Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What Do American Jews Teach Their Children?

There's a fascinating article on the English-language side of Y-net about a recent piece of research into what American Jewish summer-campers think their Judaism means:

In comparing the participants of three of the major streams of Judaism, he found that those attending Orthodox camps were significantly more likely to select symbols related to Jewish religious practice, to the Holocaust, to Israel and to discrimination, while participants in Conservative camps were most likely to select universal values such as democracy, co-existence, olerance, ecology, humanism and peace. He attributed this to the Conservative Movement's emphasis on universal values within a Jewish context. Participants in Reform camps were more likely to select items related to Jews' accomplishments in the non-Jewish world (such as wealth and success).

This comment, however, was the most fascinating of all (to me):
"Interestingly, those at the Reform camps were also most likely to select
the symbol of Anne Frank, indicating a somewhat difference attitude towards the
Holocaust than that of the Orthodox campers, who were more likely to select
Auschwitz as symbolic of their Jewish identity," said Cohen.
The idea that the Holocaust is central to Jewish identity is much more American than Israeli; the distinction between the Orthodox teenagers and the Reform ones, however, is revealing, if it's really there and not merely a quirk of the research methodology. Auschwitz is central to the murder of the Jews; Anne Frank is a single sort-of-uplifting story (except for it's end, of course, lest we forget). It's like comparing a continent with a beautiful statue on it.


Jack Steiner said...

Interesting. I spent about 20 years or so working or attending Camp Ramah in California and Canada.

It is ostensibly Conservative but it had a big mix of kids who were Reform or unaffiliated as well as a bunch who were M.O.

We davened daily, kept Kosher and were Shomer Shabbos. I have a millions memories from my time there, but I don't remember much education about democracy/equality.

It always seemed to me to be a Jewish camp first and foremost.

Jim from Connecticut said...

You say "It's like comparing a continent with a beautiful statue on it." It could also be a choice (conscious or otherwise) to view oneself as more than a victim -- one who finds a way to fight against oppression.

Mo said...

Jack, how long ago did you attend the Ramah camps?

I too went to Ramah (Wisconsin), a long time ago, and it was as you describe. In fact, it led me to become Shomer Shabbos, and eventually, drift to Orthodoxy.

I think now, however, that Ramah is not quite the same. I don't mean to disparage it, and I think it still has many positives to it, but if Ramah reflects the Conservative Movement, which it does to a great extent...this is what the Conservative movement is now more concerned with; most of the same "social justice" shibboleths of modern liberalism, and not that much different from the Reform movement.

That doesn't mean they don't worry about kashrus or Shabbos and religious observance. But if this study is to be believed, then there is more emphasis on other things and less on religious observance.

Matt said...

Americans generally have a much more positive view of WWII, a view in which the US saved everyone. That put a lot of constraints on the stories American Jews could tell. (I'd recommend Judith E. Doneson, although I don't know if another book might be better.) That's why Anne Frank, and a deracinated Anne Frank at that. See, especially, Judgment at Nuremberg. No Jewish characters, it's about how Americans established justice following the Holocaust. I'd suppose the Orthodox might be more willing to stand out as different, and less influenced by the dominant American view.