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March 15, 2013

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PAGE 4A By Edgar M. Bronfman .  ...... HERITAGE,FL()RiDA JEWISH .NEWS; MARCI i5,-0t3 Judaism must embrace its 'doubters' NEW YORK (JTA)--As of 2012, one in 20 Americans is identifying themselves as an atheist, agnostic or unbeliever. According to the research done by the Pew Forum on Reli- gion and Public Life released last year, nearly 33 million Americans list themselves with no religious affiliation. While it's not specified in the Pew study how many Jews are among the ranks of the nonbelievers, doubtless the cultural landscape of Judaism is also impacted by these larger trends in Western culture. Part of the reason for this shift is the co- opting of what is perceived to be "religious" by the most conservative forces in our society. As increasingly narrow definitions of what it means to be a "believer" prevail, people with progressive social values or who openly doubt a life lived within the boundaries of strict religious practice find themselves at increas- ing distances from a life defined by a religious identity. Although I am a proud and active Jew, I count myself among those who find this definition of religiosity too constrictive. It seems the pendulum between doubters and believers is swinging further and further apart. Those who live in belief become more extreme in their views and less tolerant of any deviation from their definitions, while those who are more expansive in their views simply drop out rather than stay and fight for the legitimacy of their views. This binary approach does not move us forward.The question we must ask if we are to give serious consideration to the Jewish future Reflections on a Jewish merchant By Richard Ries I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about my great-grandfather, Moses Strouse. Not because t am interested that deeply in family trees or have ever visited ancestry.corn, but because I am drawn to sociology and am deeply disturbed about the 21st century transitions to large, faceless franchises and stores. Moses Strouse was a Jew from Germany, and he and his sons wound up--of all places--in Columbia City, ind., not far from Fort Wayne. In all likelihood, they were wondering where to live in between trains from Ellis Island to Chicago, and one stop in a tiny hamlet seemed as good as the next. What did these Jews know about farming? Not too much, so they built a shop, and became clothiers and tailors to gentiles, redolent of how a more famous Strauss---Levi Strauss--invented blue jeans and sold them to gentile gold miners in California earlier .in the century. Moses probably didn't know it, but he was both a sociological statistic--and an emissary of tolerance. Jews left Germany in the 19th century both for economic reasons and anti- Semitic ones, but they weren't systematically persecuted as theywere soon to be in the 20th century. They were simply looking for a better life in the New World, much as many from the Old World were. Strouses' Ien's Wear, the store he, my grandfather and grand uncles ran for nearly a century, was emblematic of the bucolic melting pot of national life. We tend to think of the "melting pot" as tenement housing in urban areas; ethnicities piled upon one another. The bustling, buzzing, swarming streets of Los Angeles and Brooklyn; the Puerto Ricans and the Chinese; the Italians and the Irish all come to mind--not farmers. But in sleepy Columbia City, Ind.,--and in hundreds of similar vil- lages all over the Midwest, the South and the frontier Jewish merchants set up shops, lived among farmers, created stakes for themselves in the lives of others, and became something they were not in their former lands: respected. The Strouses were "town Jews." When my mother became a bayonet twirler in Columbia City High School, I don't think another Jew- ish girl graduated from it until her sister did a decade later. These town Jews--all over the United States--became part of the fabric of Norman Rockwell's America. The Strouses sold OshKosh B'Gosh overalls to gentiles and fitted them in their "Sunday best." There were no cameras monitoring the store as there are at malls and superstores today. There was trust. Credit might be a handshake, and my ancestors likely helped many gentile neighbors get through the Great Depression and other rough spots with store credits that were re- ally gifts. As Jewish emissarieS, the Strouses slowly taught their town that Jews didn't have horns, that Jews had family values just like they did, and that Judaism was a faith to be .respected--not converted. These Jewish stores that dotted the Ameri- can landscape--primarily general stores, grocers and clothes shops--were centers of warmth, friendship and gossip. They were natural interaction points between gentiles and Jews; points that exist online or in other venues today. While a few such stores might still exist, they have been largely replaced by the Orwellian worlds of Target and Wal-Mart, CVS and Walgreens. Folksy Jewish mercantilism has been supplanted by "late capitalism"--that is what social critics call our era of anti-septic franchise stores and 24-hour availability. Strolling into my grandfather's store was an exercise in humanism; walking into Costco or Sam's Club is usually about as personal as