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Tiffany Shlain's documentary explores what it means to be Jewish today. Shlain chronicles the history of the Jewish people and makes the point that Jews have always been outsiders.
Because of their outsider status, Jews have endured centuries of persecution; Shlain highlights the 1948 recognition of the nation state of Israel as a seminal moment in Jewish history. Today, Jewish identity is as varied as it is unique to each Jew. Jews may be known as Orthodox, Reformed, Ultra-Orthodox, Atheistic, Feminist, Modern, Hasidic, or Reconstructionist Jews; aside from this, some Jews may also profess some combination of Jewish and other faiths as part of their personal ideology. Shlain makes the point that Jewish identity need not be limited to any one definition. She proclaims the right of every Jew to assimilate into the societies they live in as well as to carve out their own unique Jewish identities.
Although today's Jews may not share one prevailing religious identity, they are still linked to the larger Jewish tribe and the global family through cultural and familial ties. To explain the Jewish tenacity to thrive despite pressure, persecution, or change, she links the endurance of the Jewish experience to the evolution of the Barbie doll. Barbie's creator was a Jewish-American woman named Ruth Handler. Her Barbie doll was based on an European doll, Lilli, which was popular with grown men at the time.
Ruth Handler's blonde and busty Barbie was the ultimate insider, designed by a Jewish woman, an outsider. Throughout her existence, Barbie has endured criticism for promulgating the mainstream tendency to objectify women; yet, she stubbornly and curiously maintains her popularity on a global scale, a testimony to her resilience and the enduring vision of her Jewish-American creator. Shlain links Barbie's abiding popularity to the tenacity of the Jewish people.
Although many Jews today are wary of organized Judaism, their pride in their Jewish identity is unshakable. To summarize, Shlain maintains that the Jewish identity is as diverse as it is proudly inclusive: to question and to continually reinvent is to overcome stagnation and apathy. As a result, both assimilation (into society) and evolution (of identity) may co-exist in perfect harmony.
You may be interested in an interview about Jewish identity with Tiffany Shlain here.
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