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46 SHOFAl? Spring 1994 Vol. 12, No.3 HOW AT HOME? AMERICAN JEWISH (MALE) IDENTITIES IN MAMET'S HOMICIDE} by Joel Streicker Joel Streicker received his Ph.D. in anthropology from Stanford University. He has conducted fieldwork in Colombia and has published anicles on race, class, gender, and sexuality in American Ethnologist and Ethnology. He is currently a lecturer in the Depanment of Anthropology at Stanford University. It is a commonplace that AfnericanJewish identity-or, more precisely, the loss of it-has been a source of much anguish both to the mainstream Jewish community and to Jews unaffiliated with religious or communal organizations. Loss of Jewish identity is variously characterized as a decrease in synagogue membership and participation in Jewish communal organizations, a general decline in religious observance, the abandonment of lifeways distinguishing Jews from non-Jews, and, especially, intermarriage as leading to the attenuation of the Jewish ties mentioned above, ultimately resulting in the failure to transmit Jewish identity to succeeding generations.2 At the same time, some critics have noted that, since the Israeli military victory in the Six Day War in 1967, the decline in religious and community involvement has been matched by the rise of a strain of 'I would like to thank Deb Amory, Jared Braiterman, Zak Braiterman, Teresa Calle, Deborah Camiel, Jane Collier, Arnold Eisen, Akhil Gupta, Bill Maurer, Laura Nelson, RivEllen Prell, and Esther Rosenfeld-some for comments on previous drafts of this essay, some for' encouragement, and others for both. 'Arthur Hertzberg,jewishPolemics (New York: COlumbia University Press, 1992); David . Kraemer, ed., The jewish Family: Metaphor and Myth (Introduction) (New York: oXford University Press, 1989), pp. 3-10; Steven M. Cohen, American Assimilation or jewish Revival? (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988). Americanjewish Identities in Mamet's Homicide 47 American Jewish identity centered on support, often unqualified, of Israel and emphasis on remembering the Holocaust.3 Paul Breines4 has recently argued that the confluence of these two themes has led to the creation of a particular image ofdesirable Jewishness for American (mostly male, heterosexual) Jews: the "tough Jew." Breines contends that since 1967 American Jews have rejected older images of Jewishness as exemplified by scholarly, gentle schlemiels. Instead, American Jews identifY with "tough" Jews-partisans and ghetto fighters during the Holocaust, Israeli Independence fighters, soldiers, and secret agents, etc. Noting the recent prominence of the Holocaust in American· Jewish life, Breines observes that American Jews use the Holocaust to justify Israeli brutality against the Palestinians. In this account the Holocaust symbolizes Jewish weakness, and the lesson learned from it is that any act that can be construed as promoting or exploiting Israeli weakness carries the seeds of genocide and must be met with force.5 This article explores the treatment of American Jewish identity in David Mamet's recent film, Homicide. The movie examines the failure of the tough Jew image to provide a viable identity for American Jews as they confront life in a society riven by raciaVethnic oppression and conflict. In particular, the film portrays the image of the tough Jew as based on a reactive notion ofJewish identity that leaves little space for understanding of and solidarity with other groups. Moreover, this identity stresses violence, a focus that the film suggests leads only to misunderstanding and more violence. At the same time, the film rejects assimilation as an option because it entails an acceptance and internalization of antisemitism while 3Jacob Neusner, Stranger at Home: "The Holocaust, " Zionism, and Americanjudaisrn (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981); David Biale, Power and Powerlessness in jewish History (New York: Schocken, 1986); Charles S. Liebman and Steven M. Cohen, Two Worlds ojJudaism: the Israeli andAmerican Experiences (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990). 4Paul Breines, Tough jews: Political Fantasies and the Moral Dilemma of American jewry (New York: Basic Books, 1990). 51 do not mean to suggest that the tough Jewish image was ever entirely absent in twentieth-century America. Peter Levine argues convincingly that the emergence ofJewish athletes from the immigrant milieu in the first half of the century was partially a response to the physical threats of antisemitism and the antisemitic image ofJewish men's weakness, as well as embodying an assimilating impulse (Ellis...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 46-65
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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