December 10, 1997 / 11 Kislev, 5758 / Chanukah Issue


Let's be brutally blunt: for the overwhelming majority of this generation's Jews, Judaism is pathetic -- and that's putting it mildly. It's been made as appetizing as four-month old matzah. Except unleavened crackers don't leave a bitter aftertaste, nor, for that matter, a hangover.

To be Jewish in America during the second half of the 20th century has largely meant to subscribe to the dogma of darkness, a siege mentality whose raison d'etre is defined not by classic Judaism's celebration of life, but rather by the Holocaust, the neurotic notion that anti-Semites lurk behind every corner, and, of course, the belief that if Jewry lets down its guard for even a split second, then "they" will inevitably get "us."

And if the Holocaust no longer stirs the breast, then panic over intermarriage rates may be substituted, with concomitant guilt for one and all. Without some spirit of anxiety, some specter of doom, nothing seems to animate the Judaism of many, if not most, American Jews; so we shuffle into indifference.

The world may indeed be a stage, but Gen-X Jewry, in case the Jewish establishment's would-be visionaries haven't yet noticed, aren't characters in a Seinfeld script or some angst-ridden Woody Allen flick. Hardly.

For most of us, formal Jewish contact began with having to endure what seemed to be, at the time, endless years of afternoon Hebrew school. Neither the instructors -- who usually took the job only to supplement their income and made that abundantly clear by their boundless enthusiasm -- nor their students -- who had already sat through a full-day of public school -- had any real interest in being there. It went steadily downhill from there, especially after the bar/bat mitzvah checks were securely stashed in the bank.

Indeed, if the Incredible Shrinking People continue to, well, shrink, the blame shouldn't be placed on Jewry's youth. Oh no. Even the young, with their digestive systems in tip-top shape, can only consume so much Sour Pickle Judaism before being overcome with nausea or ennui.

It's time for change. And by that, we don't mean that the UJA should merely begin spending more of its resources on swelling the number of teens it sends to Israel, either.

With this inaugural issue of JWR, we're firing our modest first salvo in a war to change the way contemporary Jewry views itself. When he stated "An educated consumer is the best customer," Sy Syms, the clothier, had it right. For if contemporary Jews are going to get something positive out of their Judaism in a society in which (lip service to diversity aside) the lure of conformity is strong indeed, then it is of the utmost importance that those pondering breaking their link in the golden chain to Sinai understand that the heirloom entrusted to them for safekeeping is the real thing, not merely some trinket. And to pawn it for a few measly pennies is, as the saying goes, pound foolish.

Obviously, if you're here, you've taken the first step in acknowledging the centrality of your Jewishness. You might have stopped to reflect and have concluded that like most Jews of this generation, you have matured intellectually in secular areas, but with college or career taking up so much time, the same has not been true Jewishly. And now you want to change that. We're here for you.

Just so there shouldn't be any misunderstandings, let us state clearly what not to expect from JWR. We have no intention of being preachy or partisan. And every subject, public or private, is in bounds.

Every two weeks, we'll be running thought-provoking articles -- some that you'll love, some that will get you burning mad -- on everything Jewish: culture, custom, and history, along with some great short stories and commentary on politics, geopolitics, and society, all of it directly or indirectly Jewish.

We have every intention of living up to our name. For the Jewish world, after all, is very much a vital and vibrant place, despite what the prophets of gloom would have you believe. Jewishness is more than an ethnicity. It's a lifestyle and a worldview. And it's yours. Let's make something of it together!

Welcome aboard.

Binyamin L. Jolkovsky,
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher

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©1997, Jewish World Review