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Jewish philanthropists to Jewish 20-somethings: have more sex!

January 17, 2007

So everyone’s talking about this new marriage study with the absolutely *revolutionary* results: women need marriage less and less than the used to. I know, shocking. If you’ve never read John D’Emilio’s article, “Capitalism and Gay Identity,” you must. Now. If you don’t have access to it, please email me at saltyfemme@gmail.com, I will happily reply promptly with the article attached. I am dead serious. Do it.

Professor Stephanie Coontz, who wrote that fantastic NYTimes op-ed back in November about why marriage is no longer necessary and everyone should stop obsessing (OK, I’m paraphrasing a bit), is quoted again in the NYTimes article about the study:

This is yet another of the inexorable signs that there is no going back to a world where we can assume that marriage is the main institution that organizes people’s lives.

The article quotes a number of women, describing the myriad reasons why marriage is simply not at the top of their list of priorities. One woman (following the end of a 30-year marriage) remarked:

The benefits were completely unforeseen for me, the free time, the amount of time I get to spend with friends, the time I have alone, which I value tremendously, the flexibility in terms of work, travel and cultural events.

What I like here is that women aren’t supposed to be pouty and sad that they aren’t married – they can actually live it up and enjoy many other things in their lives. They can build community, enjoy their friends, travel, be flexible, do what they want.

I kind of ignored the article because frankly, nothing in it really surprised me, until I caught a glimpse of Michael Steinhardt’s little article in Contact Magazine (The Journal of the Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation). Before I get into the article, the mission of the JLN/Steinhardt foundation is, according to its website:

to revitalize Jewish identity through educational, religious and cultural initiatives that reach out to all Jews, with an emphasis on those who are on the margins of Jewish life.

All well and good. But I’d like to paraphrase it as, “to ensure that more Jews are marrying other Jews and creating more Jewish babies.” Sounds a little different, yes? Check out On Creating Jewish Honeymoon Retreats (scroll down to page 3). If you can ignore the nauseating heart-shaped picture of the happy heterosexual couple surrounded by Jewish stars, you can read all about Steinhardt’s ‘dream’ to create what he is calling ‘Jewish Honeymoon retreats.’ Writes Steinhardt:

If we are seeking an equivalent experience that builds on birthright’s successes, one option is a four-day retreat for young couples. Why couples? It is no secret that I am deeply concerned about Jewish demography. Thus, I relish the union of two individuals who produce progeny on the level of the Orthodox.

Let’s not kid ourselves: the purpose of birthright israel is to encourage unaffiliated young Jews to meet, marry, and shtup (those last two are sometimes reversible) other Jews. The next logical step is to figure out what to do with all these (now married) birthright alums. Yes.

Assumptions made (and I like lists):

-You know what, actually? Don’t forget the photo: only hets are worth targeting, because clearly they are the only ones capable of making babies.

-Talk about criteria for enriching your Jewish life! Granted, the married hets targeted for this potential program would presumably have benefited from Steinhardt’s other programs for “pre-marriage” hets and would have already enriched their Jewish lives as much as it’s even possible to enrich your Jewish life if you’re not married.

-It’s all about the babies. For those with the money, for those benefiting from programs created by those with the money, for pretty much everyone involved, quality is pushed only when quantity can be the outcome.

-Non-Orthodox Jews should clearly want to emulate the Orthodox, at least in their baby-making ways. At least he’s pretty conspicuous about what he wants.

But wait, there’s more!

But more important, newlyweds are entering a period in which they are more reflective about life and are more open to spiritual and communal connections to a larger people. It is a period in which values are sought and refined. It is an excellent opportunity to present a new gift, that of a meaningful retreat.

He makes marriage sound like an experience that changes you fundamentally, that makes you have perspective on your life that you didn’t have the day before, etc. IT’S A PIECE OF PAPER, a contract, a document. A really problematic one at that. Why do we have to aim our enrichment of ‘spiritual and communal connections’ at married couples?

A Jewish retreat experience for a young couple would transmit a vital communication of Common Jewish values. It would also serve as a short training course — without the distractions of everyday life — on how to incorporate and practice Judaism in the context of a household.

One more time – why wait until marriage to transmit Jewish values and lessons on incorporating Judaism in the context of a household? Don’t I need that too, Mr. Steinhardt? Isn’t my household Jewish, even though I don’t have a husband and *gasp* don’t ever plan to have one?

What do I do with these two articles juxtaposed? Why did I even bother to put them together? I guess I just wanted to point out that if the Jewish philanthropists are interested in enhancing Jewish life, they should do just that, plain and simple. Steinhardt does it with a lot of their programs, for which I respect them. But it seems that there’s a huge discrepancy between the older generation’s dependency on the marriage fairy tale and what is important for young Jews and how they live Jewishness in their own lives. For me and for my friends, finding and creating community and spaces in which to learn, grow, and exchange information are key pieces to Jewish identity. Using marriage and babies as a cornerstone for Jewish identity is a farce, considering the statistics cited in the NYTimes article. And frankly, ‘dreams’ like this, even when they don’t come true, offend me as a queer person and as someone who would like to think of herself as more than a machine for Jewish babies.

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