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Hyman Charme 09 11 09 Final 1


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Hyman Charme 09 11 09 Final 1

  1. 1. To be published in The International Handbook of Jewish Education (Springer, 2010). Educating for Jewish Identities: Multiple and Moving Targets Stuart Charmé and Tali Hyman Zelkowicz Abstract For a long time, the prevailing approach to Jewish identity has been dominated by a “survivalist” perspective focused on the threats of assimilation and intermarriage rather than the new realities created by modernity which allowed a variety of new ways of being Jewish to emerge. The widespread anxiety about group survival in the field of Jewish education, has led to a survivalist paradigm that has tended to narrow the field’s theoretical conceptions of Jewish identity and identity in general, resulting in largely static and monolithic formulations. Instead, drawing upon the work of multiple disciplines, the authors argue for a shift from thinking about identity as some “thing” that someone “has,” towards identities as being multiple and shifting processes that people practice and rehearse. The chapter concludes with examples of scholarship from various disciplines that approach identity formation in light of such a shift, and with pedagogical applications and implications for the shift within the field of Jewish education, specifically. “I am in love with being Jewish,” declared Diane Troderman, a former board chair of JESNA (Jewish Education Service of North America) recently.1 Judaism, she explained, gives meaning to everything in her life, influences her everyday decisions and actions, and inspires her to do work that will strengthen and enhance the Jewish identities of other people. Many Jewish educators have chosen the work they do precisely because they share this deep emotional attachment to the fact of being Jewish and an appreciation of its centrality in their lives. So it is natural for them to wonder what went “wrong” in the cases of people whose relationship to being Jewish is a less central or less intensive part of their identities. Was there something flawed or inadequate in their Jewish education, did their families lack a strong commitment to Judaism, why didn’t a strong Jewish identity take root? The Survivalist Frame 1 JESNA newsletter, Summer 2008 1
  2. 2. To be published in The International Handbook of Jewish Education (Springer, 2010). For many years, the language of crisis and loss has pervaded discussion of Jewish identity. The tone has often been one of lamentation over what is seen as the weakened, eroded condition of Jewish identity in America, laced with nostalgia for a purportedly more authentic and vital form of Jewish life in the past. According to one common narrative, Jewish immigrants arrived in the U.S. with strong Jewish identities and no American identities, and within several generations many of their grandchildren sported strong American identities and weak Jewish identities, lacking in Jewish literacy, values, or commitment. In a narrative focused on waning Jewishness, Jewish identity formation is urgent and crucial, since, hopefully, it will offer a protective shield against the threat of the non-Jewish world, particularly the dangers of assimilation and intermarriage. Yet such an approach can be unrealistic in its search for an antidote for the impact of modernity on Jews and Judaism. The weakening in traditional religious beliefs and communal insularity are not recent “problems.” They reflect a process that dates back at least several centuries, when the impact of the Enlightenment and Emancipation transformed the relationship of Jews to both their own traditions and culture and also to the wider secular world and culture. The weakening of the power of tradition and the new element of individual choice in constructing religious and ethnic identities is a fact of modern civilization (Berger, 1979). For many educators and communal leaders, interest in Jewish identity formation has been driven by deep and abiding concerns about Jewish survival and by visions of the strong Jewish identities that will somehow safeguard this survival. When survivalist aims and anxieties about collective Jewish life are ascendant, educational leaders and teachers often turn to Jewish identity formation in a frantic effort to discover what “works” for making and keeping Jews Jewish, not just throughout childhood and adolescence, but into adulthood. In the process, educators can 2
  3. 3. To be published in The International Handbook of Jewish Education (Springer, 2010). easily become distracted from the ongoing, unfolding educational processes of Jewish identity formation in the present and more focused on a larger mission of saving Jews and ultimately Judaism. Hoping to build Jewish identities that will endure throughout the lives of their students also puts Jewish educators in a significantly different situation from teachers of secular subjects such as mathematics. For math teachers, there is no investment in creating lifelong mathematicians out of each and every student, nor in expecting them to socialize and marry other mathematicians, nor in raising the next generation of young mathematicians. In contrast, students are well aware of the special expectation of Jewish education to influence their life choices now and into the future, and this can be a tension in the teacher-student relationship that teachers of other subjects do not face. Jewish education seeks to instill a long list of values and behavioral attitudes. To offer just a few examples, Jewish teachers generally want and need their students to learn Hebrew, give tzedakah, light Shabbat candles, love Israel and go there, celebrate all the holidays, learn about their history, interpret ancient Jewish texts to make them relevant today, say prayers, give divrei Torah, date Jews, marry Jews, join Jewish organizations and institutions, attend synagogue and life cycle events, observe or at least grapple with kashrut, and so on. Inevitably, researchers have tried to measure the level of Jewish identity by calculating the amount of traditional religious practices like fasting on Yom Kippur, lighting Shabbat or Hanukkah candles, or keeping kosher. In doing so, it became easy to assume that those who do more, have “stronger” Jewish identities, and those who do less have “weaker” Jewish identities. But such measurements generally tell us only who is more traditionally religious in their practice. It is risky and misleading to assume that a person who observes more Jewish ritual is 3
