…as Jews have moved fully into the cultural mainstream, it’s become harder to identify things outside of Judaism itself that are exclusively ours. Jon Stewart and Jerry Seinfeld are both Jewish comedians. But they are so utterly mainstream that appreciating their humor isn’t a marker of tribal identification in the way laughing at Jackie Mason or even Mel Brooks was when I was young. The aspects of secular Jewish culture that America has embraced are barely Jewish anymore: McDonalds now serves a bacon, egg and cheese bagel. And those parts of secular Jewish culture that America has rejected – bialys, for instance – have pretty much died.
That’s not to say contemporary America has no vibrant, growing, exclusively Jewish spaces. It has them in spades. They’re just religious. There’s vastly more and better kosher food than when I was a kid. Independent minyanim (prayer quorums) have sprouted in city after city. You can order a five-minute sukkah delivered to your house the next day.
The American Jews who live in this expanding religious space may still enjoy corned beef on rye but they don’t need deli because they have other, more fundamental, ways to distinguish themselves from their gentile neighbors. And the Jews who live far from this religious space, especially in the younger generation, don’t need deli because they don’t particularly want to distinguish themselves from their gentile neighbors.
Peter Beinart, “Hot Pastrami and the Decline of Secular, Jewish-American Identity”, Haaretz (21 January 2015) [http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.638249]