Friday, January 18, 2008

Free To Be

What is multiculturalism?

Is Barak Obama multicultural because he has a Kenyan-Kansan-Indonesian-Moslem-Christian background?

Can a person become multicultural by merely traveling to many different countries? Can you become multicultural through books?

One of the great themes of Jewish life in America is the transition from “old country” perspectives to American culture. The pattern is that the first generation to grow up here find themselves at odds with their parents’ values. Al Jolson’s semi-autobiographical Jazz Singer is the great archetype of this clash – the American-born son of an immigrant Orthodox cantor runs away from home to sing popular music.

Here’s one of his great clips from the film:

Here’s a 2-minute clip from the new documentary about Jolson:

I was in sunny Los Angeles yesterday speaking with a young man who is currently living his own jazz singer saga. The difference is, rather than trying to break away from Jewish tradition, his attempt to break from his family tradition is actually toward Jewish tradition. The problem is that his immigrant parents not only want him to be like they are, they want him to respect their authority (he’s 29).

“You have to understand, Rabbi, it’s our culture,” he admonished me, as if I’d never encountered such values before.

So what do you suppose that I, the card-carrying rabbi, advised the young man? After all, it’s not only a mitzvah to honor your father and mother – it’s one of the top ten!

What would you have advised him?

Shabbat Shalom

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