  4. 4. To be published in The International Handbook of Jewish Education (Springer, 2010). “more Jewish” than one who observes less, or that such a person can be described as having a stronger Jewish identity. Too often, the chosen criteria for measuring Jewish identity produce a range of scores in which the “strongest” Jewish identities are found among Orthodox Jews and “weakest” among Reform, Reconstructionist, or unaffiliated Jews. Yet such evaluations will always be relative to one set of prescriptive criteria or another. Whose blueprints for normative Jewish identity should be accepted and on what is their authority based? Changing Paradigms for the Study of Jewish Identities Not surprisingly, despite vast amounts of research on American Jewish identity in the last forty years, individual researchers have not been able to agree on just what Jewish identity is, much less how it is formed (Cohen, 1988; Goldscheider, 1986; Herman, 1977; Himmelfarb, 1974; Horowitz, 1999a; Liebman, 2001; Perry and Chazan, 1990; Prell, 2000; Sklare, 1967; Tennenbaum, 2000). For many of them, the utopian dream has been first to devise a precise and systematic yardstick of Jewishness against which Jews’ identities could be diagnosed, and eventually to concoct a Jewish educational elixir capable of recreating these identities for future generations, thereby guaranteeing the survival of the Jewish people. Social psychologist Bethamie Horowitz, a researcher of adult Jewish identity formation has described this research paradigm of Jewish identity in America as preoccupied with the question “How Jewish are American Jews?” in contrast to what we could be asking, which is “How are American Jews Jewish?” (Horowitz, 2002, p. 14, emphasis in original) It is important for both scholars and educators alike to be aware of the criteria they employ to determine what counts as legitimate expressions of Jewish survival and how those criteria inform their work. After all, what does it look like to have a “strong Jewish identity,” when Jewish identity, like other aspects of personal and collective identities, occupies differing 4
  5. 5. To be published in The International Handbook of Jewish Education (Springer, 2010). amounts of space, time, and emotional commitment in the lives of different people? If every Jew “packages” his or her Jewish identity in a slightly different way, Jewish educators and Jewish identity researchers alike, must wrestle with the question of how to determine what counts as authentically, legitimately, and ultimately, generatively Jewish. Some have talked about the relocation of the boundary between Jewish and non-Jewish and a reconfiguration of what counts as “authentic Jewishness.” Sylvia Barack Fishman (1995) calls this process “coalescence” or an “incorporation of American liberal values such as free choice, universalism, and pluralism into the perceived boundaries of Jewish meaning and identity.” In addition, increases in numbers of conversion, intermarriage, and international adoptions mean that the “non-Jewish” world is not just “out there;” it is now an element found within Jewish communities, families, and within the identities of individual Jews. The result may represent not necessarily the dilution or erasure of Jewish identity but rather a complementarity and synergy between Jewish identity and the wider cultural context in which Jews live. American Jewish historian Jonathan Sarna described the most fundamental question of American Jewish life as: “how to live in two worlds at once, how to be both American and Jewish, part of the larger American society and apart from it” (Sarna, 1998, pp.9-10, emphasis added). Yet these two worlds are increasingly hard to differentiate in many people’s identities. Jews today are constantly juggling a variety of social identities which may be triggered by different contexts. People will constantly modify their identities, consciously and often unconsciously, with different elements becoming strengthened, weakened, revised, abandoned, and reconstituted, in response to a mix of innate qualities and a range of social influences, such as ethnic and cultural background influences. For some Jews, old recipes are being abandoned and new ones discovered. 5
  6. 6. To be published in The International Handbook of Jewish Education (Springer, 2010). After studying differences among college students from different college settings, Sales and Saxe (26) observe that “…students will speak of their ‘identities’ as opposed to a singular identity. They are vegans, ecologists, artists, Zionists, conservative Jews, lesbians, and so on…any efforts to stimulate Jewish life on college campuses must be flexible, adaptable to vastly different college settings and different types of Jewish students.” Thus, as Jewish history unfolds over time, the manifestations of Jewish identity have likewise evolved, mutated, fragmented and been deconstructed and transformed in a kaleidoscope of possible Jewish identities that are negotiated in relationship with a person’s other identities and in relation to one’s socio-historical realities. To the extent that all the categories of religion, culture, and peoplehood are defined and constructed in a variety of ways, the result is that those who try to find out what Jewish identity is or who try to measure it, are more likely to come face to face with the multiple forms of Jewish identities, cultures, and spiritualities. Since the late 1990s, a shift has taken place from pre-ordained inventories quantifying how Jewish the American Jewish community is to a more fluid investigation into the diverse constructions of Jewishness that have emerged among American Jews. The shift has major implications for how Jewish educators might approach their highly complex task of helping learners of all ages to develop their Jewish identities. In the remainder of this chapter, we aim to describe how the paradigm shift represents an alternative to solely survivalist orientations for Jewish identity formation and offers new ways of conceiving the relationship between Jewish education and Jewish identity building. The Problem of Authenticity: What’s a Real Jew? 6
