The image of Obama and Netanyahu, the two leaders of the Jews, meeting in the White House this week, had me thinking.
Oh, let me explain.
Obama, supported by at least 80% of American Jewry in the 2008 election and likely more than that now with his steadily high approval ratings, is arguably the most well-known and well regarded and broadly supported leader of American Jewry as a civic component of American democracy. By comparison, Bibi Netanyahu, as the leader of the coalition government in Israel--who actually polled second to Tzipi Livni in the recent elections in Israel (who, by the way, now finds herself in the minority after failing to form a government)--polls less well than Obama among American Jews.
It leads one to all sorts of interesting conclusions, not all of which can be addressed her but one: when working with kids on their bar/bat mitzvah portions, I find it interesting to engage them as American citizens with regard to the Torah texts in front of them.
Today I had two seventh graders who were particularly engaged with their own notions of American universalism and attempting to understand their American identities in the context of their own Jewish particularism. In other words, I think one can generalize that with most kids who come through my office to talk about their Torah portions, they are more focused on their secular identities and their secular educational goals than they are on the abiding Jewish particularities of their evolving identities. The trick, educationally speaking, is in finding ways to make these systems relate to one another. And to the point of Jewish leadership, I began testing kids by showing them pictures of Obama and Netanyahu talking to each other in the White House. This prompted the interesting responses, notably that Obama was more recognized than Bibi. Maybe not a surprise but still, nonetheless, telling.
And so it leaves me asking myself which questions organize the identity formation of these young kids? And how does Torah speak to their own particular identity? To their collective identity? And to what degree are families framing these questions as well? And finally, what does it all say about the tension between the individual and the collective, the self and the community, the American and the Jew?
I wonder, always, am I raising a generation of American Jews or Jewish Americans? Which comes first for us? For you?