Gupta’s portrait of the Bene Israel Family is a thoroughly engaging examination of the past. The Bene Israel were a group of Jewish emigrants, who settled in Cochin, in the southern part of the Indian sub continent, at the turn of the century. Research indicates that the Bene Israeli community soon rose to prominence and thrived in the Indian sub continent, at a time when Jewish communities faced persecution in Europe. In Gupta’s painting, the distorted background draws on the history of the Holocaust whilst the Bene Israel Family emerges from this background in indigenous attire, as native Indians of the subcontinent. This work displays the artist’s ongoing examination of identity and social history.
This may be what I’ve been looking for since December of last year.
I’ve talked about this before, and definitely last December I posted about this, but I’ve struggled with my Jewish identity. It’s something that not only can’t I deny on a genetic and socialization basis, but a culture that I’ve felt I’ve lacked. It’s a personal narrative that has been consciously cut off by my grandparents and an identity I attacked out of an anti-theism that denied the possibility of a Jewish cultural identity without a Jewish religious identity.
But in December I was in Washing DC and went to the Natural History Museum, where they had an exhibit on race and ethnicity. The two were practically used as synonyms, and there was mixed in an element of culture and socialization. I enjoyed the exhibit but felt out of touch with it - they did not talk at all about Jews. Understandable in a sense because Jews are not really a race. But we are a distinct ethnicity, a distinct culture, which left me feeling distant from the discourse about whites in this exhibit. Yes I have white privilege. But I do not have a white cultural upbringing.
So since then I’ve been thinking about how I can keep the culture without the religion. I have no desire for religion, I am hostile to the idea of organized religion (though not going to oppress anyone who is religious or whatever I just disagree with the practice of religion), and I certainly don’t believe in any god. But Judaism as a culture is historically tied to the religion and it’s been very difficult in finding a way to sever the tie.
Humanistic Judaism might be the key. It’s a “nontheistic alternative in contemporary Jewish life. It defines Judaism as the cultural and historical experience of the Jewish people and encourages humanistic and secular Jews to celebrate their Jewish identity by participating in Jewish holidays and life cycle events (such as weddings and bar and bat mitzvah) with inspirational ceremonies that draw upon but go beyond traditional literature.” (according to wikipedia)
Humanistic Jews Affirm That…
…A Jew is someone who identifies with the history, culture and future of the Jewish people.
…Jewish identity is best preserved in a free, pluralistic environment
…Jewish history is a human saga, a testament to the significance of human power and human responsibility.
..Judaism is the historic culture of the Jewish people.
…We possess the power and responsibility to shape our own lives independent of supernatural authority.
…Ethics and morality should serve human needs.
…The freedom and dignity of the Jewish people must go hand in hand with the freedom and dignity of every human being.
I agree. Now that I have found this I am not sure what to do with it. But at least I have found it.
I know none of you know me from Adam, but can I just jump in and say that, as a Jew, I absolutely hate that people pussyfoot around the word like it’s a bad thing?
Yes, in some contexts, some people can use it pejoratively, but you can do that with anything.
I am a Jew. This is a wonderful thing, to be a Jew; it’s not offensive.
To me. I’ve heard that older people don’t like it and, like people said above me, don’t call people things they don’t want to be called, but it’s not a bad word.
Anyway, I appreciate people asking and wanting to do the best thing, that’s very admirable.
^^ Yeah, there you go. That’s what I meant, that he word “Jew” in and of itself is not offensive — I mean, it’s only the English form of the Latin Iudaeus and Greek Iudaios. But I’ve heard it used derogatorily so often that I prefer to avoid it unless someone tells me otherwise. But basically it’s like any other ethonym or indicator of identity: respect how that person describes hirself. And yeah, you’re probably right about older generations’ attitudes toward it as a descriptor, kind of like older LGBTQ people’s attitude toward the word “queer.”
And being a convert probably affects how I see things… I don’t know, I find that we tend to be more sensitive to the use of language, which can be a good or a bad thing.