  7. 7. To be published in The International Handbook of Jewish Education (Springer, 2010). Every period of Jewish history has involved struggles over who controls expressions of Jewish identity. As power and authority shift, or rather flow, between the elite (educators, rabbis) and the folk (students, congregants) in new and unprecedented ways, culturally accepted norms of what constitutes standard content and canon become contested arenas. In short, what counts as tradition, who gets to decide, and why? Today, the leaders of liberal Jewish day schools of all denominations seek to live in both Jewish and American cultural worlds simultaneously and to search for new ways of negotiating their multiple and competing loyalties and allegiances to American and Jewish values and worldviews. By combining both Jewish and secular general studies curriculum in one education, they face identity dissonances daily. Often, the integrationist goal of bringing together general, American values with Jewish teachings comes to a screeching halt when it comes to American holidays like Valentine’s Day or Halloween. Despite the fact that few Jewish students or parents find participation in these common American customs and holidays worthy of concern, formal and informal administrative policies that discourage open discussion and observance of Halloween and Valentine’s Day exist at many Jewish day and supplemental schools. Some educational leaders express their concern about possible pagan and Christian roots and want to create Jewish schools as “a space where students and parents will not have to feel the pressure to engage in secular or non-Jewish traditions.” (Hyman, 128) Such policies attempt to protect Jews from dissonance and reduce or eliminate a sense of conflict with the “outside” culture that American Jews, especially liberal ones, regularly face. But an educational culture that aims primarily at reducing tensions and conflicts becomes irrelevant, in time, to the real needs, concerns, and identities of Jews in the contemporary world. Issues related to Israel and Zionism, for example, have become increasingly complicated for 7
  8. 8. To be published in The International Handbook of Jewish Education (Springer, 2010). American Jews who are trying to balance multiple and often competing values of peoplehood, history, and language, along with social justice for all nations and freedom for all peoples. The moment that educators become apologists for a single perspective on secular/religious tensions in Israel or on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict they have abandoned the necessary engagement with tensions and complexity of these issues, and they make the error of identifying Jewish identity with only a limited range of ideological options. The same can be said about the necessary educational approach to vast numbers of Jews for whom belief in God and/or Jewish ritual observance may be the locus of tension and ambivalence within their Jewish identities. The paradox of Jewish identity is that it can thrive in the presence or absence of particular beliefs or practices that may be considered indispensable to some Jews. Neither atheism nor lack of interest in traditional Jewish observances should ever be treated as disqualifications for Jewish identity or evidence of educational failure. There will always be tensions and dilemmas in Jewish identities as individuals navigate dissonances that surface at the interface between local and global, particularist and universalist, rationalist and spiritual, and secular and religious dimensions of Jewishness. New educational approaches might explore the educational value of these tensions and contradictions as a central and creative task of being a Jew in the midst of a broader cultural world. For Jewish educators in 21st century America, in particular, curricular experiences will be most powerful when they are designed to: a) acknowledge the friction created by multiple and competing categories of Jewish and American, b) normalize the tensions as potentially creative and productive, and c) engage with colleagues and students in on-going, open, and collaborative dialogue about their various experiences of those tensions, and d) articulate existing and possible new strategies for coping with, and even using, the tensions. 8
  9. 9. To be published in The International Handbook of Jewish Education (Springer, 2010). The study of Jewish identity has gradually begun to track the empirical experience of being Jewish rather than any one researcher’s prescribed or hoped-for ideals of Jewish identity formation. Jewish identity research has had to catch up with newer theoretical and methodological innovations that have radically revised ideas about religion, culture, and identity (see cultural studies theorists from as early as the 1990s, such as Stuart Hall, 1992, 1996; Ulf Hannerz, 1991; bell hooks, 1992; Cornel West, 1990). Like all cultural identities, Jewish identity is something that is constantly in motion. As Stuart Hall notes, “Cultural identity … belongs to the future as much as to the past. It is not something which already exists, transcending place, time, history, and culture. Cultural identities come from somewhere, have histories. But, like everything which is historical, they undergo constant transformation. (Stuart Hall, 1992 cited by hooks, 5) Identity formation is a process of becoming, a journey without a clear itinerary or destination. As individual Jews and individual Jewish communities have begun choosing and constructing their own Jewish religious practices, Jewish traditions, and ultimately Jewish identities, it makes little sense to develop and defer to standard inventories against which Jewish identity can be measured. To understand that different people make sense of their own Jewish identities in different ways is to make the shift from asking “how Jewish are American Jews?” to asking “How are American Jews Jewish?” (Horowitz, 2002, p. 22). Tradition and Spirituality If teachers acknowledge that contemporary Jewish identity formation processes are contingent, provisional, variable, tentative, shifting and changing, then what could possibly be the appropriate content to teach, and how should one teach it? What exactly constitutes an 9
  10. 10. To be published in The International Handbook of Jewish Education (Springer, 2010). adequate understanding and experience of Jewish tradition? Jewish educators must still make selections among endless possibilities of classical texts, modern literature, ethics, laws, practices, histories, holidays, and values from which to teach. Teachers must still determine specific teaching goals and observable, measurable learning objectives. Indeed, educational integrity is marked, in part, by the very content choices teachers make and by the thoughtful rationales in which those choices are grounded. This important educational task must not be abandoned even as “tradition” itself, is destabilized through ongoing redefinition. How should educators now approach the issue of tradition? Certainly, tradition provides a degree of emotional comfort and belonging, even in the absence of intellectual commitment to the religious basis for individual ideas or practices. It offers a set of sacred guidelines that religious leaders use to sustain community, build identity, and make meaning of human life. However, to raise the question of how people are Jewish, rather than how Jewish they are, requires a reevaluation of our understanding of tradition. To be sure, most people think of tradition as that which is passed down, intact from the past. As such, it provides a window into the world of one’s ancestors. For many people, this connection to the past provided by tradition is an important anchor to their identities. From this point of view, one might consider the enemy of tradition to be innovation and change, since any alteration of tradition from the way things were done in the past is tantamount to a loss of who one is or was. Tradition has often been construed in a conservative way that identifies real, authentic Judaism with immutable and authoritative texts and practices from the past. Scholars who write about tradition, however, go to great pains to challenge the static view of tradition as fixed and unchanging. For example, Judith Plaskow (1990) began her feminist reinterpretation of Judaism, Standing Again at Sinai, by trying to reclaim tradition as a 10
