Brandeis students learn all about "dichotomy" in our painstaking ventures through the mandatory writing seminars. I remember a few weeks into school, I started hearing the word tossed around by pretentious 'Deisians attempting to sound oh-so-cultured. Dichotomy was not a foriegn concept to these students, but for some reason, learning an esoteric word helped to bring the idea into a new light. Dichotomies became a convention against which these young academics felt compelled to rebel, suggesting a postmodern awareness.
My American generation (we've been dubbed Generation-X) has come of age in a world that defies dichotomies. I first became aware of the acronym GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Transgender) when I was in middle school. Here I was, a 12-year-old boy presented with 4 ways to define sexuality beyond the dichotomy. Later, when I entered college, I heard people tagging on a "Q" to stand for queer. Thus, a fifth. My parents' generation really only knew straight and straight, and maybe the occasional gay, but no one talked about it.
Here's another example which applies most specifically to Jews. Travelling around Israel on Taglit-Birthright leaves you subject to their agenda. I'm not saying I entirely disagree with the ideas presented to the groups, but the program drills into your mind the importance of marrying Jewish, and having Jewish children. "Intermarriage is the number one cause for the world's loss of Jews." How many times have young Jews, especially young American Jews heard this story? Well here I sit, in Israel, the product of an interfaith marriage, and I can safely say, that almost half of my Jewish friends also come from interfaith marriages. America's Jews are growing up in a world of "Chrismakkah," where religion looks more like a Venn Diagram than a dichotomy.
Generation X's understanding of dichotomies resides primarily in our concept that dichotomies are a thing of the past and must be defied at any cost. We've seen the convention, and we can recognize a dichotomy when we see one. Merriam-Webster would call that postmodern.
Our postmodern world places American Jews (or, Jewish-Americans, however you prefer) of Generation X in a unique position, especially in our concept of Israel. I had a conversation last night with a man in which I told him my business in Israel. He responded, "Oh, so you're a Palestinian supporter?" I found myself jumping to respond "No!" but I held back that reaction and said, "Well it depends how you mean Palestinian supporter. I consider myself a Zionist, but that does not mean I do not recognize the humanitarian crisis that characterizes the situation of the Palestinian people."
The only thing this guy got out of my statement was "Oh, you're a Zionist. That's good." Granted, he lives on a settlement in the West Bank, and didn't seem to be the brightest bulb, but I noticed that to him, Israel is about this side or that side, Zionist or Palestinian supporter. There is no middle ground for him.
This scenario for me embodies the unique situation of American Jews of Generation X. We have the luxury of growing up in a society that actively defies and consistently redefines dichotomies. It's O.K. to be a Zionist, Palestinian supporter. In fact, it is our duty as the generation of Obama to bring to the world a renewed sense of unity.
The criticism of Brandeis liberals is that we are too often naive and optimistic. However, in a time of crisis, the world needs optimism and healing, not division. Defy the divisive rhetoric of the past generations. They may have come a long way as far as civil rights are concerned, but they don't know what it's like to chip away at dichotomies. It is our job to teach the world how to do this thing that is inherent to our upbringing.