From July ’06 Spotlight: Sam Freedman, professor of journalism at Columbia University, education columnist for The New York Times, and author of Jew vs. Jew: The Struggle for the Soul of American Jewry, came to Chicago last month to sign copies of his new book Letters to a Young Journalist at the Printers Row Book Fair.
Jew vs. Jew, which won a National Jewish Book Award, was published in 2000, so I asked Freedman the obvious: how does “tribalism” in the Jewish context relate to what’s been happening in the rest of the world since 9/11? “Modernity is so perplexing and so corrosive of community,” he said, “that people in all sorts of faith streams are looking for set answers, looking for strict rules to live by, and looking for a firm sense of community to help them navigate a world in which they feel unmoored.”
“What is different post-9/11? Clearly there is, once again, an existential threat. At the time I wrote the book, and this was my own misapprehension, it looked like peace was going to be made with the Palestinians, and like many other Americans, I hadn’t paid sufficient heed to the al-Qaida attacks that had already occurred. Now, clearly, there is an existential threat [from Islamic fundamentalism], and you have to add Iran to it as well now that you have Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power.”
“But what’s interesting and notable is that in the past, when these existential threats occurred, they imposed a kind of unity on American Jews; they quelled the internal arguments, and that is not the case now. We have episodes over eruvs (over land use), over ordaining openly gay and lesbian clergy, over the beginning of egalitarian worship in the Orthodox sector. All these things are happening and creating conflict [within the Jewish community] even if it’s at the same time that all Jews are facing an existential threat again.
Top Photo (6/03/06): With Sam Freedman (Photo Credit: Rich Miller)
Bottom Photo: Sam with his son Aaron at the IWPA Tent. (Photo Credit: JLH)