There are many statements in Marion Usher’s opinion piece on the Pew survey that I agree with (“Religion Is Only One Way To Identify As A Jew,” Nov. 1). Her conclusions, though, appear to me to be totally at odds with the facts, even as she presents them. Blaming “nuance” for the fact that reality doesn’t meet her fantasy is nothing more than denial.
Yes, remembering the Holocaust and leading a moral and ethical life are central to Jewish identification. Yes, members of the Workmen’s Circle movement often didn’t belong to a synagogue but still identified as Jews. Yes, young people are expressing their Jewish identity with social justice activism. Yes, Jewish film festivals are a part of the growing movement to engage Jews, etc. But how many grandchildren of Workman’s Circle members are practicing Jews today, by any definition? The same for virtually all Jews who were only culturally attached. Over the last few centuries, Jews have attached themselves to “isms” of all types, but in the process have for the most part lost their descendants to Judaism unless they remained at least somewhat observant.
I don’t claim every Jew must be Orthodox. But If you dilute the religion to simply having feelings about something Jewish, you doom the future of Judaism. Yes, social justice is important and a Jewish value, but it is not distinctively Jewish. Making this the primary ticket to Judaism removes the distinction of Jews as a separate group. And no, just feeling Jewish inside isn’t enough.
Judaism is a religion, like it or not, and religion is about faith and about God. Observe or not, that is your choice, but trying to take observance away from it or making it obsolete cannot work, because in the end, it’s all about truth, tradition, and feeling special.