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Chapter 10 - Jewish Identity To what extent has the widening gap between the religious observances of the B'nai Khaim and ancestral custom affected their ethnic consciousness? Their attitude toward intermarriage which we just discussed is one of the possible criteria. It is not that their rate of intermarriage runs up to about 10 per cent we do not know what the tolerable limit may be. It is the trend of their attitude that may have significance. Of the first-generation male B'nai Khaim, as we saw, 25 per cent said they would not object to their children marrying gentiles. Of the second generation 45 per cent said they would not object. And as we noted, third-generation B'nai Khaim indicated an attitude that would lead to a rate of intermarriage two to three times that of their parents. In this chapter we examine three other indicators of the levels of Jewish consciousness among the B'nai Khaim: (1) their own evaluation of their Jewishness; (2) their attitude toward the State of Israel; (3) their participation in Jewish community affairs. We asked first: 1. Do you consider yourself (a) an American Jew? (b) an American of Jewish extraction? (c) a plain American? These results are shown in Table 10. Of the 212 B'nai Khaim and their spouses to whom we addressed ourselves, 207 returned statistically valid answers. Of these 207, 16 classified themselves as "plain Americans." Since five of these 16 were gentile spouses, we can count only 11, or not quite 5.5 per cent of the 202 non-gentile B'nai Khaim (See note #1) as divesting themselves of direct Jewish identity. On the other hand, 144, (See note #2) more than 71 per cent, declared themselves "American Jew" and 47, or over 23 per cent, "American of Jewish extraction." In other words; nearly 95 per cent of the B'nai Khaim and their spouses avowed identity as Jews (Table 10). A larger proportion of female (78 per cent) than of male (69 per cent) B'nai Khaim claimed to be an "American Jew." Similarly, relatively more female spouses (70 per cent) than male spouses (61 per cent) declared themselves "American Jew." Once more we have the phenomenon that the females in our population stand out as more Jewish than the males, and, of course, the foreign-born are more Jewish than the native-born, for both male and female. Here are the comparative figures: Foreign-born males: 14 out of 19, or 74 per cent, are "American Jews" Native-born males: 19 out of 29, or 65 per cent, are "American Jews" Foreign-born females: 21 out of 26, or 81 per cent, are "American Jews" Native-born females: 25 out of 33, or 76 per cent; are "American Jews" Our second test of Jewish identity is the attitude towards the State of Israel. We asked this question: 1. Are your feelings towards the State of Israel the same or not the same as to any other foreign country? Explain. We are aware that this question can be asked of gentiles as well as Jews. And we are aware also that certain orthodox Jews are by tradition antagonistic to Zionism and, therefore, to the State of Israel. They think and teach that the Jews can be redeemed only through the intercession of a mystical Meshiakh (Messiah). There are also Jews in America who argue that a friendly attitude towards Israel impugns their American patriotism. But we can say in advance, that there are very few of the first kind and none at all of the second kind of Jew among the B'nai Khaim. Yet again, to some the State of Israel is like a precocious child, to be cherished and be given special protection. The answers to this test reveal the fact that only 15 per cent of the 201 respondents held no special feelings toward the State of Israel. Their attitude was that Israel is the same to them as is any other foreign country. But this means that as much as 85 per cent of the B'nai Khaim and their spouses felt an affinity toward Israel. Here, too, we find response differences between foreign-born and native-born and between males and females. A larger percentage (96) of the females avowed affinity towards Israel than did the B'nai Khaim males (77 per cent), and a larger percentage (100!) of the native-born females than of the foreign-born females (91 per cent). On the other hand, 90 per cent of the foreign-born males asserted a close affinity, against 69 per cent of the native-born males, as seen below: Percentage of B'nai,Khaim with Affinity Toward Israel: Foreign-born males 90 per cent Native-born males 69 per cent Foreign-born females 91 per cent Native-born females 100 per cent For the B'nai Khaim spouses we have the following percentages: Husbands of foreign-born B'nai Khaim 78 per cent Husbands of native-born B'nai Khaim 94 per cent Wives of foreign-born B'nai Khaim 100 per cent Wives of native-born B'nai Khaim 60 per cent On the whole, a greater proportion of our females have warm feelings toward Israel than do our males. Most of the reasons our people gave for their warmth towards Israel can be summed up in the phrase: "I am for Israel because I am a Jew." Some went so far as identifying with it: "It is not a foreign country, it is my country," said one. But