Non-Traditional Jewish Identities

A look at the many different ways Jews define their Judaism today.

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Or, as Rabbi David Hartman once said, "I don't care what happened at Sinai. I care about what people do with what happened at Sinai."

We urge you to add to the list.

Jewish Geography

Whether you're in Nova Scotia or Neve Schechter, it's rarely more than one degree of separation between you and the Jewish landsman across the table or bus aisle. "Maybe you know…" is the Jewish secret handshake.

Jewish Genealogy

JewishGen, the Web Page of Jewish Genealogy (, records an average of 29,481 hits per day from users researching their family histories. Connecting with the past has turned a generation of seekers into amateur historians, and allows today's Jews to remember how their ancestors lived, not just how they died.

Jewish Gastronomy

A salty slab of lox, a two-inch thick pastrami sandwich with a side of cole slaw, a scoop of chopped liver. Jewish deli may be a nutritional nightmare, but it fulfilled a dream of plenty for an immigrant generation that once had to do with too little, and creates a Proustian connection between the eater and his people with every bite.

Jewish Vegetarians

Pioneers of "eco-kashrut" feel that the highest value we can express at the grocery store and dinner table is respect for life. Citing Rav Kook among others, their vision of the Messianic Age not only has the wolf lying down with the lamb, but the cow making friends with the butcher.

Jewish Doctors

They are our modern priesthood, combining a dedication to scholarship with the ideal of pikuah nefesh--that every life is sacred.

Jewish Lawyers

No joke: For every shyster there are dozens of attorneys who are inspired, whether they know it or not, by the biblical injunction "tzedek tsedek tirdof--justice, justice thou shalt pursue."

But Seriously, Folks

Stand-up comedy is to Jews what jazz is to blacks: an American art form they pioneered and continued to dominate throughout the 20th century. By playing the holy fools, Jewish comedians hold up a cracked mirror to the hypocrisy and pomposity of American life and allow audiences to defuse their anxieties through the healing power of laughter.

Creative Kippot (Yarmulkes)

Who says Orthodoxy is about conformity? Ask the kids with the yarmulkes sporting Mets and Bulls logos, Batman and Superman cartoons, spider webs, tie-dyed swirls and Pokemon characters. A recent favorite: a simple black crocheted kippah, emblazoned with a tiny white dove.

The Suburban Synagogue

Much maligned by a younger generation that considered it bourgeois and soul-less, the suburban synagogue stands as a living monument to a generation's peculiarly American celebration of ethnic identity, communal loyalty, and unabashed patriotism. And unlike so many of their "spiritual" offspring, the parents who built the Beth Els and Shomrei Emunahs continue to support their synagogues and temples long after their children no longer need preschool, bar mitzvah lessons or a wedding chapel.

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Andrew Silow-Carroll

Andrew Silow-Carroll is a newspaper editor and widely published writer on contemporary Judaism.