You’ve probably seen this article explaining that, because of an “Earth wobble,” the Zodiac is now off by a month. Actually, what you’ve really been seeing is lots of people posting on Facebook saying, “I don’t care what some ‘Earth wobble’ has to say — I’m a Pisces!”
Now, I am certainly not someone who believes that my actions are influenced by the stars up above. But I wondered — why were so many people so riled up?
It wasn’t because people’s horoscopes had suddenly changed — a lot of the posts were actually from people who don’t even believe in astrology. Instead, the uproar arose because it felt like someone else (in this case, the Minneapolis Planetary Society) was telling us who we were. And that’s a feeling we fight against — we want to be the ones determining who we are!
This desire to “choose” our identity actually goes to the crux of one of the challenges facing the American Jewish community today. As sociologists Steven Cohen and Arnold Eisen explain in their book The Jew Within, in the Jewish world today, the self is now sovereign:
[American Jews] repeatedly reconsider which organizations and charities they will join or support, and to what degree; which beliefs they will hold, which loyalties they will acknowledge. The self is and must remain autonomous and sovereign. (Cohen and Eisen, The Jew Within, 7)
In other words, while we know that community is essential, we still want to choose which community to join — it has to be meaningful and relevant for us, and we have to be the ones choosing to be a part of it.
Today, “Jewish identity” is no longer fixed, and it is no longer a given — it has to be created and nurtured in order to be chosen and embraced. And in fact, that has the potential to be a great boon for the Jewish community. As Rabbi Elie Kaunfer notes in this excellent recent article in The Jewish Week, “A world without convenient categories is a world that calls on people to take more ownership of the type of Judaism they want to practice.” Indeed, in order to create dynamic and vibrant communities, we need to allow individuals the freedom to choose their own identity.
After all, trying to force people to join a group they don’t really feel connected to will simply backfire.
Just ask the Minneapolis Planetary Society about that.