CNN.com has a package on “The New Jew” — a competent if somewhat-late-to-the-game wrap-up of under-40 Jewish ferment. They round up the usual suspects: Heeb, Hadar, Limmud, Zeek, J-Dub, J Street, and Jewcy.
Here’s how CNN identifies the “story highlights”:
Some Gen X and Y Jews are staking creative claims to identity, religion and culture
They don tattoos, blend Jewish sounds with hip-hop, write edgy blogs and own their spirituality
“They want to re-engage in the world as Jews, but not solely for Jewish causes,” one says
Where traditional synagogues fail to touch them, independent groups and alternatives step up
Brandeis’ Jonathan Sarna (the go-to guy when you need a quote on anything Jewish, it seems) and Steven M. Cohen offer the usual praise and caveats.
The piece has a strange, fetishistic focus on Jewish tattoos. Andy Abrams, who is making a documentary called “Tattoo Jew,” says the tats represent a bold stand:
“They’re being overtly Jewish,” Abrams said [of the wearers]. “They’re saying, ‘I’m Jewish. I’m proud. And I’m willing to wear it on my skin.’ “
Of course, this is a people who have lopped off the male foreskin since time immemorial as a permanent identity marker; we’re kind of pioneers when it comes to body modification. So I can’t get all that excited about someone who inks a star of David on his chest.
Nor can I get all that upset about it either — I know the tradition finds the practice repugnant, but the majority of Jews reject halachic practices that are considered much more central to Jewish identity (as the old joke goes, “It sures beats a ham sandwich, doesn’t it, Father?”).
As for those who insist a tattoo is an insult to Holocaust survivors: I don’t understand why we allow Nazis to be arbiters of what we can and cannot do.
I think if my kid came home with a Jewish tattoo, I’d be somewhat proud that he/she would want to celebrate his/her Jewishness. But my problem with Jewish tattoos is my problem with tattoos in general: They’re permanent. They represent the naive belief that the things you think are hip and/or important today will be hip and/or important to you in 20 years.
I think tattoos should be like the kabbalah: You shouldn’t play around with them until you’re 40, when your identity is essentially fixed and you’re past the recklessness of youth. Of course by then, no one will want to see much of your skin anyway.