Sunday, July 4, 2010

American Jew: The Search for a Double Identity

This was my essay topic for when I took Intro to American Studies.  Based on Frederick Douglass' search for dual identity, I also searched for a dual identity, e.g., what it meant to be both American and Jewish.  I couldn't think of a better topic for the Fourth of July, a time of year in which the dual identity comes into tension. 

In order to discover whether the tension can be mitigated or eliminated, one has to ask what it means to be an American.  From the most narrow of definitions, an American is one who was either a) born in the United States, or b) you endure a lot of bureaucratic red tape, take the citizenship test, and become just as American as everybody else.  What makes a good American, or rather, made a good American, was being a WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant).  Up until about fifty to sixty years ago, Catholics, blacks, Hisapnics, and Jews were looked at as "less American" than their WASP counterparts.  The way in which America has evolved makes the question "what makes a good American" obsolete simply because there are multiple Americas.  I say that because the amount of sub-cultural groups in this country, whether they be based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or even sexual orientation, force us to look at America in a way that is not homogeneous.  This means that the seemingly minimalist requirement of American citizenship is actually the definition of what an American is.

The implications this has for Jews is amazing because it means that you don't have to give up an iota of your Jewishness to be American.  Not only that, Jews should be proud of the fact that they have American citizenship.  I'm sure my Orthodox friends would like to remind me that we, as Jews, are still בגלות (in exile), that we are not in Israel.  Although I am not disputing the yearning to return to Israel, I will, however, say this.  You should still be thankful for all the religious freedom we have.  Think of Jews living in other nations throughout history.  If you chose any other given moment in Jewish history outside of Israel, I'm sure that you find that it was illegal to practice kashrut, circumcise your son, study Torah, or observe Shabbat.  Essentially, one who practiced Judaism was castigated in one way or the other, in a great deal of instances, with death.  America is the historical exception to that rule, and the fact that we have the ability to practice Judaism freely in America is truly something to be thankful for.  Not only should we be thankful for it, but all Jews should exercise that freedom to each individual's full potential.  May this be a day to realize how luck we Jews are to live in the land of the free and practice Judaism.

Happy Fourth of July and G-d Bless America!     

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