  11. 11. To be published in The International Handbook of Jewish Education (Springer, 2010). feminist value and by challenging the view that feminism and Jewish tradition are inevitable adversaries. She rejected the idea that Jewish tradition is monolithic and static, something that can be accepted or rejected, and which remains relatively constant over time. Rather, she proposed a view of Judaism as a “complex and pluralistic tradition involved in a continual process of adaptation and change—a process to which I and other feminist Jews could contribute” (1990, pp. ix-x.) Tradition is anything but stable or static. Rather Jewish identity rests upon an endless reappropriation of tradition by each generation of Jews. When new or revised ritual practices are introduced, they are often resisted and criticized by so-called “traditionalists” as illegitimate innovations that violate tradition. The concept of tradition is thus intimately intertwined with that of authenticity. It is precisely during periods of dramatic change that those who oppose such change will raise the banner of tradition and challenge changes as inauthentic and dangerous. Over time, nevertheless, ways of being Jewish that at first were seen as inauthentic or too innovative can take root and become part of the lived experience of new generations who know nothing but them. Women rabbis, for example, might still disturb some Jews who consider themselves “traditional,” but they are probably far outnumbered by those who accept this development as a legitimate element in Jewish tradition. Today’s more fluid forms of Jewish identity are better supported by an appreciation of the intrinsic flexibility of our cultural traditions. The search for personal meaning through Jewish identity also means that it is now necessary to consider Jewish identity not only as a potential ethnic identity and religious identity, but also as a spiritual identity. While religious identity is a collective, social identity, reflected in a sense of belonging to a specific group of people and history, spiritual identity may or may not involve this sense of belonging. Many people now report a weak sense of religious identity 11
  12. 12. To be published in The International Handbook of Jewish Education (Springer, 2010). but a strong sense of spiritual identity (Templeton, 254-55). Indeed, it is often when traditional religious beliefs and practices seem inadequate that people turn away from the collective for personal meaning-making. “This mature spiritual identity usually develops in private as individuals give new personal meanings to traditional religious beliefs or seek out what is personally sacred in other ways (Templeton, 255).” How these relatively new concerns with Jewish spirituality will affect methods of Jewish education has yet to be determined. Beyond Survival: Towards New Understandings of Jewish Identity Formation When Jewish identity formation is analyzed apart from anxieties about survival, what emerges is a multi-dimensional phenomenon that requires interdisciplinary analysis. For example, psychologists need to consider the developmental connections between Jewish identity and the developmental tasks and challenges that occur in identity over the lifecycle from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood. Regrettably, Jewish education has not seen a serious attempt at this since Perry London and Barry Chazan’s 1990 article, Psychology and Jewish Identity Education. Social psychologists must look into the dynamics of inter-group and intra-group relations (such as work beginning with the now classic work Jewish Identity: A Social Psychological Perspective (1970), by Simon Herman; and the more recent 1998 study by Bethamie Horowitz titled, “Connections and Journeys: Shifting Identities Among American Jews”). Quantitative sociologists have had perhaps the loudest voices, and have plotted connections between aspects of Jewish identity and long-term demographic trends,2 but recent 2 At least since 1976, a long sociological tradition of “impact studies” exists that has attempted to relate the effect of Jewish education in childhood to levels of Jewish identification in adulthood. Some of the earliest of these include, for example, Geoffrey Bock’s The Jewish Schooling of American Jews: A Study of Non-Cognitive Educational Effect, 1976; Harold Himmelfarb’s Impact of Religious Schooling: Effects of Jewish Education, 1974; and Steven M. Cohen’s “The Impact of Jewish Education on Religious Identification and Practice,” (Jewish Social Studies) 1974. Cohen and others have continued this quest throughout the decades with articles such as Steven M. Cohen’s "Jewish Education and Its Differential Impact on Adult Jewish Identity," in Jack Wertheimer (ed.), Family Matters: 12
  13. 13. To be published in The International Handbook of Jewish Education (Springer, 2010). work in the sociology of Jewish education employs qualitative methodologies (such as studies of Jewish identity formation through adult education by Lisa Grant and Diane Tickton-Schuster, for example). Anthropologists must continue to explore the lived texture of the processes of Jewish identity formation through ethnographic explorations (see, for example, Heilman 1998; Prell, 1989; Schoem 1989; and Meyerhoff’s classic and exquisite work in 1978). In addition to the social scientists, scholars in the humanities also provide valuable knowledge about Jewish identity formation. Philosophers will ponder what Jewish identity may tell us about the characteristics of identity in a post-modern world (Goldberg and Krausz 1993; Charmé 2000) and educational philosophers such as Fox, Seymour, Scheffler, and Marom (2003), deal with content, curricular ideals, what could and should be at the core of what is taught, and why. Finally, historians of Jewish education such as Jonathan Krasner are increasingly filling in gaping holes in our knowledge of the field’s development, major influential factors upon Jewish identity formation and radical transitions and recurring trajectories. In order to approach the complexities of Jewish identity formation in the 21st century, Jewish educators must turn to scholarship from multiple disciplines and scholarship that is not framed by survivalist motivations alone. Jewish Education