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The Expiration of Traditionalism

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THE EXPIRATION DATE OF TRADITIONALISM AND ITS IMPACT ON OUR GENERATION’S ATTITUDE TOWARDS INTERMARRIAGE

Until recently, intermarriage was mostly a thing they did, referring to those “shameful” second and third generation American Jews deeply entrenched in Americana, seemingly forgetting where they came from.  Today, in an ever-evolving social and dating landscape, the debate around Jewish intermarriage has surfaced among first-generation American Jews in our community – and in order to understand the phenomenon, we have to face the facts.

As with any social movement which sets apart generations, there is a paradigm shift in attitude.  Divorce, for example, has been ripping through the community as a silver bullet and as an indictment of multiple loaded issues that the community seems ill-equipped to tackle – parental involvement in dating and marriage, financial expectations, gender equality, and struggling with an old-fashioned dynamic.  The result has not been so encouraging, as the current generation’s divorce rate far exceeds that of the previous generation, regardless of the increasing freedom in modern dating.  One thing we did know growing up, and which provides the apropos segue into the discussion of intermarriage, is that, much like divorce was taboo, so was intermarriage.  Unfortunately, as we’ve seen over the last decade, taboos can be destigmatized with an adequate distraction.

I will posit that the distraction de jour is actually not ill-conceived or intentional – it simply comes down to our generation’s difficulty in discerning the difference between a virtue and a value – and that’s because traditionalism is dying.

THE CAUSE: THE SHELF-LIFE OF TRADITIONALISM

When waves of immigration brought thousands of Jews from traditional Sephardic backgrounds Stateside, parents unfamiliar with the landscape of America were faced with crucial decisions relating to Jewish continuity, namely education.

Our parents’ generation and every single generation before them had an instinctual foundation of traditionalism that carried them through their lifecycles and milestones – it was the glue that kept their communities together.  The lack of a formal Jewish education did not impact their knowledge or pride because of how tightly-knit their societies were.  They almost never had the chance to be distracted by, exposed to, or to seamlessly be a part of, a society with competing values prior to marriage.  Accordingly, they adhered to traditional values and virtues.  Even when new norms developed around them, pride in traditionalism invariably allowed them to develop and identify virtues, utilizing that self-knowledge during their adulthood.  As a result, those in the community could rely on the efficacy of traditionalism.

Throughout this generation, as our parents continued to explore their own freedom that came without fear, they relied on their deep sense of traditionalism to provide the tools to educate us about Judaism at home.  However, a nuanced distinction between what it meant to be “traditional” then and now has surfaced a very real challenge – does our modern interpretation of, and adherence to culture have to include Judaism?

THE EFFECT: THE EXPIRATION DATE OF TRADITIONALISM

The key distinction, and arguably our communal obligation, is determining what role Judaism had in the traditionalism of generations past versus the role it plays in our current generation, and why it impacts our ability to choose a life partner.

See, back then, the inherent divide placed between Jews living in a country that treated them differently made it nearly impossible to extract the Judaism from traditions, and thus choosing traditional Jewish values invariably meant choosing a lifestyle comprised of Jewish virtues.  We often remember our grandparents and cherish our parents, considering them role models, for their virtues: unwavering loyalty to family, their steadfastness when dealing with adversity, and their seemingly endless faith and spirituality which allowed them to build an incredible larger-than-life legacy.  When you couple that with a large taboo placed on intermarriage, you can understand why our parents rested their laurels on the power of traditionalism – and accordingly, wagered the future of Judaism in America.

Today, our community’s career pursuits invariably extend the time by which we are exposed to society at large.  Thus, the traditions we were taught or brought up on seem more cultural, far-removed and voluntary, and increasingly less likely to be at the forefront of our minds when making life decisions.  For our parents, being cultural came with Judaism – it was one in the same – there was no selectivity for the want of convenience.

To illustrate the rate by which our community has been affected so far in just one generation, think about kashrut and the rates by which our community currently observes it.  Through high school in the early 2000s, the majority of my Jewish peers kept most laws of kashrut, likely the result of their traditional upbringing.  If you asked them why, they would likely say something to the effect of “I don’t know – that’s just the way I was raised in my culture.”  It is nearly indisputable that traditional Jewish teenagers today keep fewer laws of kashrut just a decade later – and that is because their culture is more influenced by America.  Even if the parents are upset by their children opting out of cultural norms, they have no clear and convincing reason to dispute their children’s choices, because, at a similar age, they likely didn’t know why it mattered either.