others hastened to qualify their feelings: "Closer ties, but America is my country" or, "great sentimental feelings, no political attachment"; "wish it well if it avoids becoming a theocracy or an aggressive nation." A case of Jewish identity through feelings toward Israel is the following from a totally non-observing native-born wife of a foreign-born B'nai Khaim: "I must admit to specially warm feelings toward Israel, although I abhor theocracy. I am often critical. Because of my heritage and my knowledge of the persecution of the Jews I want to see Israel achieve greatly, but in cultural terms, not in aggrandizement. It would wound me deeply to have Israel attacked." (See note #3) One gentile husband wrote: "Having lived there 14 months, I like it and follow its development with interest," and one gentile wife expressed "friendly feelings (and) desire for country to succeed." "Feeling not the same as for other foreign countries," wrote an American-born wife of a native-born B'nai Khaim but "hard to describe; feeling of belonging." Only two of the B'nai Khaim who married gentile women and only two of the gentile wives expressed no special feeling toward Israel. "But," one of these two women added, "I would like to visit for benefit of our children." A Catholic before marriage, she is raising her children as Jews, although she has not formally adopted Judaism. The relatively few who denied having any special feelings toward Israel, for the most part stated simply: "America is my country; Israel is a foreign country; I have equal feelings for all foreign countries." Our third test of Jewish identity is the degree of participation in Jewish community affairs. Of the males we wanted to know: (1) what Jewish community activities they engaged in (2) membership in the B'nai B'rith (3) membership in Jewish men's clubs The women we asked: (1) about their Jewish community activities (2) membership in Hadassah Obviously we have no standard by which to judge the degree of participation in any of these activities. We cannot expect every adult Jew to be a member of the B'nai B'rith, nor every adult Jewish woman to be a member of Hadassah. Most Jews, as a matter of fact, are not Zionists. That does not preclude their identification as Jews. The returns to our questionnaire seem to show that in the matter of participation in Jewish community affairs the B'nai Khaim stand quite high. We learn from their answers that more than half of them participated in one or more Jewish community activities when they filled out the questionnaires, not all groups, of course, to the same extent. A greater percentage (62) of female than of male B'nai Khaim (45) engaged in these community activites, and a greater percentage of the foreign-born females (69) than the native-born B'nai Khaim females (56). But a greater percentage (50) of the native-born male B'nai Khaim were so engaged than the foreign-born (40). The reasons for these differences need not detain us here long. The relatively greater activity of females than males may simply mean that wives have more time than husbands to give to community affairs. It may also mean that, as among the foreign-born, the men leave it to their wives "to carry on the good work." Age also may be a factor. Most of our foreign-born are now quite advanced in age and if they still tend to the family business they cannot also attend to community business. Community affairs in which the B'nai Khaim engage include, for men, Temple, shule and Center committee work, B'nai B'rith, men's clubs. The women engage in fund raising for United Jewish Appeal and United Jewish Fund; in Sisterhoods, in Hadassah, in Jewish Centers. Quite a number are members of Hadassah and several are in B'nai B'rith. In short, our evidence seems to show that the B'nai Khaim are found to retain a much greater sense of Jewish identity than their wide deviations from traditional rites and rituals would lead one to expect. Evidently, eating khazar, or not fasting on Yom Kippur is one thing; giving up your Jewish identity quite another. The first may be a matter of social convenience or even of a secularization of one's religious philosophy. The second would mean giving up the security of belonging. This, the vast majority of the B'nai Khaim, it seems, are not yet ready to do despite the high level of their "Americanization." But this is also true. The five per cent who eschew Jewish identification by proclaiming themselves as "plain American" constitute a hard core of a movement away from cultural identification with Judaism. How much this core is likely to grow and how fast, we cannot now know. We have been observing its formation in a people scarcely one generation removed from their shtetl origins. Shortly we shall see how far the third generation has traveled away from their home culture. This may give us more precise clues. Notes to Chapter 10: (1) This included one converted female spouse who marked herself "an American Jew." (2) Including the above converted spouse. (3) It should be remembered that the comments here cited were made in 1964, three years before the Israel-Arab war of June, 1967.