some IBM data. One of the great and tragic ironies of rnod- ern times is that we fought Hitler and fascism only to create our own form of "consumer fascism." Starbucks baristas are militarized by their green aprons, and you must know the insider lingo of which vente !atte to order to be accepted. Store clerks all over the United . States wear the same uniforms, read from the Same scripts, andanswer customers with the same monotones. Their individuality is quashed in the name of corporate standards and training manuals; the American sales clerk, monitored by videotape and mystery shoppers (who are really supervisors in dis- :guise observing behaviors) are what French intellectual Michael Foucault calls "docile bodies in a fortress." Ethnicity is cleansed and recapitulated as Einstein Bagels, Tijuana Flats or Panda Express. None of this, of course, is true ethnicity. They are examples of what another French intellectual, Jean Baudrillard, called our era: the Age of Simulation. The next time you wander into a superstore or a fast food chain, and are automatically asked to supetsize it o1: if you have your cus- tomer points card with you, try to remember the Jewish merchants who existed before this dehumanizing era, and ask yourself what you can do to bring a little more warmth into the transaction, as the Strouses did. They were .real. Richard Ries is a graduate student at UCF and a staff writer at the Heritage. THE VIEWS EXPRESSED ON THIS PAGE ARE NOT NECESSARILY THE VIEWS OF HERITAGE MANAGEMENT.   CENTRAL FLORIDA'SINDEPENDENTJEWISHVOICE   ISSN 0199-0721 Winner of 41 Press Awards Editor/Publisher Jeffrey Gaeser Editor Emeritus Associate Editor Assistant Editor Gene Starn Mike Etzkin Kim Fischer HERITAGE Florida Jewish News ( ISN 0199-0721 ) is published weekly for $3795 per year to Florida ad- Sodety Editor Bookkeeping dresses ($46.95 for the rest of the U.S.) by HERITAGE Gloria Yousha Paulette Alfonso Central Florida Jewish News, Inc., 207 O'Brien Road, Suite 101, Fern Park, FL 32730. Periodicals postage Account Executives paid at Fern Park and additional mailing offices. Barbara do Carmo Marci Gaeser Richard Ries POSTMASTER: Send address changes and other correspondence to: HERITAGE, P.O. Box 300742, Contributing Columnists Fern Park, FL 32730. Jim Shipley Ira Sharkansky Tim Boxer David Bornstein Terri Fine Ed Ziegler MAILING ADDRESS PHONE NUMBER P.O. Box 300742 (407) 834-8787 Production Department Fern Park, FL 32730 . FAX (407) 831-0507 David Lehman * David Gaudio Teri Marks emaih Elaine Sehooping Gil Dombrosky Caroline Pope I is why are the narrowest definitions winning the fight over defining Judaism? At 83, I'm unusual for my generation in my open doubting: Generally the younger the age group, the less religious they are. Millennials, specifically those born between 1990 and 1994, the youngest group of adults polled, logged in with 34 percent religiously unaffiliated. This fits in to trends that Jewish sociolo- gists have seen emerging throughoutthe late 20th centurywithinAmerican Judaism, where intermarriage, lack of affiliation with institu- tions and general alienation from Jewish life expands amid increasing assimilation. I refer to this generation as "doubters": young Jews who operrly question the mean- ing and worth of a traditional Jewish life. The existence of these doubters, with their hard questions about the relevancy of Judaism to their lives and removal from the community, usually is met with alarmist cries of fear about the existence of the Jewish future that I see as unfounded. What frightens me about this information is different. It strikes me as a loss on two levels. First, the doubter allows the narrowest definition of what constitutes a religious life to dominate. Second, it is the young people self-imposing their own exile from the Jewish people. While I feel sadness knowing our young people do not always embrace the wealth of heritage that is theirs, I also understand them. That is not to say I agree. I know what it means, however, to look at the Jewish landscape and feel that the existing options offer no home. If one needs to see that in action, look at the religious forces in Israel, where the rabbinate has stifling control over a religious life defined by haredi Orthodox definitions that limit the civil rights of secular citizens. It is a blessing then--of the non-religious variety--that here in America we live in a society that allows so many avenues ofreligious expression. (This is emerging in Israel, too, but it is far more com- plicated, although inroads are being made.) In my youth and young adulthood, there were unifying causes of the Jewish people-- something we all stood behind jointly because we knew in our hearts it was right. We stood together against the Holocaust, for the State of Israel and to free Soviet Jewry. Such a single uniting principle allowed even those who did not see themselves .inside of religion to still feel a place among our people. In modern times, however, this central cause is lost to us. The threat of anti-Semitism is not as vital as it once was for many of us-- especially here in America--and the threats to Jewish lives and well-being become more and mdre theoretical and remote for younger Jews, especially those who distancethemselves from Israel. So what are the communal experiences that will guide us to a better