Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Tribe Diatribe

If it has been too long since my last substantive, non-poetry based post, please understand that it is not a function of my abandonment of my beloved audience (you all, about whom I care deeply), but rather because I am still in recovery from this article in the Jerusalem Post.

Now, whenever I come across articles of this nature—that is, malinformed and small-minded—I wonder if the dialogue is enhanced by my commentary. If I pick apart this gentleman’s argument piece by piece, if I point out the flaws, if I urge you all to actually consider the man’s case, even if only to refute it, aren’t I implicitly condoning the existence of this diatribe? Am I inherently suggesting that some aspect of his absurdity is legitimate?

I am so angry, I don’t even know where to go from here. Do I suggest that the writer can legitimately draw his conclusions about the conference to which he refered (about Jewish philanthropies funding cultural programming) only if he attended said conference and not through inferences derived from someone else’s notes? That the part of the study he asserts were ignored—that the Jews who attend cultural events do have extensive Jewish backgrounds—were not ignored and were in fact discussed in depth, a fact I know because I attended the event and took my own notes? He asks, “If young American Jews are not affiliating despite being more educated and engaged then ever, what causes Jews of my generation to leave the community behind? “ Had he been at the conference, he would know that unaffiliated does not equal uninvolved, that leaving prescribed denominations does not mean leaving the community, that, in fact, many young Jews are using Jewish cultural events as a jumping off point to connect and form their own communities. He would also know that far from universalism, the findings of Cohen and other sociologists indicate a trend toward particularism, toward hybridism, toward “niches.” The writer does touch on this issue:

What makes this assimilation so hard to see is that it looks and smells like particularism. Individuals wear their ethnic colors on their sleeve and spice their foods with traditional flavors. But one should not be mistaken. Just because someone looks Jewish and sounds Jewish does not mean that they will act Jewish. Just because you drink Manishevitz and go to a klezmer concert does not make you any more Jewish than were you to drink tequila and listen to salsa.

And just because you use the words “zeitgeist” and “esthetic” in your article does not make you erudite. Or right.

Update (11/01/06): I was remiss in my research. Somehow, I missed Esther's reaction to the article (my sincere apologies, oh wise and magnanimous Esther).


BZ said...

Beery completely doesn't get it, and isn't worth wasting your breath.

Ariel Beery said...

Thanks BZ--I'd argue differently, and the post you link to does nothing to refute my argument. In fact, I find it a bit pathetic in that it tries to make personal attacks into arguments.

Actually, BZ, I would argue that your entire life-work is a verification my my article. Kol Zimrah is not about symbols and bar nights--it is about creating a rich society that provides cultural symbols with meaning. People go to Kol Zimrah not because it's "hip," but because they care to engage in Jewish life.

Cohen and Kelman do not study that phenomenon. They did not ask themselves whether the over eighty percent highly-engaged people attending Heeb and JDub events are there because of efforts such as Kol Zimrah and Hadar and Brooklyn Jews, or whether they come to Kol Zimrah, Hadar and Bkyln Jews because they happened across a Heeb party.

So don't waste your breath if you don't want too--but then again, you're the proof in my argument.

As for you, Harvey, I have not only read the study extensively, I have also interviewed a number of people regarding the sessions--and all of them came out of the event with the same conclusion: the UJA/NFJC was arguing that cultural events can be instrumentally useful in getting young Jews connected.

As BZ proves in his very existence, and the Cohen/Kelman study proves in its evidence, that is a false proposition. The Jewish community would do better to fund Kol Zimrah and Hadar than the rest--because, as I have proved with PresenTense , a magazine can be started and content can be provided without institutional investment. But tell that to those spoiled Jewish brats who bewail their lack of funding...

Ariel Beery said...

Sorry--just to clarify, Heeb gets a much larger audience than Kol Zimrah and Hadar and Brooklyn Jews. That much is true. So, logically, KZ and Hadar can't be the sole feeders into the less content-oriented stuff. Good point, DK.

That said, Heeb nights are fun because they are a way for those people who are heavily engaged or have been heavily engaged to blow off steam. Nothing wrong with that. It's just a question of what leads to what--and my claim continues to be that content leads to culture and not the other way around.

harley said...

Ariel, those are excellent points. When you wrote the article, if you meant to criticize Jewish cultural events on account that they were devoid of rich, positive Jewish content, then that's a justifiable point to make. That point did not come across in the article, however. Instead, it read as a blanket condemnation of Jewish cultural events as a valid form of Jewish expression. It was this latter point that so angered me. Your clafication on your blog (arielbeery.com) elaborated on the former opinion and I encourage all of our readers to read that post.