Although Anat Hoffman and the Women of the Wall are still fighting and need our attention and support, it’s time for me to talk about other things. Or, as the Monty Python guys used to say, “And now, for something completely different… The Larch.” Just kidding. I’m not going to talk about trees. Instead, let’s talk about fish. For two sentences.
Remember the Dr. Seuss book, “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish”? Lots of different kinds of fish in the sea.
Same with Jews.
Take, for example, my colleagues at the American Technion Society (aka ATS). But first, I have to brag about them. I’ve never met a group of people who were more passionate about Israel and dedicated to their organization and its mission. People stay with ATS longer than any organization I’ve ever worked with. Out of 82 staff members, 50 have been there more than 5 years and 35 people have worked there for over 15 years. And they all like each other! Once you’ve been bitten by the Technion bug, you’re infected for life.
But that’s not why I’m writing about ATS tonight. When it comes to being Jewish, the ATS folks are all over the map, and they’re a good cross-section of the entire American Jewish community, which is incredibly diverse. Some ATS folks take utter delight in being non-religious while others take their religion very seriously. For example, on the lunch buffet today (I’m at a conference center this week for our semi-annual staff meeting) there was salmon cooked in lobster sauce, and I can assure you that very few cared that lobster isn’t kosher and a whole bunch helped themselves to it. On the other hand, several do keep kosher, to varying degrees.
The kosher versus non-kosher aspect is only the tip of the iceberg. Even beyond the differences between our religious denominations — Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Humanistic — there are a variety of ways that Jews identify themselves. Here’s my own highly arbitrary list:
- Gastronomic Jews — known mainly for their penchant for bagels and lox on Sunday mornings; they are closely related to…
- New York Times Jews — who read the magazine section and do the crossword puzzle in ink while eating their bagels.
- Federation Jews — people who give to and volunteer with their community’s Jewish federation, which is kind of a Jewish United Way. Sort of.
- Pocketbook Jews — aka Checkbook Jews. They vote with their dollars and support one or more (usually more) Jewish charities.
- Cultural Jews — They love Zubin Mehta and Itzhak Perlman; they’ve read everything by Philip Roth and even some modern Israeli literature; they’re always up on the latest from Jewish artists, writers, musicians, etc.
- Literary Jews — a subsection of Cultural Jews who’ve read everything by the modern Israeli authors.
- Zionist Jews — my paternal grandmother was a classic Zionist Jew. She was a travel agent back in the days when travel agents traveled, and she took tour groups to Israel, brought lipsticks to the kibbutz girls (because who didn’t need bright red lipstick while working in the orange groves?) and was a national vice president and serious fundraiser for Hadassah. My Technion colleagues are a modern-day version of my Grandma Suzie. Without the lipstick.
- Political Jews — often closely related to Zionist Jews, they read all the Israeli newspapers and can talk Israeli politics for hours on end. I will freely admit to not belonging to their ranks and usually zone out until the conversation returns to something I know something about. I have enough trouble keeping up with my own country’s politics.
- Secular Jews — they like to tell you that they don’t belong to a synagogue but they consider themselves Jewish for a number of reasons, none of which are remotely related to Judaism as a religion.
- Thee-Day-a-Year Jews — close kin to Secular Jews, these are the people who make it so hard to find a parking spot at Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur services. Plus they usually go to a seder at Passover and might even light Hanukah candles.
- Israeli Jews. Nuff said. (You think I’m crazy enough to try to write a one-sentence summary of Israelis? No way!)