in an Age of Choice (University Press of New England), 2008; Steven M. Cohen’s highly charged and controversial work “A Tale of Two Jewries: The ‘Inconvenient Truth’ for American Jews’” which warned of dire decline in American Jewish identity as a direct result of intermarriage (Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation) 2006; and Steven M. Cohen and Ari Y. Kelman’s less survivalist-driven study called Cultural Events and Jewish Identities: Young Adult Jews in New York (UJA NY) 2005. Also in 2005, Jack Wertheimer introduced an important policy paper introduced a metaphor which entered into the field of Jewish education, called Linking the Silos: How to Accelerate the Momentum in Jewish Education Today (Avi Chai Foundation). Calling for the linking of silos of Jewish educational settings and initiatives, Wertheimer’s research team consisited of Steven M. Cohen, Sylvia Barack Fishman, Shaul Kelner, Jeffrey Kress, Alex Pompson, and Riv-Ellen Prell. They explored the relationship between pre-school attendance and later Jewish educational experiences and the impact of parents’ Jewish schooling on children’s Jewish education, of parents’ Jewish youth group experience and children’s Jewish education, of parents’ Israel travel as students on their children’s education, and grandparents’ observance upon their grandchildren’s education. Focusing on Jewish camp and Israel travel experiences, Amy Sales and Leonard Saxe published the book Limud [learning] by the Lake: Fulfilling the Educational Potential of Jewish Summer Camps (Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, Brandeis University), 2002; and Leonard Saxe et al’s produced a study called “A Mega-Experiment in Jewish Education: The Impact of birthright Israel” (Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, Brandeis University), 2001. 13
  14. 14. To be published in The International Handbook of Jewish Education (Springer, 2010). Psychological Approaches In the field of psychology of religion, a long-standing research practice has explored different ways of being religious. If religiosity were merely a switch that is either in the “on” or “off” position, it might be measured by simple checklists of beliefs or activities that a person may or may not believe or do. But religiosity manifests itself in a variety of ways and psychologists have tried to identify some of the different ways it may function in a person’s life. Although most of this research was designed with Christians in mind, the basic principles apply to Jews as well. Gordon Allport, one of the most important figures in this area, developed ways of measuring what he described as “extrinsic” and “intrinsic” forms of religion (Allport, 1950). By “extrinsic” religion, he wanted to highlight the ways in which some people approach religion in instrumental and utilitarian ways. They participate in religion for the sake of various secondary benefits, such as the social status provided by religion, a sense of belonging to a particular group, a sense of security, etc. By intrinsic religion, Allport intended to describe people whose commitment is to the religion itself, people who genuinely live it in their daily lives. These are not mutually exclusive categories but dimensions of religion that may be more or less salient in different people. When religion is approached in this way, the list of one’s beliefs and religious behaviors are less important than the attitudes motivating a person (consciously or unconsciously). Accordingly, Jews who join synagogues and/or observe traditional Jewish rituals mainly because they think it is “good for the Jews” to do so have a different relationship to Judaism than those whose main concern is the personal meaning they derive from their involvement in Judaism. 14
  15. 15. To be published in The International Handbook of Jewish Education (Springer, 2010). Subsequent researchers noticed limitations to Allport’s categories, which tend, like much research on Jewish identity, to use more conservative, traditional forms of religion and morality as the primary yardsticks for religion and are thereby apt to miss other forms of religion that may be present today. In response, Daniel Batson developed measures for identifying a different way of being religious, which he called the “quest” orientation (Batson and Ventis, 1982). What is important about people who engage their religion in the quest mode is that they tend to be dissatisfied with traditional answers, values, or practices. Instead, the quest orientation highlights the process of searching, as opposed to the mechanical repetition of childhood religious doctrines or practices, or conformity to the consensus of the religious community. For people in a religious quest mode, there is a heightened awareness of the tentativeness and incompleteness of religious answers, of the importance of doubt as a part of the quest process, and of the urgent need to deal with existential questions (Batson and Ventis, 166). In Batson’s research, interviewees who agree with statements like: “Doubting is an important part of being religious,” “As I grow and change, I expect my religion to grow and change,” and “Questions are far more important to my religious experience than answers” are not regarded as weaker in their religious identities than those whose religious identities are not rooted in such questions. By focusing only on traditional belief and practice, research on Jewish identity has often missed this and other equally important dimensions of Jewish religiosity. One can imagine, for example, Jews who disagree with statements about the importance of adhering to Jewish law, keeping kosher, or accepting traditional beliefs about God, and who agree with the idea that doubting and questioning are important elements of their Jewish identities, and that their Jewish identities will continually change as they change throughout their lives. They may be asking 15
