I blog a lot about Jews and Jewish concerns. But I rarely talk about my Jewishness in the abstract. But Daisy of Dear Diaspora points out that we are getting to the point where my generation has to take responsibility for Judaism writ large. That being said, she asks the following questions, which I'm answering from the hip, and I hope spark further conversation on the topic.
What do you like about Judaism and Jewish culture? What do you dislike?
I like that Judaism is a place of ideas. It is a place where intellect and argument are valued, and more importantly, not valued for their own sake but as a critical tool in the pursuit of social justice.
I dislike Jewish passivity. I think we are too tame in asserting ourselves as an independent perspective worthy of respect and dignity -- on concerns explicitly Jewish and not. For all the talk of Jewish pushiness, there is a definitive keep-your-head down mentality stemming from a desire not to reinforce stereotypes of power and neurosis. I don't fault folks for being cautious, but I don't have to like it either.
Why are Judaism and Jewish culture important? Why is it important to preserve them?
Whenever someone asks me why Judaism is important to me, I always respond first by citing Emil Fackenheim's 614th Commandment. I can't say much more about it except to say that it exhibits a genuine pull on me. I can feel it, as deep in my soul as it can get.
Beyond that, though, I think Judaism offers an important perspective on issues. We've been around awhile. We have a lot to say. It is good that we're here to say it, and it is good that we are still conversant in the history and practices which make our speech intelligible and give it context, nuance, and richness.
What is your relationship with Judaism as a religion? Do you feel connected to Judaism? To a temple community, to a minyan, to a study group? If not, would you like to be?
Are you affiliated with any of the movements? Which one, and why? If not, why not? What do you like and/or dislike about it?
I have home synagogue, which I like a lot, but I don't really go to synagogue that often. Again, my connection with Judaism is far stronger on the ideas side than it is on the ritual side (though that is important to me too). In terms of movements, my synagogue is Conservative, and I like my synagogue, so I'm a Conservative Jew. If I was picking out of the air, though, I'd probably identify closer with Reconstructionist Judaism -- I think they do the best job of taking Judaism seriously while still subjecting it to critical analysis.
How observant are you? How important is observance to you? How observant should others be? Are some kinds of observance more important than others?
I'm strangely observant. As you might have guessed, I care a lot about "thinking Jewishly" -- that is, it matters to me that my broader positions and ideologies cohere with my Jewish identity. In terms of ritualistic observance, I'm more haphazard. I don't keep any sort of strict Kosher, but I do avoid shellfish and pork, and cheeseburgers (but not milk & meat combos more generally). The specific anti-cheeseburger rule is a function of that food being the paradigmatic example of "things my friends could eat but I couldn't because I'm Kosher", so it matters more to me to keep that redline up.
What practices or ideas are most central to your Jewish identity? (i.e. eating bagels, loving books, celebrating the High Holidays, not celebrating Christian holidays, keeping kosher, fighting for justice, etc.)
Bagels are obviously important (and very difficult to find with any quality in the mid-west). I do tend to define a lot my Jewish practice in terms of distinctiveness -- namely, being distinctively not Christian. I don't celebrate Christian holidays with substantially more vigor than I do celebrate Jewish holidays. But that goes back to my desire to assert Jewish independence.
Ideally, what will Judaism and Jewish culture look like in 10 years? In 25 years? In 100 years?
Couldn't say -- I'd like to think it would be still evolving. And same in 1,000 years. Even ideally, things shouldn't be static.
What are most critical issues for the Jewish community to address right now? Israel, intermarriage, declining synagogue attendance, something else entirely?
Anti-Semitism matters a lot, and I do think we need to be vigorous in addressing it. But in general, I think it is critically important for Jews to establish and solidify our right to a positive, independent Jewish identity that is worthy of respect in of itself.
What are the key qualities for Judaism/Jewish culture to embody or functions for it to perform?
Judaism should be welcoming to all Jews, create space for Jews of diverse backgrounds and beliefs to enact their Jewishness in a variety of ways, and promote norms of fairness and justice throughout the Jewish community and the world.