To attract young Jewish Americans to your politics you need to be young, vibrant…sexy? Progressives have repurposed Judaism to suit their political needs and their marketing it with some good ol’ fashioned sex appeal.
My cantor is in his 80s. He drives a silver Jag with a “Stop Pelosi” bumper sticker at 20mph and lovingly chuckles as he tells you that his wife of 60+ years is now studying Scientology. “She’s still trying to find herself,” he says with a glint in his eye. “One week in Auschwitz and I knew who I was.”
Over lunch last week he told me two stories. The first was about a screenwriter who had approached him and asked if she could craft his survival story for Hollywood. Never one to stare down an opportunity, he shared his story. When he got to the part about the secret girlfriend he had in the camps, the screenwriter asked for more details.
“We discussed Plato,” the Cantor explained carefully, jaw set firm with a warning glare in his eyes.
Nuance was apparently not in her parlance. The story needs sex, she explained. Hollywood is loaded with Holocaust memoirs. We need something that will really catch their eye—really appeal to their… senses.
In other words, for it to appeal to Hollywood’s desired younger demographic, we need to start sexing up the Holocaust.
My Cantor laughed at my observation and remarked, “What are you going to do?”
The second story he told me was about his latest batch of bar and bat mitzvah students. “These kids could care less,” he observed. “These Jewish schools, they teach no pride. But,” he paused and shook off his displeasure, “what are you going to do?”
I’d say sex up the bar mitzvah, but we already have: It’s called the after-party. Haven’t been to a chocolate fountain-laden, DJ dancer-thumping tween party in a while? Just check out Keeping Up with the Steins. But the sexing up of modern Judaism doesn’t stop there.
The Union for Reform Judaism offers a slew of youth programming in association with NFTY- the North American Federation of Temple Youth, a branch of Netzer Olami, the “worldwide youth movement of the World Union for Progressive Judaism.” According to their website, Living NFTY entails the very Jewish ideas of vowing not to use your cell phone while driving, eradicating bullying, and educating communities about eating disorders. Along with passing a resolution regarding conflict minerals at their latest national meeting, NFTY decided that this year’s study theme would be on the “Power of Personal Expression.”
Turning what was a community into a confederation of individual expression isn’t solely the responsibility of Reform Judaism and it doesn’t end after college graduation. For Gen-X/Y/Z-ers, Jewish pop culture picks up the slack. Initiated a few years ago with magazines like HEEB, movies like The Hebrew Hammer, and well-chronicled by Lisa Alcalay Klug in her book Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe, this “emerging” movement of Pop Judaism is keeping Jewish sexy—in a very progressive way.
Promoting “a new generation of organic, decentralized, and flexible structures,” Judaism’s Emergent sector touts “…online communities, the social justice orgs, political initiatives and culture creators.” In other words, the Emergent movement is replacing the synagogue and community center with Facebook and Twitter, and the religion of Judaism with the politics of Progressivism.
Kung Fu Jew, writing at JewSchool.com (one of the bastions of the Emergent movement), recently attended TribeFest, sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America. Held in Las Vegas, the three-day symposium featured a keynote from the DNC’s new chief, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, along with a series of panel discussions including the titles “Do You Have to Love Israel to Be a Good Jew?” and “Rock the Vote: Engaging in Our Democracy.” The “Rock the Vote” panel was a solo act featuring the head of Rock the Vote, an overwhelmingly pro-Obama non-profit that made no bones about using sex to encourage youth support for ObamaCare in 2009. Commenting on the “young leader’s soiree,” Kung Fu wrote:
“…it certainly has caught our elders’ attention that large numbers of their children vote with their feet and leave the communal fold for alternate ventures. …TribeFest is at long last an acknowledgement that the existing model isn’t sustainable.”
What is “sustainable” in the eyes of Emergent Jews? Progressive organizations like J Street, the New Israel Fund, and Encounter; progressive-themed events like the NY Food Justice Seder; and the insistence that the most democratic country in the Middle East somehow just doesn’t understand what “democracy” means—from a Progressive point of view.
Sustainable Emergent Judaism is more akin to a political movement with a religious façade than vice-versa. Yet, not unlike their political adversaries, this Progressive Judaism makes careful use of their religion to justify their partisan motives. Taking ideas expressed in Jewish liturgy, like Tikkun Olam, and refashioning them to suit an agenda of social justice, Progressive Judaism can refashion any cause into a seemingly Jewish one. This helps to re-focus a Judaism built on the three pillars of G-d, Torah, and Israel, onto more popular, “sexier” causes like suffering Palestinians, bulimic teenagers, and diamonds in the Congo. Naysayers to this emergent trend who dare to point out that these causes have nothing to do with learning about or growing in Jewishness can simply be accused of not being a good Jew, and suddenly an entire political movement has inerrant justification because it appears to the human eye that God is on their side.
Given this understanding, it should come as no surprise that my cantor’s students could care less about their Jewish inheritance, because they have absolutely no idea what a Jewish inheritance is. They are aware of the fact that they are responsible for championing a variety of causes that, to the mind of an average American tween, seem incredibly remote at best. Pop Judaism serves to fill in the gaps via the Internet, turning what once was a community-based faith into a confederation of politicized WiFi hotspots, and voila! Sexy Judaism doesn’t just appeal to Hollywood anymore.
Guilt and familial obligation just don’t cut it for young Jewish Americans. The religion of Judaism and the culture of Jewishness need to be, well, sexy. For a growing number of Jewish American youth, sexy Judaism is progressive Judaism. Leftists have finally found a way to make the ideology of Marx, Stalin, Che and Mao appealing to the younger demographic, and even palatable to the older crowd, simply by giving progressivism a Jewish veneer. Who knew that in the process, any true Jewishness would disintegrate from the inside out?
Well, what are you going to do?