As a child I was obsessed, as the neoconservatives were, by being an outsider Jew. It was the strongest social feeling in my family: we weren’t allowed inside. The neocons addressed their resentment by building a "parallel establishment," as Jacob Heilbrunn has said in his book about the neocons, while personally over the years I know that I have tried more to mingle with the Other, from blacks to Arabs to gentiles. Still, it is not as if these distinctions are not important to me. They are still my social roadmap.
In my own generation the breakthrough was to mingle the Jewish and WASP elite tribes. Today the Clintons break Yom Kippur fast with the family of their daughter’s Jewish investment-banking boyfriend. That sort of thing happens all the time in the new power elite. Cokie Roberts, a political aristocrat who married a Jew, wrote about this mingling a few years back. On my camping trip this year, a friend said that Goldman, Sachs was not a Jewish firm. I was surprised by this but took it to be true. Another sign of the great mingling in the establishment. There used to be a lot of awkwardness between WASPs and Jews 10 and 20 years ago. That was the time of Woody Allen jokes, and Alan Dershowitz refusing to eat the food served to him by the Harvard Law School dean’s wife (as I remember the story from Chutzpah, don’t sue me Dersh!), bringing his own kosher sandwich. This awkwardness is over now in elite circles. Jews are simply too important to the life of establishment.
Where am I going with this? I feel that these distinctions that were so big to my generation are nothing to the next generation. They seem oldfashioned to them, racist, arbitrary. It is part of the reason that 62 percent of Jews under 35 are marrying nonJews. A year ago I hung out with leftwingers at Columbia U. for a story about the progressive movement on campus, and my lightbulb moment came from a student name Deena Guzder, who when I asked her what her background was said to me, "I don’t describe as anything. I think labels constrict people’s
understanding of concepts or ideas.” That attitude went for her whole community, and led me to say:
nearly twenty years, identity politics has ruled the left, keeping
everyone in his little box. Indeed, the Iraq war had paralyzed the left
by playing on sectarianism at every turn. Clash of civilizations. Islam
versus the West. Jewish neocons and Evangelical Christians plotting
against Persians plotting against Zionists. Shiites murdering Sunnis
I observed a similar pattern last year at Brandeis, where I saw young Jews wrestling with Jimmy Carter’s observations about Israel–not denouncing him out of hand, as their parents’ generation has.
This also seems to me the clear cultural thrust of Obama’s campaign. He and his movement want to get us past alot of the differences that separate us. Notwithstanding his wife’s racialist views in college, or his own struggle with his "blackness," Obama is erasing the feeling around these distinctions. That seems to me the most important revolution that his movement is already achieving. They are making me feel very oldfashioned!
I’d add that the Obama movement is making the parochialism of the Jewish establishment look somewhat racist and ancient. Last month Commentary published a review attacking the rabbi Abraham Heschel, saying that his universalism goes against the Jewish religion:
The good, Heschel wrote in Man Is Not Alone, “is convergence, togetherness, union. . . . Evil is division, contest, lack of unity.”
As it happens, this simplistic formulation goes against the thrust
of the Hebrew Bible and the rabbinic tradition, both of which affirm
the distinctiveness of nations and individuals to a degree greater,
probably, than in any other major religious system. The Israelites are
set aside as a “holy nation” that is commanded to follow its own
Young people are sick of this kind of talk, and I can’t blame them.