  16. 16. To be published in The International Handbook of Jewish Education (Springer, 2010). questions about how Jewishness is related to their overall sense of identity, or who they really are. Jewish Identity Formation and the Human Lifecycle Jewish identity also needs to be examined in light of the different ways it may manifest itself at different points in a person’s life. Some researchers describe Jewish identity less as a fixed thing than as a journey (Horowitz, 1998) or an unfolding spiral (Charmé et. al., 2008) The work of developmental psychologists raises two additional issues: first, how does cognitive development affect a person’s understanding of religion, particularly in childhood and adolescence, and second, how does Jewish identity interface with other kinds of developmental challenges throughout the course of life? In one of the earliest studies of Jewish identity, developmental psychologist David Elkind (1961) confirmed the stages of cognitive evolution in Jewish children’s understanding of aspects of being Jewish. Using a series of questions including “What makes you Jewish?” “Can a dog or cat be Jewish?” Can you be Jewish and American at the same time?” “How do you become a Jew?” Elkind showed that children’s understanding of Jewish identity goes through predictable Piagetian stages. For younger children, the understanding of Jewishness as a quality is fairly concrete and rigid, externally determined by one’s family. Somewhat older children learn to define Jewishness in terms of different behaviors. Finally, as children approach adolescence and mature in their ability to reason more abstractly and symbolically, their understanding of the meaning of being Jewish becomes more complex and abstract. Work by cognitive psychologists of religion have repeatedly shown the ways in which children’s understanding of their religious identities are quite different from that of their parents, 16
  17. 17. To be published in The International Handbook of Jewish Education (Springer, 2010). even though both may be saying and doing similar things. Ronald Goldman, another researcher who uses a Piagetian model of cognitive development has raised the question of just what children understand about religious ideas they are taught during childhood. In most cases, magical and literal views of religion persist until about age thirteen (Goldman, 1964). Educationally speaking, this is problematic if not tragic, since age 13, or the age of becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, is often the end of formal Jewish education for many Jewish children. How does this situation affect the Jewish identity of older adolescents and young adults? For those whose Jewish education continues and provides transition to a more abstract, complex, symbolic view of Jewish texts and rituals, a more mature form of Jewish identity is possible. On the other hand, for those whose view of Judaism remains at the magical and literal level, there are two common possibilities: they may continue to accept this form of Judaism as true and suppress doubts or questions about it, or they may feel alienated from ideas which become increasingly dissonant with their evolving views of the world and reject them outright (Goldman, 1965). Adolescence is probably the period of life when there is not only a huge physiological growth spurt, but a psychological one, as well, in relationship to personal identity. Erik Erikson considered identity to be the main developmental task of adolescence. Cognitive development allows children a more mature understanding of their identities, and their growing independence enables them to evaluate and internalize various social roles and identities. It is a time when a person begins to commit to particular elements of his or her identity, which includes religious, ethnic, and other group identities. This commitment requires a period of searching and experimentation (Erikson, 1980). For this reason, a genuine commitment to one’s religious and 17
  18. 18. To be published in The International Handbook of Jewish Education (Springer, 2010). ethnic identity (or identities) involves more than merely reproducing the identities of one’s parents. Jewish identity consists of more than personal religious beliefs and family traditions. It also includes the formation of a Jewish ethnic identity which defines one’s relationship to a larger group, the Jewish people. Like other parts of identity, Jewish ethnic identity emerges in stages and includes both cognitive and affective dimensions. At first it may be unexamined or taken for granted, but further personal explorations of the meaning of group membership produce various forms of commitment and/or resistance to that identity, positive feelings of belonging, identification with Jewish history, particularly recent parts involving the Holocaust and the modern state of Israel, and participation in group traditions (cf. Phinney, 1990). Feminist Approaches One of the important insights of feminism as it developed its analysis of women’s issues and identities has been the realization that there is no “generic” woman’s identity, that women’s identities are inflected by factors of race, class, culture, ethnicity, religion, etc. Jewish identities are no different. In his classic study of Jewish identity, Simon Herman wrote: “Nowhere in the world does Jewish sub-identity exist in isolation as an individual’s exclusive ethnic identity. It is everywhere linked with another ethnic sub-identity with which it interacts and by which it is influenced (Herman, 1970, 43).” In the last generation, feminism has not only changed the roles for women in Judaism, it has explored the unspoken world of women’s Jewish identities. Until recently, most research on Jewish identity in general and children’s Jewish identity in particular, has seemed blind to possible gender differences in the emergence, development, and maintenance of Jewishness. 18
  19. 19. To be published in The International Handbook of Jewish Education (Springer, 2010). The failure to find gender differences in Jewish identity, however, may be a result of neglecting to investigate all aspects of the issue. Cohen and Halbertal note that even similar Jewish identity outcomes may conceal different underlying processes. Men and women may arrive in equal numbers at certain Jewish identity destinations, but they get there by different routes (Cohen and Halbertal, 39-40). Anthropologist of American Jewish life, Riv-Ellen Prell, questions whether Jewishness can truly be measured by conventional lists of beliefs and activities. She argues that if Jewishness is a gendered and relational concept, then Jewish men and women have not experienced their lives in identical ways.3 More recently, too, sociologist Debra Kaufman discovered significant gender differences among groups of young Jews. Kaufman found that young Jewish women tended to describe their identities in more gendered and relational terms than Jewish men their age, who saw themselves in more individualistic terms (1999: 11-12; 1998: 54-55). Jewishness for women is more deeply embedded in social relationships, particularly those with parents, children, friends, community. When the question of gender was explicitly posed to Jewish children, girls were found to be more sensitive to issues of equal rights and sexism, more ambivalent about their proper roles and more aware of the contributions of Jewish women, while boys were more likely to defend more traditional gender roles in Judaism and to be less familiar with important Jewish women. (Charmé, 2006) Neither educators nor researchers should assume that gender differences are a non-issue in understanding the Jewish identities of children. Faced with the reality of Jewish identity formation as an unfolding, unpredictable process and activity that is inextricably connected to the array of one’s other multiple and competing 3 See, for example, Prell’s 1988 ethnography, “Laughter that Hurts: Ritual Humor and Ritual Change in an American Jewish Community,” where Purim becomes a keen window into painful gender inequalities and unnamed taboos within a learning community. Prell demonstrated how that community’s ritual celebration of Purim revealed tensions regarding gender roles and religious authority in a group that consciously described themselves as officially and proudly egalitarian. 19
