Who Are You and What’s in That Name?

12 10 2010

Who are you and how shall you live, when you are born — fill in the blank —

See the sentence completed with “Jewish” for discussion here at Snook almost three years ago:

. . .the whole PBS series was about “identity” and how different American Jews in different places and times, struggled to both assimilate and advance, AND honor and preserve their own distinct heritage in their own families and neighborhoods, from language to education and music to friends and marriage, food, dress, hairstyles.

It’s a fascinating question to ask what it means to be born Jewish, of course, but is any religion literally about being born a certain way — inescapable genetic identity — that can be predicted, isolated and expressed with hard science? Or is it more true and truly meaningful to understand religious identity as culture, all its “mannerisms . . .hidden code . . .and subtleties.”

[He] doesn’t approach his journey into Judaism from a religious standpoint. He takes no steps to learn Hebrew or convert. Instead, his obsession is cultural. He wishes to understand the mannerisms of Jewish life; the hidden code of Jewish sarcasm and the subtleties of Jewish body language.

And in the end the larger power of story isn’t just about what Jewish or any other religious label means. The sentence that starts with “who are you and how shall you live” needn’t be followed by any fill-in-the-blank label at all. Just end it with a question mark: who are you and how shall you live? And never stop asking.

Who among us is so certain of our identity? Who hasn’t been asked, “What’s your background” and hesitated, even for a split second, to answer their inquisitor? Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question forces us to ask that of ourselves, and that’s why it’s a must read, no matter what your background.

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2 responses

13 10 2010
Meg L.

My father’s family was Jewish and while I wasn’t raised in the religion, I was always curious about it. Before we moved to Indiana, Hubby was teaching at a Jesuit school in California with a great religion dept. (all the students were required to take at least religion class, though it didn’t have to be Catholic) and I took an Intro to Judaism class. It was fascinating.

For the class I had to write a paper on whether being Jewish was a religious choice or a cultural choice. After talking to Hubby about his impressions of my extended family I came at it from the cultural side. In my research to support my point (all my family’s tales were told like the stories from the old testament and while I didn’t share the extended family’s religion, I did share distinctive cultural habits.) I found some published research about second generation immigrants who attempt to reconnect with their heritage and religion.

The only group who is successful nearly across the board are Jews. Even when they ‘leave’ the religion, they keep so much of the basic culture that futher generations can reconnect with the religion (if they want to).

ah shit, I just followed back to your earlier post and found I mention this in passing (but you got more detail this time.)

13 10 2010
JJ

And happy to get it! 😉

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