The New Jew Manifesto
We are the New Jews. We are out and loud and proud. We are upfront. We are in your face. We talk loud and we don’t care. We’re the hello-I’m-Jewish-generation.
Old Jews speak of their Jewish identity in the hushed tones generally reserved for discussing terminal illness. Old Jews spend their time point-scoring on who’s Jewish – they so want Roman Abramovich to be Jewish, even if it’s just because of the money – whereas New Jews either don’t care, or, if desperate, consult Jewhoo.com.
Old Jew mindset: Jew-centric. Who’s Jewish? Is it good for the Jews? Are they – indeed, at last – out to get us? New Jews are entering into Jewish-Buddhist dialogue, saving the last synagogue in Calcutta and cycling for any cause necessary.
Old Jew mindset: when your (Jewish) boss whispers under his breath as you arrive at every meeting, unzerer. Of course, occasionally he has to whisper nisht unzerer. New Jew mindset: Jewish is never in brackets.
It’s an attitude, not just an age thing. So you might be fourth generation, or have just – figuratively – got off the boat, but if you’re a New Jew, you don’t have a problem saying who you are or being who you say. There’s nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide, and you don’t care.
It’s an Englisher thing, exclusively. While all Americans are New Jews, Anglo New Jews are reclaiming their visitor status and saying we are upbeat. We are positive. We no longer walk the middle of the road, knowing we’ll get run over.
Old Jews say: they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat. New Jews say: we are the post-anti-semitism generation. We don’t want to predicate our identity on taking our collective mind off our tsures by having something to eat, on an if-you-don’t-laugh-you’ll cry basis. Would you like to sponsor my yogathon raising money for a new cross-denominational Jewish project?
New Jews read the Guardian. Old Jews read the Times. No-one reads the Telegraph. Rootsy Old Jews crave a fat-laden Blooms-fest; New Jews wanting culturally-relevant comfort food get bagels at 2am. Old Jews live in a cul de sac in Stanmore or Hampstead Garden Suburb (because we all know that dead-ends with no through traffic say low-key. Old Jews’ religion is being low-key). New Jews live in Cricklewood, Brondesbury, Islington and Kentish Town. New Jews are urban and out there, reclaiming the inner city areas the Old Jews forsook for suburbia.
Old Jews holiday almost exclusively in Israel, and – occasionally – Marbella. New Jews don’t care where they spend their leisure time, but it’s just as likely to be a boutique hotel in the Dead Sea as a shul crawl in Morocco. Old Jews visit Poland, and pay their respects at Auschwitz. New Jews go to Cracow, and play the violin. New Jews will do sports that require additional insurance cover.
Jonathan Freedland? New Jew. Melanie Philips? New Jew, albeit a slightly hysterical one. Isaiah Berlin? Dead Jew, but New, nonetheless. Norman Lebrecht? Old Jew. Jonathan Sacks? Old Jew, desperately seeking New Jew funkiness, flirting with modernity, and secretly attending Old Jews Anonymous. Where he can’t get past the First Step (to paraphrase: “we admitted we were powerless over anti-semitism, fear, fear of risk, risk in general — that our lives had become unmanageable”).
New Jews don’t mind the word “Jews”, while Old Jews are only Jewish, and some of them only quarterly. Old Jews run around trying to make Google stop being anti-semitic. As if you could stop the whole internet from being anything. And New Jews don’t care: we have the strength of purpose and identity to know that other kids in the playground might not like us. But that’s OK.
Old Jews revel in the security of defending themselves. In the inward-facing look-after-our-own mentality. If we don’t, who will? If not now, when? Old Jews ask questions. New Jews have answers.
If only it was that straightforward – everyone has hues of blue, shades of Old, shades of New. Sure, this is a taxonomy, but I’m both. So I was Old Jew, when I name-checked Daniel Pearl in Pakistan long before I heard him say “My name is Daniel Pearl... I am a Jew“, and it hurt. More. But last week I went to see Oi Va Voi in concert (as much Cultural Jew as New Jew, but that’s a whole separate conversation). Perhaps we’re all a delicate, provocative cocktail of Old and New on any given day.
If you’re a New Jew, you know you have five thousand years of Jewish history resting on your shoulders, but you’re not going to let it, like, depress you. You’re going to take everything that’s good from your heritage and turn it into something that responds to the new world. That’s the New Jew.