  20. 20. To be published in The International Handbook of Jewish Education (Springer, 2010). identities, Jewish teachers educate multiple moving targets. There are at least three realms in which new understandings of contemporary Jewish identity formation could represent a major paradigm shift for Jewish education. These three include Jewish education’s pedagogical methods, educational cultures, and its overall capacity for trust. Pedagogical Methods Jewish teaching that focuses more on processes than outcomes would create classroom and learning settings well-positioned to preserve critical rigor in the intellectual and emotional “play” of concepts and ideas. Students would be given the same opportunities to dismiss a midrash as bearing the weakest proof-texts, challenge a course or institution’s particular ideological orientation to Israel attachment as historically problematic, or interrogate the various theologies represented by Jewish liturgies, as they are to denounce the Shakespearean play Romeo and Juliet for its flat plot and undeveloped characters. Students and teachers would be willing and able to determine excellence in their topics of Jewish content through a rigorous assailing of the subject matter, asking genuine questions and providing genuine answers. Sometimes these indictments could be contained within Jewish tradition, but sometimes they would not. Moreover, the task and responsibility for defending and redeeming Jewish tradition and applying it to contemporary life, would belong increasingly to the students, and not primarily, or at least not solely, to the teacher. Identifying excellence in a subject matter also involves the capacity for identifying mediocrity and the ability to support those evaluations with compelling and informed analytical explanations. In order to foster rigorous processes of Jewish identity formation in their students, Jewish teachers will need to strengthen their self-awareness 20
  21. 21. To be published in The International Handbook of Jewish Education (Springer, 2010). about their own Jewish identity tensions to avoid being either apologetic or defensive as they model and facilitate thorough explorations and examinations of their content. Educational Culture The problems facing Jewish identity formation do not lie simply in how it is being taught, however. Profound educational change will come when institutions move beyond the important work of teachers in developing new methods and curriculum. It will also require a culture change at the institutional level in which the qualities of resilience and rigor, strength and “durability” are nurtured. While it may at first appear counterintuitive, teachers’ willingness and ability to poke intellectually critical and analytical holes at their subject matter does not weaken their authority. Similarly, the judicious use of humor and jokes which can permit expression of both hostility and love that teachers and students alike may experience towards the subject matter, also need not compromise the learning. Such acts do not need to become tantamount to self-deprecation or disrespect of the learning process. In fact, they often achieve precisely the opposite effect (Hyman, 151). The rough and rigorous treatment of a course’s content demonstrates the resilience, strength, and permanence, both of the subject matter and the teacher. It can also communicate to the students that they, themselves, are worthy and trustworthy investigators of that content. The capacity for critical distance from one’s subject matter area creates a classroom culture well cushioned to absorb, survive, and use productively the many normal hostilities and anxieties that are a part of identity-building work. When teachers feel confident enough that their course content can not only survive, but thrive from rigorous and ongoing critique from 21
  22. 22. To be published in The International Handbook of Jewish Education (Springer, 2010). within their fields, they are transforming learning environments into “durable educational cultures.” Often, the best examples of durable Jewish educational cultures are found at summer camps and youth groups. This is because in those settings, the leaders are most willing to consciously and purposefully encourage participants – campers, CITs, counselors, and advisors alike – to create, appropriate, and perpetuate their cultures. Members of those communities often learn that they are enfranchised voices who can create the norms and rituals of camp and youth group life. As a result, they tend to have forums for open and critical discussion about what matters and what counts in constructing their Jewish identities, even if they do not label it as such. These durable Jewish cultures are most able to withstand and absorb the hostility, frustration, and disillusion that children as well as adults can experience with regard to being Jewish. Camp cultures allow for play, humor, and even a modicum of mockery, which all contribute to the necessary cushion of experimentation and risk-taking that a culture that is not obsessed with its own survival can sustain. Without needing to tip-toe around loaded and formally unaddressed dissonances, teachers of general studies are free and obligated to create classrooms where one need not tread softly at all. In fact, general studies teachers and students jump and stomp around in their subject matter knowing that it has survived many previous teachers and students poking at it, and that it will continue to survive many more teachers and students engaging with it, long after them. The central, orienting difference is that general studies classroom cultures tend to exhibit the features of educational durability, so important for the dynamic activity of identity building, while Jewish studies classroom cultures are often fraught with fragility. Although more formal Jewish educational cultures, such as schools, are probably better at imparting specific Jewish knowledge 22
