Last weekend we facilitated a "mifgash," an encounter between a group of Israeli teens and their North American peers from their Partnership 2000 community. In planning the activities with the Israelis, I suggested a kumzitz for one evening - the classic Israeli campfire of the Palmach and of the youth movements, with singing, stories, roasted potatoes, and sweet coffee brewed over the fire. The kids, of course, were not impressed with my nerdy nostalgia, and preferred to take their guests to the local karaoke club.
Nothing changes, I guess: forty years ago when I came on the Eisendrath Exchange program and spent a semester at Leo Baeck, I remember my disappointment at the weekly parties of the in-crowd in the 11th grade: five minutes of symbolic Hora, followed by the real action, dancing to Paul Anka's Greatest Hits. For this we had struggled and fought and sacrificed? This was the cultural payoff of the great rebirth? This was the cultural center of the Jewish people?
Forty years ago globalization was not on everyone's lips, but the phenomenon of the dominance of American culture was already in evidence. And over the decades, it has only intensified. Books have been written cataloging the examples, from the day in 1972 when the pizza craze hit, obliterating half the falafel stands in Jerusalem, to the early 90s, when American fast food and retail chains began to spring up in every town. And music, television, and the movies saturate the cultural landscape with images that are a world away from "authentic Jewish culture." If you are cool, you pepper your Hebrew with English expressions.
But then, just what is authentic Jewish culture? Who decides? If the citizens of Israel want to speak a Hebrew shot through with American slang, who is to say that that is less authentically Jewish than the rabbis of Israel 1800 years ago who wrote the Mishnah in a Hebrew shot through with Greek?
Is the core of authentic Jewish culture to be found in religious observance? Perhaps. But that leaves us with most Israelis - and indeed most Jews in the world - ignorant of and/or alienated from most of their own culture, from t'fillin, Shabbat, kashrut, mikveh, etc.