Non-Traditional Jewish Identities

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

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Jewish Preschools

Run privately or by JCCs and synagogues, Jewish preschools are serving as "ramps" to a richer Jewish life for thousands of young families. Toddlers come home with Jewish crafts, songs and prayers, and reverse the process by which Jewish traditions and rituals have been transmitted: it's the children who shall teach them unto the parents.

Holocaust Survivors

A generation of now elderly people who had every reason to give up on life instead embraced it, pushing aside the horror as they gave their children as "normal" an upbringing as any of us could. That accomplished, they at last began to confront their experiences, and built a network of Holocaust memorials and museums that are as much about hope for a better future as they are reminders of an unspeakable past.

The Federation System

The umbrella fundraising organizations became a model for creating community through shared responsibility, and not merely overcoming communal differences but just as often celebrating them. Not to mention the money itself, which helped build Jewish schools, social service agencies, hospitals, old age homes, and-oh yes-the State of Israel.

Adult Study Classes

Bible, kabbalah, history, Jewish cooking. In any city in the country, on any night of the week, you can find adults engrossed in an old Jewish pastime: Torah lishma, or study for its own sake.

Pick and Choose Judaism

On Passover, eating matzoh in a non-kosher restaurant. Turning Friday night into Shabbos, but leaving Saturday morning for a golf game. The "one from column A" approach offends traditionalists, but the persistence of Jewish identity markers despite the complete freedom available to Americans remains a powerful validation of the Jewish idea.

Is it Good for the Jews?

We all do it: Scan lists of disaster victims for the Jewish names or worry how a global catastrophe will affect the Jews. Our most admirable trait? No. Nevertheless, it's an expression of peoplehood, a recognition of kinship with far-flung "relatives," and a way of relating to the pain felt in another part of the world instead of just turning the page.

The Marx Brothers

Did someone call me schnorrer?

Modern Midrash

Jewish educators have rediscovered the power of story in helping people understand themselves as Jews and human beings. Midrash, creative retelling of classic Jewish texts, takes the form of writing workshops, "bibliodrama," improvisational dance, an off-Broadway play called "The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told," and a $70 million dollar animated film on the life of Moses.

Candle-Lighting Ceremonies

The bar or bat mitzvah recites a poem. Grandma Bess or Uncle Leonard comes forward to light a candle on the cake. The band plays "Hava Nagila." The candle-lighting ceremony is a 20th century folk invention, and in a day crowded with rituals dictated by ancient tradition and custom, it is a chance for families to recite their own texts and set their own standards.

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Andrew Silow-Carroll

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