Jewish Identity

I’ve been catching up on my podcast listening, partly because of a reminder from my daughter about the new podcast Serial (which is fabulous!).

My podcast subscriptions include three podcasts produced by The New Yorker magazine:

  • New Yorker: Comment
  • New Yorker: The Political Scene
  • New Yorker: Fiction
  • New Yorker: Outlook

And the most recent episode of the Outlook podcast featured editor David Remnick, who, in the interview with Sasha Weiss, proudly claims his Jewish identity, and the implicit relationship to Israel that that identity.  At one point, he states that we all tend to think that our ideas haven’t changed at all since we were young, but that circumstances have changed, but, on the topic of Israel, I can’t deny that my ideas have changed 180º from the views I held in my youth.

As a teenager, in a home headed by a radical left-wing activist, it was a given that we sympathized with the Palestinians.  We thought the PLO were the heroes.  We thought Israel was the evil opposition.

But, now, I am a Jew.

And, while I don’t have the legacy of growing up with parents with zionist feelings, nor do I have any Holocaust survivors in my lineage, I have visited Israel on several occasions, and I have developed a deep love and commitment to The Land, Eretz Ysrael.  Which places me squarely in the camp of so many of us, who hold ambivalent feelings about the state of Israel, and it’s relationship to the Palestinians who were displaced by the creation of the Israeli nation.  Two peoples lay claim to one land.  It often seems an impossible situation – no way to a resolution.

So, there was the David Remnick interview, which I listened to, and the actual piece, The One-State Reality, which is a fascinating profile of a complex character, Ruvi Rivlin, the new president of Israel (not to be confused with the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu).

And, then, this morning, I listened to another interview on a New Yorker podcast, The Outcast, by Rachel Aviv, again interviewed by Sasha Weiss.  As I listened, I was so aware that if I had heard this story as a non-Jew, I would have no context to understand the very constricted and constrained environment of the community that Rachel Aviv describes encountering.  The story is of a father in the Hasidic community of Borough Park, Brooklyn, whose son reports being molested by a respected leader in the community, and the fall-out of the father reporting the crime to the civil authorities.  The story is a complex one, fraught with the tensions between an insular community which willfully cuts itself off from the secular community which surrounds it.  And the writer speaks eloquently of the tensions she experienced as a modern woman, a reporter, trying to gain an understanding of the way that this insulated group sought to handle this crisis in their midst.  She mourns the fact that of more than 40 people whom she interviewed, only two were women.  In any other setting of child molestation and victimization, the mothers are speaking out loudly, and in this community, the mothers are silent.

Jewish identity is a complex one.  It has more than two sides, maybe even more than four sides.