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Is It Enough to Be Hip, or Is There More to Embody?

December 22, 2005 By:
Lori Schneide
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VH1's onto it. John Stewart is embodying it. And The New York Times is covering it. It's the hip Jewish phenomena. And if there's ever a time to blow your Jewish horn, it's now.

You see, there's a reason for all of this Jewish shofar-blowing. It's actually a mitzvah. And during this time of season we've come to know as Chrismakwanzahanukah, the Chanukah holiday is the prescribed time in the Jewish calendar year that Jews are commanded to "advertise the mitzvah."

For all of you thinking that this Jewish-hipster craze was content-free, it seems that content works in great and mysterious ways.

The mitzvah of advertising the commandment, or persomet ha-mitzvah, is one of three prescribed commanded observances of Chanukah. The others are to light the chanukiah (or holiday menorah), and give tzedakah, or charity.

The recent charity event benefiting the Jewish philanthropic organization, Natan, and sponsored by the Jewish-hipster magazine, Heeb, on Dec. 11 at Crobar in New York City, fulfilled two out of three Chanukah mitzvot.

Had it actually been Chanukah, these "culturally identified Jews" would have pulled off a Chanukah observance that just might have rivaled Chabad's "mitzvah mobile" that blares music down Fifth Avenue. Crobar was filled with the rhythms, humor, smells and irreverence of the new Jewish generation doing "Jewish." The only question I have is this: Did any of the hipsters know it?

It's been a few years now since a cultural renaissance of Jewish happenings, hip-hop, reggae and rap musicians, young comics, irreverent actors, sophisticated salons and millennial partying like it's 1999 have reinvented Judaism as "hip."

And yet, this question seems to rise from the whisperings of Hillel and Shamai in the yeshiva of my mind at every new hip-Jew event I attend: Who will bury our dead, marry us meaningfully, Bar Mitzvah our children and provide compelling content for this rebirth?

I'm not saying that we have an answer yet. My sense is we don't.

It's clear that my generation is expert in how to do "Jewish." But how do we do God? How does our love for ritual and assembly (read: martinis and partying) play out in our times of need, life-cycle events, holidays or expressing holiness in our lives? What is our inner life as a generation, and how will Judaism respond to it in a way that is equally compelling and confluent with our social lives?

What is the spiritual practice of this Internet generation, who've as of yet only come out as "culturally Jewish?"

What will you do, Jewish-hipster, when your dad dies? Who will you call? The rabbi who "Bar Mitzvahed" you? Or maybe that seemingly cool rabbi who leads the service with the synthesizer - what's his name? Or that cantor who sings campy songs on her acoustic guitar? The cross-dressing rebbetzin? Adam Sandler? Madonna? Who do you turn to with the big questions?

I ask you, Jewish-hipster: How do you do Jew?

Is it through the irreverent mouth of the brilliant Sarah Silverman singing Kol Nidre that we should annul our vows on Yom Kippur? Might we ask John Stewart to give the d'var Torah for Rosh Hashanah? How about a Purim-rave with house-music pulsing out the entire Megillat Esther?

My sense is that there is a whole world of performance and pop-culturally driven ritual yet to be discovered.

The big questions are not going to go away just because we'd rather go to a Jewcy party and drink martinis. We need to explore our place as inheritors of a Jewish tradition that has privileged us with identities as highly educated, manifestly creative and lustful-for-life hipsters. There's a reason why we're this way. We need to unearth it.

Our Chanukah party's dance floor is built atop a tell beneath our feet. We must excavate these thousands of years of Jewish ancestry upon which we stand. Our ancestors whisper to us to not only celebrate our Judaism, but to know it, too.

Just think of how hip those 18th-century Chasids, those 1920s' Zionists and those ancient Maccabee warriors thought they were.

Hip Judaism is nothing new. Hip Judaism of its time created Jewish Oral Law, the State of Israel and rededicated the ancient Temple of Solomon.

Our newest and coolest reinvention is just the beginning. But we've got some history to unearth. I dare say, our future hip-grandchildren depend on it. Lori Schneide is a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote.

 

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