Kaunfer, golden boy of traditional, egalitarian communities like Hadar and DC Minyan.

And Rabbi Joel Roth of JTS finally puts to bed (for a greater public) the claim that if you have a tattoo, you can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Where the hell did people come up with that idea, anyway? If you eat pork, can you also not be buried in a Jewish cemetery? What if you observe zero commandments and don’t even believe in God? Why do people think that having a tattoo is so much more sinful than anything else?

But  back to the point – this is a decent story. A nice representation of where some young Jews are headed – to a place where they feel they can express themselves and also care about their culture and religion. It’s not about having a tattoo or playing punk Jewish music, it’s just about finding what works for you, what connects you.  If  that’s praying 3 times a day and observing all the commandments, great! If it’s not, great! If it’s having a huge Jewish star tattooed on your back, painful, but great! It’s not our job to tell other Jews how to celebrate their Judaism. Don’t tell me to get a tattoo, and I won’t tell you to keep Shabbat! I might suggest having Shabbat dinner – I mean, who doesn’t like a nice dinner party with friends and wine on a Friday night?

And as I scrolled further down the page, I started seeing the comments. Oh man. I think the ability to comment on articles should seriously be taken off news pages. People are crazy!!! Why are you getting in fights with people via-comment box on CNN.com? The comments range from praising the article to heckling CNN for having no news to report, from being embarrassed of how Jews are represented to expressing anger those who choose to express their Judaism outside of the traditional structure.

One comment reads “how is this news?” Ok, so for CNN, this probably doesn’t so much qualify as news – not in the sense of “breaking news” anyway. But this movement – “Judaism 2.0” as Ari Wallach calls it – is news in the sense that this is a new culture that is coming about. In a time of widespread assimilation, it’s news-worthy that young Jews are finding ways to be modern, Western and Jewish at the same time.

And not all of this “Judaism 2.0” is only cultural or counter-culture. G-dcasts are completely based on Torah, on the weekly readings. The words are interpreted into music, sound and images. It’s actually kind of cool. So who says that the new Jews are secular and devoid of religion? It’s all about how YOU choose to connect, that’s the whole point. It’s not about denominations, it’s about feeling a part of something bigger than yourself. It’s about being able to have a Jewish wedding and a Jewish home, despite your sexual orientation.

This isn’t replacing the older traditions, it’s building on them. So chill out, crazy CNN commenters. As one suggested, how about talking about “New Muslims.” You’re right! How about it? Because there is a whole, younger generation of Islam that wants to be modern while still connecting. So even though you’re comment was intended to be cynical and sarcastic, it was actually a pretty good idea.

I feel really appreciative that I can live in a time where I can express myself any way I want. I can go to Saturday morning services and read a Heeb magazine during the  boring parts. I can sit around a holiday table with all my pierced, tattooed and crazy-colored hair friends. I can rock all my own earrings and my nose ring at work – at a Jewish organization – and not be worried about being criticized or reprimanded.

My only point of contention with this article – “hipsters tos[sing] back bottles of HE’BREW.” Come on, now that’s just bad beer! Highly alcoholic, but bad. We don’t roll that way.

The times – they are a-changing. So just sit back, and enjoy the ride…you might actually enjoy it. Or you might not. But at least it will give you something to talk about.

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One Response

  1. Quickskim count of persons named and reported on
    in the story: 1 woman, 11 men (check my arithmetic:
    may be off a tad, but proportionally correct).

    Nothing much new about that!

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