  23. 23. To be published in The International Handbook of Jewish Education (Springer, 2010). and skills, they tend to lack capacities or productive strategies for responding to students who say “I hate this, this means nothing to me, I resent being here,” not only with their words, but also with their actions. However, the on-going activity of identity formation thrives in rigorous, risk-taking and safe learning cultures. Thus, consciously working towards creating learning cultures of durability rather than fragility could become powerful messages to students that they, their teachers, and the subject matter can and will survive rigorous engagement. Indeed, creating cultures where it is not only acceptable and normalized to name and examine one’s Jewish identity tensions, but where there are also strategies developed collaboratively for coping with these tensions, could produce a new kind of Jewish educational culture that is based more on creativity than anxiety. Trusting and Entrusting the Students Jewish educators must let go of the urge to control the outcomes of their students’ Jewish futures. Instead, they can hold on closely and carefully to their students’ collective processes of grappling with Jewish subject matter, trusting and entrusting students with their own future outcomes. This may be the most difficult and profound shift necessary for making it safe and inviting enough for students – children and adults alike – to take personal risks and participate willingly and genuinely in the meaning-making conversations that ultimately contribute to productive, durable, identity building. It is not likely that avoiding or distrusting formal, public exploration of loaded and complex topics will make them disappear. Avoidance may even intensify the counter-productive aspect of the dissonances, making them seem more dangerous and threatening. Simply admitting 23
  24. 24. To be published in The International Handbook of Jewish Education (Springer, 2010). that there are multiple and competing visions for what constitutes Jewish literacy and serious Jewish learning need not compromise Jewish identity-building, and may even be necessary for it. Official and unofficial cultures that could make it easier and possible for students and teachers alike to find the language to talk about any and all dissonances openly, may allow the dissonances to be used, rather than magnified and dreaded. Lingering in the Conflicts As educators and academics continue to analyze the multi-dimensional character of Jewish identity formation, they must take care to linger in the conflicts and contradictions of identity formation, and not rush into homogeneous harmonies. Jewish educational approaches that focus on reducing or eliminating the dissonances that are generated by multiple and competing cultures, values, and worldviews have left us with little understanding about the conscious and unconscious strategies that Jews develop to negotiate these tensions. Whether these tensions have an impact on the apparent quantitative and qualitative decline of American Jewish life that many sociological studies have reported will require further analysis. However, as researchers broaden their conceptions of Jewish identity formation in the design of new research, we can begin to learn about a much wider set of issues than those focused on in much of the current research on Jewish identity. First and foremost, the field of Jewish identity research is starving for methodological approaches that can appreciate and document identity formation as a series of multiple and moving targets. We need tools capable of studying processes in flux, and over time. In other words, the field needs more ethnographic research and more systematic, longitudinal studies. With greater attention to both of these approaches, separately and together, and through an 24
  25. 25. To be published in The International Handbook of Jewish Education (Springer, 2010). embrace of the reality of identity conflicts and dissonance which this chapter has addressed, a number of intriguing specific directions for future research emerge: 1. Cultural differences and tensions related to Jewish identity appear, of course, in interfaith families. How each member in such families affects the Jewish identity formation of the others is an important area to investigate. Yet we bear precious few qualitative studies that could teach us how families and institutions navigate these multiple and competing constructions of theology, ritual, history, heritage, and authenticity. 2. The relatively new definitions of, and interest in, “Jewish spirituality” and “faith development” have yet to be thoroughly studied, but they undoubtedly are important considerations for methods of Jewish education. 3. Research literature on heritage tourism has already begun to explore the meaning of travel to Israel for Jewish identity, particularly the impact of Birthright trips (Kelner, 2001). However, we still need much more knowledge about what it can mean to make pilgrimages to a “homeland” during this time when all nostalgic and mythic assumptions about Israel are contested and under revision. At the same time, we also need to consider how and why Jews choose to take vacations to other places like Thailand or Italy and what it can mean to people to be in those places, as Jews. 4. Jewish identity formation must be considered in the context of the full range of young people’s various identities, Jewish and non-Jewish. As children weave in and out of explicitly Jewish settings like supplemental or day schools, their involvement in Jewish education needs to be examined in the context of the full range of children’s supplemental activities, from soccer to ballet to fencing. How does each of these 25
  26. 26. To be published in The International Handbook of Jewish Education (Springer, 2010). activities fit into a Jewish child’s overall identity and how is limited time apportioned and prioritized among the variety of activities they participate in? 5. Those children who do attend religious school or Jewish day school will likely find themselves receiving Hebrew instruction from native Israeli women whose cultural backgrounds, values, and approaches to Jewish education may be quite different from Jewish American students are accustomed to in other classes. We do not know how students’ associations with Israel and Hebrew are influenced by the differing backgrounds, cultures and teaching styles of their teachers. If we are to better understand the Jewish identities that both influence and are influenced by formal Jewish educational efforts, we will need to ask about the tensions, gaps, and contradictions; in short, the dissonances, inherent in Jewish identity formation. As more research of these sorts emerge, Jewish educators will have richer qualitative data that could inspire curricular and pedagogical experimentation that is attuned to the range of sociological and psychological tensions that contemporary Jews face. Jewish educators will have access to new conceptual models, language, and specific vocabulary with which to think about the complex craft of teaching for Jewish identity formation. 26
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