There are more secular Americans than ever before, and nowhere is the trend more pronounced than among Jewish Americans, nearly half of whom consider themselves secular or somewhat secular. So it may be the time to look back – and also forward – at the role of secularism in American-Jewish life.
A new online journal, Secular Culture & Ideas (www.jbooks.com/secularculture), does just that by taking a sharp look at secular Jewish life, culture, and ideas. Recent issues challenge conventional thinking about Jewish pop-culture, Yiddish, and the concept of â€œDiaspora,â€? plus an interview with Pulitzer prize-winning science reporter Natalie Angier, who heralds what might be called the â€œsecond waveâ€? atheist movement. Next month, the journal will explore the renaissance in Yiddish language and culture.
Fun fact from a piece by Douglas Rushkoff in the current issue:
It was the Jewsâ€™ struggle for self-preservation, after all, as well as their deeply held humanist beliefs, that made them promoters of open discussionâ€”so much that third century Romans purchased memberships in Jewish synagogues just so they could take part in intellectual conversations.
Â From the same essay:
The reinvention of Judaism as â€œcoolâ€? is also the aim of philanthropies and outreach organizations that have taken it upon themselves to repackage a religion for a vast population of lapsed and disaffected Jews. Outreach organizations define Jews as people who are affiliated with a Jewish organization. Their efforts fail to take into account the sociological research indicating that most Americans define their social, political, or religious affiliations not through centralized institutions, but through a more complex and self-defined set of â€œloose connections.â€? Instead of working to strengthen these connections most outreach groups think of Jews as being â€œinâ€? or â€œoutâ€? based on their willingness to pay temple dues. People who donâ€™t belong to a synagogue are considered â€œlapsedâ€? and in need of active recruitment. Through focus groups and consumer research, these organizations seek to identify their target marketâ€™s barriers to participating in organized Judaism and then appeal to these sensibilities. It all comes down to making Judaism look more hip to a modern audience, even if this means resorting to the tactics of a soft drink advertiser.
Significant food for thought — how many of you are not members of a shul, yet are participating in some sort of study for Shavuot? Does that make you a “lapsed”Â Jew? Let us know in the comments.Â