Friday, July 02, 2010

About the Merits of Ex-Hasidic Community Cohesion

About the Merits of Ex-Hasidic community cohesion

I just finished reading Samuel Katz's post on this topic at (sorry, copy and paste for the URL didn't work). I would like to provide my opinion on this matter, which differs somewhat from his.

While reading the article I mostly identified with his thesis and I definitely agree that he's got a point. However, in the end of the article it was pointed out that he does not personally consider himself a member of the "ex-orthodox" community. That's something that I highly question, as well as some of the general corollaries to his article.

It is known (as Jacob Stein pointed out) that the Eastern-European Jews who made their was into Ellis Island by the millions starting in the 1880's struggled similarly to us, ex-hasidim. Despite the fact that numbers were on their side, back in those days the country was not very accomodating to subcultures. The pressures to conform were immense; the desire to conform was also intense. The Jews WANTED to adopt much of American culture, while at the same time they also wanted to preserve many elements of their heritage, namely those that they felt were compatible with a Western, American lifestyle.

The descendants of those Jews are now, as we all know, heading towards assimilation and many Jews (mostly those on the right) now invoke this phenomenon as a repudiation of Conservative and Reform Judaism. What they don't realize and what Reform Jews will usually be loathe to admit (or perhaps not even aware of it consciously) is that the entire institution of Reform Judaism is now, iglai milta lemafre'a (the matter is retroactively revealed - a Talmudic expression), merely a transitional vehicle from Eastern European Jewish Ghetto provincialism into the mainstream structure of Western society. The Jewish assimilative process is not a condemnation of Reform Judiasm; that would only be the case if the overarching goal of the original immigrants were preservation of their faith and identity. It wasn't! Their goal was oriented in an entirely different direction: material success! They wanted money, better standards of living, educational opportunities and even the adoption and participation in many of the entertainment and behavioral norms of Western society (their opportunities were more limited in Europe due to lingering stereotypes). At worst, loss of identity could be considered "collateral damage". However, I would argue that even though the first Jewish immigrants didn't know it at the time and they couldn't have seen this far into the future, they were heading in the assimilative direction all along and assimilation actually WAS their ultimate goal (subconsciously).

Why am I mentioning all this? Because the Jewish community in the United States has managed to create a highly intricate social and political structure on their path to assimilation. It seems that their self-identity never was a contradiction to their rabid appetite for everything American. In fact, it could be argued that those identity enhancement institutions (including such organizations as AIPAC, The Jewish Federations, etc...) paradoxically sped up their integration into mainstream, by giving them the power and efficiency of a group as opposed to an individual.

I don't see any reason why our Neo-reform movement should be structured any differently. As they say "if ain't broke, don't fix it". The system our progenitors used worked just fine for them. Why do we not appropriate those very same tools to achieve the very same goals. We can and should identify as ex-orthodox Jews, while at the same time voraciously devour the all-so-sweet delicacies of our profligate country, the United States of America, God bless it. There are so many opportunities available to each and every one of us, occupational-wise, community-wise, politics-wise, career-wise. Yet there's no need to behave Judas Iscariot-like and deny our fellowship in the ex-orthodox community.

Having said all this, I should also add that if getting stuck in the intermediate transitional stage were a serious issue, then I agree that we may have to seek other transitional models. However, I am quite confident that at this stage of the OTD movement there isn't any real possibility of cozying up along the way. There simply aren't enough of us yet to form a strong all-encompassing, comforting ex-hasidic haven, and the diversity among us is wide while resources are scarce. Ex-hasidics can thus tremendously benefit from support groups such as Footsteps, Cholent etc... while at the same time knowing that such groups merely provide temporary reprieve from the real battle ahead of them: cracking into mainstream America.

Edited 6/29/2011