The more traditional the Jew, the less he has angst about his identity — he’s a Yid first, second and third.
The more modern the Jew, the more assimilated and confused.
That’s why the Orthodox increasingly dominate Jewish life. No other form of Jewish identity has shown it can grow in strength over the generations.
It’s either the Torah Corral or marching for gay rights.
My identity as a Jew doesn’t lead to much questioning. Which is to say it’s the uncomplicated Jewish identity of a secular Israeli. It just is. In substance it’s a mix of the very lightly religious (candles on Hanukkah and perhaps an attempt at fasting on Yom Kippur) combined with emotional (if not always patriotic) attachment to Israel. But at its center is not substance but an ineffable sense of being comfortable in my skin because there is nothing else I can be. There is no other identity to assimilate to.
In other words, I don’t think I was asking, at 5, what it means to be a Jew.
But I’ve come to understand this anxiety well. It’s actually been my bread and butter over the past four years during my time as opinion editor of this newspaper. If I didn’t always recognize it as anxiety, I do now, writing in my last days at this job, before I head off to work on a new book and finish a doctoral program.
As I try to sum up for myself what I have gained after reading through and editing thousands of opinion pieces, it’s simply this: an intimate familiarity with the gut-churning, fraught, panicked and uncomfortable state of being an American Jew today.