Jewish identity has long been measured by whether a person holds certain attitudes or practices certain behaviors, but there’s a different way to look at it, argues Tobin Belzer, a contributing fellow at the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture. Belzer spoke about sociological ideas about Jewish identity and her own research on the Jewish Unbound podcast.
Here is an excerpt:
We suspected that if we figured out a different way to ask the question, we might get a different answer, and so of course we did. We asked 60 young adults–instead of “tell us about your Jewish identity?” which people have been asked enough now that when you ask that question, they give you the inventory: “I went to Hebrew school; I went to camp; I didn’t go to camp.” So we asked, “Tell us the story of your life, what are the important chapters?” And then we looked at how people talked about being Jewish. What we found was super exciting to us. …
What we found was yeah, people are picking and choosing how to be Jewish, but they are doing it always within a social context. We’re thinking about Jewish identity, rather than an inventory of behaviors and attitudes, and more Jewish identity as a social process, Jewish identity as a story you tell yourself about who you are.