Jewish future? There is a triple responsehere: education, positive communal experiences and unifying causes of social justice. Jews are now secure enough, especially in America, to focus their activities on the bet- terment of all humanity, not just the Jewish people. Coupled with that is the need for even doubting Jews to educate themselves about their heritage and traditions. Those practices need not be limited by the most religious interpretations. Acknowledging a Judaism that embraces doubt, and that such a practice is backed by hundreds of years of Jewish thinking, is one way in which we; like our forefather Abraham, can expand our tent. It is time to be realistic about the future of the religious and cultural heritages of Judaism. In abandoning the doubters and their tough questions, we are abandoning the hope that the legacy of our meaningful texts, beautiful rituals and unique view of the world will live on--not because we didn't embrace religion, but because we didn't embrace doubt. Edgar M. Bronfman is the president of the Samuel Bronfman Foundation and the former president of the World Jewish Congress. He is the former CEO of the Seagram Company Ltd. Letter from Israel [ semantics of peace By Ira Sl4ans Nervous Jews are worrying if Barack Obama is intent on forcing Israel into a peace process. Leaving aside the issue that being nervous is a chronic condition of being Jewish, an appropriate response to Obama and all the others who think that Israel is not doing enough to make peace with the Palestinians is that peace is already upon us. It is a Jewish peace, to be sure, but peace none the less. Peace is, after all, more a semantic isstle, or a matter of comparison, than anything absolute. No one in the world lives in absolute peace. Americans least of all, with their astronomical murder rate, high rate of traffic deaths, the lowest life expectancy among developed countries, and their involvement around the world contributing their share of the mayhem in the name of peace. (I've documented in previous notes high U.S. murder rates, low life expectancy and the vari- ous estimates of'deaths in Iraq as a result of the U.S. invasion. For those wanting three different measures of U.S. traffic deaths compared to other countries, click here.) Jewish history looks like the Israeli Jewish pres- ent. Most days, months, and years are peaceful for most of us. Every once in a while, however, the goyishe masses with some of their intellectual and political elites urging them go on a rampage in order to kill Jews. According to my reading of'Jewish history, it's been that way more or less forever, in the period described in the Hebrew Bible, throughout the Middle Ages, and up to last weekend. Thing have changed. Last weekend an Israeli police helicopter was circling over Isaweea to help.the police deal with points of unrest. Other well armed Israeli police were lounging at an assembly point in French Hill, ready to act if necessary. Meanwhile a group of Arabs, most likely from Isaweea, were playing football in the school yard 10 or so meters from this desk. Except for some yelling in the mid-game enthusiasm, it was as peaceful as is any game among Jews in the same school yard If I pay attention, I can-understand what the Jews are yelling about. I can only guess about the Arabs. Everyone once in a while I notice Jews and Arabs playing together. For the most part, it's a matter of a pick-up game among Jews or amongArabs. The playground is part of the Janusz Korczak Primary School. Those famitiarwith his story may appreciate the significance for this note. Others can look at this. Is Israel peaceful enough? Choose your measurement. Compared to what other country at the present time? Compared to what period of Jewish history? Ah] You deny the value of comparison? Only something absolute will satisfy? How to deal with that? Without a standard of measurement, how can we tell if the peace is sufficient? Should we worry about the Palestinians, and what Israel is doing or not doing to make their lives more pceful? I think the record shows that Israel has tried, in two high profile efforts since the year 2000. And in countless encounters Israeli security forces have sought to control Palestinian violence with a minimum of casualties to them and to us. Laugh? Take a look at the film 5 Broken Cameras, which shows from a Palestinian view Israeli efforts to control Palestinians, and compare it with cur- rent news films about the actions of Syrian and Egyptian forces in the Syrian civil war and the Egyptian chaos still short of civil war. Ah. You again refuse to compare. We're in trouble. Without comparison, there can be no evalu- ation. The constant claim that it could always be bet- ter also requires comparison, best done by what occurs in other places which it is fair to use as a standard of comparison. Since the United States is the source of the most pressing assertions that Israel ought to do better with respect to making peace, the United States appears to provide a fair point of comparison. No doubt the U.S. has reasons for sending its military elsewhere. Three thousand deaths on 9-11 was the iconicAmerican experience. However, the deaths in one of Israel's iconic events, the second intifada, were about 20 times higher as aproportion of population And perhaps 10,000 Palestinians Peace on page 19A