Deborah Dash Moore, “Sources of Personal Identity: Religion, Ethnicity, and the American Cultural Situation,” Religion and American Culture 2:1 (Winter 1992): 18-22

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  Deborah Dash Moore, “Sources of Personal Identity: Religion, Ethnicity, and the American Cultural Situation,” Religion and American Culture 2:1 (Winter 1992): 18-22
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   18 Religion and American Culture  answer that question, Catholics, at least, ough  tion to changes in the intellectual fabric of their on the ethnic and cultural scene DEBORAH DASH MOORE  It is odd-no, extraordinary--to be reflecting on c  Jewish identity in the forum pages of a journal devoted to r  American culture. It is not that the subject is ignored in zines and journals of opinion. Indeed, anguished as well self-searching abounds in such venues. But that a general cated to interpretation at the cutting edge of discourse on t  etration of religion and culture should choose to include examining the subject of personal and group identity is Jewish presence here is proof of the editors' contention of less full social as well as political acceptance in America o  merly at the religious and cultural margins. No longer exclusively parochial interest, the identity of American scrutiny by those concerned with the rapidly changing religion and culture in the United States. American Jews just neighbors and colleagues, they are friends and even f  bers. Not exotic others, they are still not quite us. Or are th  lies the difference?  The movement of Jews from the margins toward stream began with World War II, as the editors note. Th  formed American Jews, as Jews and as Americans. against the Axis, Jews discovered the extent of the links gion and culture. Religion, especially the Judeo-Christia was enlisted in the ideological battle against Nazism and war strengthened American Jews' identity as Jews at th  that it widened their American cultural compass. It also disorganized, competitive community of immigrants and the  to forge a stable communal order that assured reliability  wealth, organization, and cooperation with world Jewry. lessly watched the Nazi destruction of European Jews, A  were determined to learn the bitter lessons of their politi  Their experiences in the United States military gave them a of empowerment; final victory offered a vision of the po  democracy. They saw in the dawn of the American century, war era was dubbed, an opportunity to redress past wro  participate in shaping a world order that would eliminate ity of a future war against the Jews. Thus, American Je  Israel--Jewish political power embodied in a nation-stat international agreement-and they committed themselve   Forum 19  truly dem  ination. T  mainstrea  ble whole which Je  In retro  it was achi  supportin  struggle. and its i  American after the ish and an munists si  but, as t  influence sciously n  to be Jewi  This red  upon a rel  card thei  stance of Even com  in the 19  religion. serve the only Judai religions c  mate asso sor overs  did Jewis the third led to the Scholars that the t  the Six D  Jewish fe  in liberal threatene  Coming a  movement war prom  toward a s cern; it be   20 Religion and American Culture  While not denying its catalytic quality, t  mately reinforced the old agenda. Although organizations left the civil rights struggle in largely because they had dismantled most of th  natory barriers. They had helped change the society, opening many doors previously barre  had vigorously pursued had been achieved. substantially different from what it had been in ralist society that recognized ethnic diversity. A to live as Jews as they had never been before. Th  Jews by choice (the term adopted by converts had ceased to be ineluctable, a fate or destiny Jews could continue to ignore theology; they coul  attend them only once a year; they could supp  visit it; they could participate as a voting bloc in they could educate their children to be aware t  an American religious group, Jews could jettison nic distinctiveness linked to their immigrant src  Jewish language, foodways, and family patte  those of other Americans of similar occupation an Although Jews were free to be Jewish in al  they desired as an American religious group, t  their understanding of religion for this new s  Having relegated religion to the irrelevant real  confined it to the synagogue, having reduced it t  ral God, having labeled it sectarian, divisive, Jews had to reexamine the meaning of religi  serve as the glue uniting Jews, then their unders  to expand. Judaism could no longer be seen as t  In fact, virtually all of the things American J  cused as religious activity. In the process of givin  lective Jewish life, American Jews subtly rei  identity.  The religious reimaginings are remarkable. There are very few  secular Jews left today; they describe themselves as nonobservant.  Kosher-style food entices those who seek the cuisine of east Euro-  pean Jews, while the minority who keep kosher can enjoy the taste of  ersatz shrimp or bacon and other forbidden or exotic delicacies. The  formerly secular federation movement which collects funds and dis- perses monies to Jewish communal organizations sees itself as repre-  senting the civil religion of American Jews, dedicated to the sacred task  of Jewish survival. Explicitly religious organizations have enlarged and diversified their institutional identity. Theological seminaries not only  support museums engaged in presenting, selecting, preserving, and   Forum 21  defining agogue si  piety in s  ture. Con  teach the  als. Israel  refuge f powerless  social crea  a sign of the Holoc  sions. Isra  American religious its messag  These re tention. many be  tuted reli  ratist or  Judaism. rapidly c  tion to fe  rents in of funda dence, en individual as a religi  Jewish s contribu  speak the a concept  Jews fro tion had e  Not onl  but they world. Si  gious ide  ism, it Flexible a  Jewish le Jews for requireme  date reas   22 Religion and American Culture  tions, to acknowledge women s claims for eq spiritual voice, and, through these struggles, denominators. Those who count well say that and attending a Passover seder are two suc  denominators, as is support for Israel. Is this political acceptance on Jewish identity: divers  commonality of Hanuka candles, Passover sede Social and political acceptance in the Unit  security-the success of the postwar Jewish ag  can Jews choices. The necessity of choosing ha  to start from the beginning, facing a cultural limited only by their own ignorance and lack of scratch has led Jews to seek others to search share their values and their worldview, not t  inheritance. Thus, American Jews rather self-co  group religious communities of the like-minde  vidual and collective identities. Not all Jews take the freedom to choose to ignore their Jewis  the truly secular, displacing their identity on  Jewish parents, they explain. What this interpreter s religious position. What it bodes fo  in the United States is subject to fierce intra  secured the right to be different, American J  minimal consensus on just where Judaism dif  they need or ought to be.
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