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Is it cool to be a Jew? : Significance of Jewishness for young American Jews at the beginning of the 21st century

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Title: Is it cool to be a Jew? : Significance of Jewishness for young American Jews at the beginning of the 21st century
Author(s): Saukko, Olli
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Theology, Department of Church History
Discipline: General Church History
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2017
Young Jewish adults at the beginning of the 21st century were more integrated into American culture than previous generations. However, they did not hide their Jewishness, but continued to embrace certain aspects of it, and were proud of being Jewish. Due to famous Jews in the entertainment business, Jewish characters in popular television series, and new Jewish counterculture, such as the magazine Heeb, Jewishness in early 21st-century America appeared to be “cooler” than ever. In this study, I examine what kinds of ways of being a Jew and expressing Jewishness there were among young American Jews in the 21st century. How did they see themselves compared with the previous generations, for example concerning their stance towards Israel? I will also examine what attitudes young Jews had towards other American culture, how their Jewishness was seen in everyday life, and what significance their Jewishness had for them. Previous studies have shown that the younger generation of American Jews were more open towards new ways of expressing Jewishness, considered changes in Jewish culture as positive, and created these changes themselves. On the other hand, the older generation, especially those affiliated with the Jewish establishment, were more concerned about the future of Judaism in the United States, mainly due to the rising rates of Jews marrying non-Jews. Previous studies have also addressed the older generation’s concern about the tendency of Israel becoming less meaningful for young American Jews. In this study, my main sources are two magazines made by and for young Jewish adults: national Jewish student magazine New Voices; and Heeb, which was a countercultural magazine for “hipster Jews”. New Voices material shows that the editors had critical views on the American Jewish community and its attempts to tackle the issues around intermarriage and attitudes towards Israel. The magazine also featured a number of texts in which young American Jews pondered their Jewishness and its significance in their lives. New York -based Heeb was a radical and humorous magazine that took a stand on social and political issues. Through irony and sarcasm, which were a commonplace in hipsterism, Heeb created humor but also addressed Jewish themes in a highly inclusive way and displayed pride in being Jewish. To show what the “cool Jewishness” phenomenon brought to the American Jewish culture and how it was used, I analyze Lisa Klug’s book Cool Jew, which compiles new expressions of Jewishness and tries to engage young Jews more with Judaism.
Keyword(s): American Judaism Jewishness young Jews Israel intermarriage 21st century American culture cool hipster

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