The “why” is the crux of it all, and is directly linked to the almost-predictable decline of prioritizing Judaism later in life.  If you don’t know why, why do it?

THE FUTURE: DISCOVERING THE WHY

Growing comfortable with exercising selectivity in both your Jewish observance and cultural attachment has a hidden danger when choosing your mate.  Turning traditionalism from a lifestyle into a cultural influence (potentially one of many influences) means that we can’t really depend on it as an accurate predictor of compatibility.  So, when you seem to be connecting because you have had a similar upbringing or cultural influence, that doesn’t necessarily equal compatibility or even a compatible set of values, because it is no longer a lifestyle one commits to out of necessity.  As we have now seen during a generation of assimilation, norms shift quickly.

As the freest generation in Jewish history, we must utilize the freedom to answer what our ancestors seemingly did innately: “Why is Jewish continuity important?”  Even if you staunchly believe that the lack of freedom previous generations had meant they had no choice but to marry among themselves, and would choose differently if presented with the opportunity, ask yourself what that would mean and answer from a position of knowledge.  More importantly, ask yourself if your version would stand the test of time.

Judaism, even culturally, has historically required reinvestment throughout life.  Chances are that, if the last time you invested in Judaism was when you were pubescent, you will likely prioritize what you have invested in more recently when gauging compatibility – your education, career, etc.  With your life evolving over time, what are your constants?  It certainly isn’t your salary, your family’s status, the car you drive or the looks you have.

DATING WITH THE WHY IN MIND

The mainstream success of American Jews allots us the freedom to be fully integrated in today’s society, certainly in pop culture.  The recent publicized nuptials produce tabloid sensations and a strange sense of accomplishment that we have somehow arrived.  A real estate tycoon’s daughter, a former president under the chuppah, the new Asian queen of all social networks – wow, they want in?  Pride sets in.

As much recent mainstream success as American Jews have had, you should remember that most historical anti-Semitism is based in Jewish world domination conspiracy theories – so it’s nothing new.  The bedrock of that reputation comes from the identification of, and fascination with, timeless Jewish virtues.

When our parents dated for marriage, they didn’t have access to as many indicators of potential as we do – most of the women were still teenagers.  What people mostly relied on were virtues – traditional virtues.  Think about that for a second – Jews are arguably the most impactful nation the planet has ever seen, and we built it on Jewish virtues first – professional suffixes and prefixes were not first priorities.

It seems that modern dating success is predicated on what you are – not who you are.  Accordingly, our generation judges compatibility on fleeting bullet points, not characteristics and virtues developed over a lifetime.  The new climate of selective cultural adherence should be a welcomed opportunity and should encourage us to dig further beneath the surface.  Without compensating for assimilation, it seems that we’ll lose the inherited ability to choose a mate, like the hundreds of generations before us, and we will invariably create a gap in our quest for being an indispensable piece of Jewish continuity.

It seems as though the expiration date of traditionalism has arrived – and that isn’t necessarily a terrible thing.  Take the time to answer the tough questions for yourself and to identify your Jewish virtues and lead with those first – trust me, it’s a lot more fascinating, and predictive of compatibility, than being on a date with just another “young professional” 😉


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Eyal Aharonov was born in Israel to Persian and Bukharian parents, raised in Los Angeles and is the youngest of three boys. Eyal was raised with a deep connection to Judaism and to Zionism. Through his education in the United States, he has developed a sense of awareness and responsibility for Judaism in the Diaspora. As a result, he joined the Skribe team to help create and facilitate a dialogue among his generation of Jews in Los Angeles.

Opinion

Trump and the Iran Nuclear Deal

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Iran’s ever-evolving nuclear aspirations are far from breaking news to most of the world. For over two decades, the country’s desire to continue developing its nuclear program has dominated global conversation. In 2015, years of ongoing negotiations with Iran finally concluded when the U.S. and five other world powers agreed to lift sanctions targeting the Islamic Republic’s banking and energy sector in exchange for restrictions in Iran’s nuclear program. Now, almost a year after it’s inception, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal, will undergo a fresh round of opposition as the new Trump administration prepares to take office.

Snubbed by many as nothing more than a bunch of politicos beating a dead horse, the Iran deal was the culmination of over twelve years worth of negotiations between seven states and the European Union. Under the deal, Iran maintains the ability to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. It agreed to refine its metal to no more than 3.7 percent enrichment, the level needed to fuel nuclear power plants.

