Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Being Jewish in a modern world

The Pew Research Centre’s recent report on Jewish identity is a sobering reality check on Jewish identity and what it means.  Although the report is based on American Jews, there are many factors that lend themselves to diaspora Jews in general. 
Of the report, the most alarming figure that comes to mind is that 58% of Jews marry out of the faith.  That means that it’s more common for Jews to marry non-Jews in America today.
When I look at Jews in Australia today, it is also quite common for Jews to marry out of the faith with figures reportedly ranging from 25% to 30%, although in reality it can be much higher.  Although intermarriage has always occurred, it is only in the last 50 years that it seems to have taken on an ever increasing rate. 
But what is driving this increasing rate of Jews leaving the fold, as it were.  Does being born Jewish really mean anything anymore?  The reality is that there has probably been a steady erosion of Jewish identity through the years, and by saying Jewish identity I don’t mean just religious - being Jewish means lots of things to lots of people.
Perhaps with increasing globalization, we consider ourselves citizens of the world, rather than any ethnic religious group.  It might be that in this ever busy world where time is the most precious commodity, we don’t have the patience to be bothered with something so seemingly trivial as Jewish identity.  It could even boil down to simple economics.  Getting a formal Jewish education at a Jewish day school in Australia is highly prohibitive, costing up to $30000 for a single student, meaning if you had three kids, you’d require an additional income of $100000 a year, which puts it out of many peoples’ reach.  There are, of course, alternatives such as yeshiva schools, but not everyone is comfortable with sending their children to a religious environment.
The reality is that there is probably no single factor that has caused Jewish identity to erode, but it is a reality of assimilation in an open and free world of which no diaspora community is immune from America all the way to Australia.  The most important reality check in all this is that children of mixed marriages, even with a Jewish mother, have diminishing chances of retaining their Jewish identity in the future.
Is that even important though?  Well, that depends on the individual and how important being Jewish means to you.  We are a part of a 4000 year old people that somehow through pogroms, exile, war and genocide have still managed to remain as an identifiable people through the ages.
Over 300 years ago, Blaise Pascal, the great French philosopher, was asked by King Louis XIV of France to give him proof of miracles. Pascal answered: "Why, the Jews, your Majesty ― the Jews."
I don’t believe that as a people, the Jewish people are in danger of disappearing; however as individuals many of us are destined to be absorbed into our surrounding cultures, leaving our Jewish heritage behind. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

I love the America's Cup - I just don't understand it!

The America’s Cup yachting race is one of those events in world sports, which generates excitement, anxiety, angst, elation and depression.  It is also one of those sports that no one actually understands!

So I decided to sit down – well it was about 6am so make that lie down – and watch one of the races between Team New Zealand and Team USA taking place in the San Francisco bay.

You see - this is how it works.  They start off with a countdown which is somewhere around 5 minutes.   A white line then appears in the sea like magic!  It must have taken them ages painting it, especially with the sea moving and all… Unlike a running race where you shout ready, set go – the America’s Cup is more like ready, set, slow!  They are not actually stationary prior to the race starting – they are in constant motion circling around each other and making grinding noises.  Anyway, the race starts – and they’re off!  I know this because the white line finally washes away.

At this stage, the commentators are particularly excited – not sure why yet.  Oh right, there was a gybe or is it a tack?  Thankfully, there are also lots of camera angles and computer screens showing computer generated imagery of exactly who is winning, because to tell you the truth, it kind of all looks the same on tv!

The commentators then start going crazy, because apparently, Team New Zealand did a starboard tack, which I think means something on the right.  A couple of questions here like - what the hell is a tack?  And what the hell is starboard?  I mean – where am I – the Starship Enterprise?  Why can’t they say left or right like regular people?
The commentators are now delirious as they start shouting something about an ebb flow coming in from the warm southerly current.  Yes, I also don’t know what that means.  They almost pass out now, because apparently Team USA have a code zero!  A what - ?  The only code zero I’m aware of is the one that you have right after having a big Indian dinner, and you’re running down the hallway towards the toilet yelling “Code Zero! Code Zero!”

Suddenly, the race has taken a dramatic turn – or tack!  Team New Zealand are way ahead and heading for a win, when suddenly the match referee who is sitting in another boat somewhere fishing calls for the race to be abandoned – as 40 minutes have passed.  Apparently under the rules the race can only be 40 minutes, so as not to delay proceeding.  So instead of letting the team win, they now have to extend the day by another hour instead of another 5 minutes.  Perhaps on bizarro world that might make sense, but here in the real world where we tack and gybe, it doesn’t!
So the race comes to a sudden end where there was clearly no winner – unless you include the team that was about one kilometre ahead.  Everyone is now standing around and talking excitedly about the day’s events.

It’s always amusing watching people talk about things about which they have no idea.  People are kind of nodding knowingly, arms folded and all, giving an appropriate grunt when needed and saying things like, “Yup, that’s what I was thinking.”  It’s like when your car breaks down and you stare into the engine, with the bonnet up, not knowing what the hell you’re staring at!  But being manly and all, you don’t actually want to admit that and end up making inane comments like, “Yeah, engine spin cycle definitely sounds a bit off”

Anyway, so the race continues with Race number 417 just having been completed with so many questions remaining.  Will there be enough hot air in the room for the next race to start?  Will the wind direction change?  And will Nicholas Cage get off Alcatraz in time before it explodes?

The America’s Cup – it’s like an old relative from a faraway country.  We don’t really understand her, but we love her anyway.