New report tackles Jewish identity through culture
Kudos to the National Foundation for Jewish Culture for releasing (yes, another but markedly different) report on Jewish identity and affiliation–this time, with a more nuanced approach that disrupts the typical dichotomy and definition of affiliated and unaffiliated, and that values culture as an integral part of Jewish life. The report, “Cultural Events & Jewish Identities” was written by Steven M. Cohen and Ari Kelman.
Rather than perpetuating the idea of young Jews as unafilliated because of not attending traditional Jewish institutions, this report moves away from stagnant reporting practices to understand, acknowledge and honor that young Jews are incredibly engaged–visiting and interviewing many at Jewish cultural events throughout New York City.
The report is long for sure, but filled with lots of interesting and compelling information including a first-ever cultural analysis of the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey, as well as a breakdown of the “functions” of Jewish cultural engagement.
The report was commissioned by the UJA-Federation of NY, which is also launching a fellowship program for Jewish artists. One of the implications for a report of this kind, at its best, will also mean potentially an increase of funding to support Jewish arts. As one who does not believe in art for arts sake either, what particularly interests me, and one of the reasons I appreciate NFJC’s work, is that they believe in tying Jewish artists to community education, change and to have art that speaks to criticial issues impacting Jewish communities today.
Some interesting tidbits inside:
Resisting an agenda: “No” to events for Jewish singles and other
The articulation of norms by institutional leaders constitutes an “agenda” in contemporary parlance, a term connoting a generally unwelcome attempt by those in some sort of position of authority or influence, to control an encounter or others’ behavior.
Complementary to synagogue involvement, but not a substitute
Most of the informants seemed to understand these Jewish cultural events as augmenting, and in no way replacing, synagogue prayer and other forms of religious involvement.
Non-Jews at Jewish events
These younger Jews in 2005 find that their Jewishness actually emerges in the company of non-Jews, and they seek out integrated environments in order to express their Jewishness. They are seeking Jewish lives that put Jewishness in conversation with other cultures, and Jewish individuals in conversation with other people. In fact, in some instances, their Jewishness actually emerged in the interaction with the other.
A symposium on the study is tentatively planned for September 18, 2006, to be convened by the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, in association with UJA-Federation of New York.
Here’s my question though, and here’s where I am still unclear with how all of this gets talked about–this coding in using the term “diversity”. It is really unclear to me in many of these reports exactly how diversity is being defined, and what parameters are used to evaluate this. Valuing diversity, and something actually being “diverse” are two very separate things–and usually diversity ends up being watered down to the point where I can’t tell if what some might mean by diverse is that there are Jewish men and women there (with a disclaimer that I’m not saying this necessarily in relation to this report). Seriously. I’ve gone to events that are said to be diverse, to be one of two visibly queer people in the room (not surprising), to see maybe one or two people of color in the audience (again, not surprising), to see _fill in the blank_.
So if I show up at your door, do I help you fill your quota slot for being a “diverse” event? Well, here’s where my eyes start rolling, and I, with no shame give a “hell no”. But yet, I know this to be true for many, and it’s tiring.
So here’s my question, and challenge to the Jewschool readership–what does this mean to you? Many of the events listed in this report are ones that overlap with Matzat projects, and I have a feeling people are familiar with at least one of them–so what would you say to this issue of “diversity”?