Iran also pledged to limit its enriched-uranium stockpile to 300 kilograms, 3 percent of its stores over the next fifteen years. In return, the UN, EU and US agreed to lift sanctions and slowly release more than $100bn in assets frozen overseas.Throughout the course of his campaign, president-elect Donald Trump advocated for a more aggressive Iran policy. Trump pledged that dismantling the Iran deal will be a top priority once he steps into office, calling it “one of the dumbest deals ever.”With less than a month away from being sworn into office, Trump will soon have the opportunity, and the domestic political authority, to reverse the deal in its entirety.

However impulsive Trump may be, reversing the Iran deal would be ill- advised, if not unrealistic. Among other reasons, abruptly dismantling the Iran deal now would serve to isolate the US not just from Iran, but from everyone who participated in the negotiations and who would undoubtedly be affected by the US’s actions. First, renegotiating the Iran deal will be difficult, if not entirely impossible, amidst international pressure to keep the deal’s essential framework in tact. Changing its terms would require the cooperation of Iran and the other signatories: China, France, Russia, Germany, the U.K. and the European Union. Just a few weeks ago, the European Union reiterated its “resolute commitment” to the JCPOA and called for the upholding of commitments by all sides.

Moreover, pulling back now is unlikely to reverse effects already set in motion by the year-old nuclear deal. History rarely- if ever- provides refunds. The fact remains that however strongly critics disapproved of the Iran nuclear deal before its inception in 2015, a deal was still reached. Abandoning the agreement post-facto will neither turn back the clock nor put the US, Iran, or any other world actor back in the same position as it was pre-JCPOA. For better or worse, the sociopolitical climate has since shifted. Since the Iran deal, cooperation between Iran and Russia has strengthened immeasurably. There has been a rapid expansion of communication and economic relations between the two countries, including efforts made to facilitate travel and waiver visa for the two countries’ nationals; negotiations for the establishment of a joint investment bank; agreement for investment by Russia in Iran up to USD 40 billion; and the opening of two lines of credit worth five billion USD and two billion USD by Russian banks. Iran-China ties have also expanded in the post-JCPOA period. With the lifting of sanctions, Sino-Iranian communications as well as various military-to-military exchanges have developed between the two countries. Similarity and interest in developing military technologies to counter U.S. systems struck a resonance between both countries as Iran began to engage China in purchasing several of its military technologies including anti-ship cruise missiles, long distance air-to-air missiles and sea mines.

On a separate note, it is important to acknowledge that despite recent claims of revamping some of its nuclear technologies, in the past year Tehran has reduced its stockpile of enriched uranium by 98 percent, placed two-thirds of its centrifuges in storage, and disabled a reactor capable of producing plutonium. Abrogating from the deal now, or even threatening to do so, would in all likelihood cause Iran to rethink its own compliance. In light of Trump’s impulsive comments, Iranian leaders including Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, immediately warned that Iran is ready to build a new nuclear enrichment plant the moment the other side violates the nuclear deal.

It is too early to say with complete certainty what position Trump will take once in office regarding the JCPOA. To be sure, pushing back on Iran in the Middle East and continuing to shrink the Islamic Republic’s nuclear aspirations will be an important priority of the incoming Trump administration. However, the international consequences of tearing up the Iran deal in its entirety would only serve to escalate already high tension between the US and Iran.

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Feature

Response to “10 Reasons Persian Jews Support Trump,” Afshine Emrani’s Opinion Piece in the Jewish Journal

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Afshine Emrani’s opinion piece states that his “strong impression is that most Persian Jews in Los Angeles support Donald Trump.” Days before it was published, he wrote on his personal facebook, “Question for my ‪#‎Persian‬ ‪#‎Jewish‬ friends who support ‪#‎Trump‬. Why?” He did not ask the same question to his Persian Jewish followers who are Hillary Clinton supporters. So what gave him the impression that most Persian Jews in Los Angeles support Trump? As an American Persian Jew, I am here to tell you that I would never vote for such a xenophobic, bigoted candidate as Trump and I know many more who feel the same way.  The arguments in the opinion piece are weak, and some of the claims are complete fallacies. You can read more on each claim here.

Trump’s hate-filled rhetoric towards immigrants and minorities is truly disconcerting. He has offended almost every single minority group in the United States, including Middle Easterners and Jews. He has proposed a ban on Muslims, referred to undocumented immigrants as “rapists,” and called the federal judge hearing his fraud case on Trump University “biased” and “corrupt” solely because of his Mexican heritage. He refused to disavow David Duke and The Klu Klux Klan, posted anti-semitic imagery on his twitter and declined to apologize.

