The 14th Street Y is proud to be the home of innovative Art and Culture through LABA, The National Laboratory for New Jewish Culture.  On May 15th, the Y will be hosting a town hall-style event called “Now What?  The Future of New Jewish Culture”.  We’re re posting this from THE FORWARD, which is posting interviews in preparation for this event.  Enjoy!

The 14th Street Y 

By Jody Rosen

On May 15, Speakers’ Lab and the Forward will present a moderated town  hall-style event called “Now What? The  Future of New Jewish Culture” at the 14th Street Y in downtown New York  City. In preparation for the event, each panelist was asked to respond to a  question related to his or her work. The Forward will publish one panelist’s  response every Tuesday leading up to the event, and a second panelist’s response  will be published on Speakers’ Lab’s website that same day.

This week Jody Rosen, music critic for Slate, writes about how and why  New Jewish Culture began 10 years ago. On Speakers’ Lab, Ari Roth, Artistic  Director of Theater J, writes  about how non-Jewish playwrights are addressing Jewish themes  today.

Speakers’ Lab: We’re wondering if you can help contextualize  New Jewish Culture as an American Jewish phenomenon. What happened 10 years ago  that spurred this groundswell of production? And second, is this culture, as it  claims, genuinely new? What is it saying about being Jewish in the late 20th or  early 21st century?

Jody Rosen: What you call “New Jewish Culture” is actually  pretty old. The impulses behind it, the desires driving it, the historical  forces compelling it — these aren’t new at all. New Jewish Culture is merely  another chapter in a saga that stretches back more than a century.

Every generation of American Jews has reframed Jewish identity, and recast  the Jewish historical narrative, according to its needs and whimsies.  Turn-of-the-century immigrants shook off their patrimony to remake themselves as  Jewish-Americans. The next generation fled to suburbs and created a new kind of  aggressively assimilated Jewish life. The children of the Jewish suburbs,  longing for lost authenticity, were convulsed by nostalgia for, of all things,  the piety and deprivations of the Old World, from Lower East Side to Pale of  Settlement. These are the Jews who embraced the shtetl-romanticism of “Life  is With People” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” I’m wildly oversimplifying a  complicated story, of course, but I think the broad outline holds.

New Jewish Culture is the latest twist in the story. Over the past decade or  so, young (and not so young) Jews have sought novel ways of talking about the  Jewish past and present, created innovative forms of Jewish ritual and religious  life, pursued different kinds of Jewish cultural expression. At its shallowest,  New Jewish Culture becomes a kind of kitsch-chic pop culture party game: check  out my dorky bar mitzvah photo album and my bubbe’s kreplach recipe! At its  best, it excavates the past in order to animate the present and future. I’m  especially excited by efforts — of everyone from tenured professors to  organizations like Reboot — to recover Jewish stories that have been suppressed  or ignored. This less defensive approach to Jewish history, replacing the old  apologist-heroic Jewish narratives with something more warts-and-all, makes me  more excited and proud to be Jewish, not less.

New Jewish Culture may be in part a reaction to the identity politics of the  1980s and ‘90s, to the increasing tribalism of American life generally. I think  it’s also a response to a Jewish-American culture that has staked too much on  Jewish experience elsewhere — that’s been dominated by the Holocaust and Israel.  The new Jewish-American culture puts the accent on American; it’s anti-Anatevka,  and to a degree, anti-Jerusalem. Historically speaking, Jews have never been  safer, more affluent, more powerful, more self-determining than they have in the  United States. Maybe the land flowing with milk and honey is the Upper West  Side, Park Slope, Cedarhurst, Brookline, Fairfax Avenue, Shaker Heights?

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