The 20th Century is Almost (Finally) Over – The Emerging Face of New York Judaism

So long Woody Allen, hello Tevye! I guess it’s time to wipe that secular Jewish liberal smugness off the face. We’re losing market share. From the new study conducted by Steven Cohen, the new New York Jew will be increasingly orthodox or ultra-orthodox, politically conservative, and economically strapped, i.e. poor. This story is all about the babies. The ultra-orthodox have more of them, and what the article doesn’t mention is the fact that young liberal families very often move out to the suburbs, or at least out of Manhattan, with the birth of a second child.  

The article points to but leaves unexplored an interesting convergence between history, geography, demography, culture, and symbolism. Whence American Judaism when the “original” destination point of Eastern European Jewry, its spiritual and gustatory homeland undergoes such a thorough transformation? Whence liberal Judaism when it loses symbolic home base? Will the new face of liberal Judaism be suburban? Has it not been suburban for more than forty years already? And what will happen to the orthodox? Will they transfigure the face of American Judaism or will America transform them in ways that we can’t even imagine right now?

As per Steve Goodman and the immortal John Prine. We used to sing it at Habonim Camp Moshava in the 1970s:

The twentieth century is almost over
Almost over, almost over
The twentieth century is almost over
All over this world.
All over this world, all over this world.
The twentieth century is almost over all over this world

We’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we? We liberal Jews can all pick up and move to Bloomington. Or re-group soon in New Jersey. I’m going to miss New York, or I’ll just have to get used to a new form of minority status. Nothing stays the same. But what happens when liberal Judaism has to hand over the keys, both here and in Israel? I’m betting the orthodox crash the car. What’s it going to look like? Slum Judaism, “Jews without money,” Jews on welfare?


About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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