The United States Refugee Act of 1980, with the assistance of organizations like HIAS, gave Persian Jews, including my family, the chance to flee religious persecution after the Iranian Revolution and seek asylum in the United States. They left a country that treated them like second-class citizens, and came to a country that celebrates religious freedom. Donald Trump has proposed a suspension to President Obama’s plan to take in refugees from the Middle East. These are people fleeing a familiar vehement religious oppression our families endured. Our relatives were fortunate enough to come to this country. It would be very difficult for them to enter under Trump’s proposed program suspension.

History has taught us that as Jews, we shouldn’t take it lightly when individuals in power threaten to uproot groups of people based upon their religion. As Iranian Jews, we personally know how it feels when this happens. I am not speaking to you as a Democrat or a Republican, as a conservative or a liberal, but as a Persian Jewish American woman who was raised on the values of acceptance, compassion, and humanity. We are proud to be a part of this great nation of immigrants, and we refuse to back a candidate like Donald Trump that espouses hatred and racism.   

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Opinion

SCARED SINGLE PART TWO: Money, Debt, And Entitlement En Route To Marriage Among First-Generation Americans

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The Scared Single series is a glimpse into modern dating and the hurdles millennials face on their road to the chuppah.

Financial strain is one of the most-referenced stressors on a marriage or marriage-minded relationship.

The display of and perception of wealth plays a massive role in how singles choose their mates.  Namely, both males and females are enticed to use marriage as an opportunity to alleviate future financial worries and/or to publicly overstate their financial positions.

Decades ago, as new immigrants, our parents did everything to establish themselves in a foreign country.  Some had the luxury of seeking higher education, but most hustled to put food on the table.  Almost everyone struggled financially at one point or another, and many of the eventual success stories involved humbly “starting with nothing.”

As the community began an acceleration towards affluence, and as the community became synonymous with luxury, pressure to display status grew.  

Against this new backdrop of affluence, our generation began to establish itself through seeking higher education.  Caught in nearly a decade of the effects of a global recession, maintaining merely the status quo of the wealth we were surrounded by seems more challenging – at times, out of reach.  Indeed, the expectation of financial security exists this generation in a way that it never had before.  The fact of the matter is that most young professionals have debt from their educational pursuits, yet the trajectory of the community’s flashiness still seems to dictate the priority with which we give financial status while dating.            

Today, each gender uses code words to gain insight into how a future with a prospective mate may look like.  Women reference education, career, drive, ambition to gauge a man’s financial potential.  Men ask, “Is she down to Earth?  Low maintenance?  Does she work?  Does she come from a ‘good’ family?”, to gauge financial expectations.  There is a common thread in these inquiries – will we, as a couple, ever struggle with finances?  

So many of us wish to establish the unbreakable bond we see in our parents, and yet we just don’t want to live through the beginning of the story.  More telling of our generation’s desire to steer clear of any difficulties is this need, this – dare I say entitlement – to be free of financial worries in marriage.  

The tremendous pressure surrounding money creates a tense dating environment, which disincentivizes communication about the role of finances in marriage.  Even more so, the environment creates the incentive to show that you have more than you actually have, often contributing to broken engagements, rising divorce, and a feeling among singles seeing it all play out that enough may not be enough.  

We all know this, and yet, we continue to close our eyes en masse.  The ever-growing trends within the community continue to revolve around displaying financial status.  Every component of a relationship-gone-public incorporates the need to exhibit wealth – even after the wedding.  If you’re single, you automatically picture yourself in place of the couple and wonder how in the world there’s an endless budget for parties.  If you’re a married man, you pray your wife doesn’t get any ideas.  Co-ed bridal and baby showers?  Live-in nurse post-partum?  Over-the-top bris?

When did the average person become entitled to such luxuries?  And why now, at a time when it’s hard enough to find someone in the first place, have such obscene gestures of spending been mounting?  

And if you can’t have all of that, regardless of the fact that you know you won’t be paying for it…does marriage become less fulfilling?

I understand this overwhelming desire to show the world that you’ve made it.  

To the singles waiting their turn or en route to marriage – continue to hold traditional notions of partnership and building a family from nothing in high regard – resist the urge to substitute substance for status.

Additionally, I challenge those among us who are happily married – parents included – to simply consider the context of their public actions.  It is time to embrace, and publicize, the evolution of the modern-day (two-income) couple for the betterment of the community at large – will you accept the challenge or continue to scare us single?

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