Certain behaviors offer emblems of an era; flappers and Jazz Age America are one example. Yiddish films give us another, via the crossing of gender lines exemplified by Molly Picon’s guy roles. Beyond Marlene Dietrich and the “Yentl” story, audience responses to this woman in men’s (or boys’) clothing reveal the attitudes—and anxieties—of Jews in Europe and America in the 1920’s and 30’s.
As it was with Yiddish film then, so it is with Jewish women’s music now. We’re learning something valuable about ourselves from the ways we respond to the outpouring of Jewish folk/ pop music composed and performed by the more than three dozen women profiled in LILITH’s roundup article on page 18. We have, it would seem, a pressing need for the joyous Jewish expressiveness, and the communal drawing-together that so many of these songs give us. The immediate singalong response to Debbie Friedman’s original compositions (for the New York feminist seders created by Ma’yan, the Jewish Women’s Project), to her song for the months of the Hebrew calendar (a Rosh Chodesh waltz, actually, presented at the recent Conference on Alternatives in Jewish Education), or her now-normative chant for healing (Mi sheh beyrakh, which aroused a pretty straight crowd of 900 people last November in Boston at the General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations) demonstrates that diverse audiences are ready to tap into Jewish themes, sources and history through Jewish women’s music-making.
While students and their parents and grandparents hear these sounds (and see the films), harder to reach is the elusive twentysomething generation. This is a time in the lives of young adult Jews which I’ve come to characterize as The New Latency—a period when the Jewish components of their identity—and their practice, certainly—lie dormant. “Settling down” later than any earlier generation, they nevertheless are making major decisions about their lives as Jews, wittingly or unwillingly: with whom to associate? where to live? whom to have as colleagues and as friends? And how to spend money and free time?
To find out as much as possible about what Jewish activities interest the Jewish twentysomethings around us, LILITH, in collaboration with Ma’yan, has gathered together a group of young Jewish adults to evaluate programs offered by Jewish organizations, to plan their own events and invite their peers to participate in them, and to help Jewish institutions shape programming more effectively to reach this age group, usually so hard to locate. The project has been made possible by special Jewish continuity funds provided by New York UJA Federation. If you would like to know more about the project (the results of which will be published in LILITH from time to time), OR if you know of twentysomething Jews living in the New York area with whom we should be in touch, please send their names and addresses to me at LILITH, 250 West 57, New York NY 10107.