Being Cool and Jewish

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Sh’ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility has a new feature on its website that is a little quirky but very enlightening. “Reflecting on Cool” is a monthly column that is mean “to explore society’s fascination with “coolâ€? and how Judaism—as a religious and cultural tradition—intersects with it.”

My favorite essay so far is that of writer and editor Ruth Andrew Ellenson. She begins her piece:

Let me begin by pointing out the irony of my authorship of this article. Really folks: is there anything that ensures your status as a geek more than writing an article on Jewish coolness for Sh’ma? (MORE)

This sets the tone for a smart and dead-on analysis of the attempts to be Jewish and cool. For example, she describes the events of Jewish hipsters in way that validates the movement without over-hyping its influence:

People flocked to these events with a compelling need to find a place where it didn’t feel like a contradiction to be who they were and Jewish. Being left out of Jewish milestones and communities in their young adult life, they didn’t fit into the mold of Hebrew school/marriage/kids. In those ten nebulous years when adult selves are forming and they were living lives outside t he Jewish world, they wanted to be part of a community larger than themselves but one that didn’t compromise their individuality.

Also, let’s admit it: the gatherings were fun while still being substantive. Hence the Jewish hipster movement was born. Most importantly it was grassroots and chosen by the taker, not dictated from above. It was a choice for the chosen. And that made it cool.

The creation of this column by Sh’ma is a welcome addition to world of Jewish thought and analysis. It admits that the events of the last few years are perhaps not part of a fleeting trend, and gives a legitimate voice to those who were part of its creation.

Posted on December 4, 2007

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