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Maybe I’m just getting older, but I often find myself thinking, “I remember when…” about a great many things. Consumer demand, the internet, and mainstream acceptance have made it easier for today’s teens and young adults to become:
1. More observant and knowledgeable about their Yiddishkeit
2. Buy into and feel part of “punk” culture
When I was becoming observant (the thinking, reading, exposure period was between 1985-1987) web wasn’t even around. This alone allows people searching to get legit information and have a virtual library at their fingertips. Back in my time, Artscroll was figuring out how to build up their catalogue. The OU/NCSY publications written by R Aryeh Kaplan zt’l was about all there was to read. Today, even without living in a large Jewish community, you can read experts from books, e-books (Artscroll actually just rolled out several titles available in the iBook format), order seforim, read Chumash w/ /Rashi online, or even “Ask Moses“. I mean, come on, today you can even purchase challah covers and washing cups on Amazon.com! It’s a whole new world and it’s great.
And it’s not only online. Many libraries now have fairly impressive Jewish book sections and allow books to be ordered from other libraries across the country. You can even purchase some Artscroll titles at Barnes and Noble. This still blows my mind. The availability of programs like Partners in Torah and Jewish Pathways have allowed those in even very remote areas to grow in the Jewish knowledge. The ease of access to such storehouses of Jewish knowledge have made it much easier for those seeking answers about Yiddishkeit to truly grown from within.
Contrast this with the ease of those teens or young adults who yearn to be “so punk it hurts”. Back in my day, you had to actually stay up really late and position your radio just right to catch various music programs on the local college radio station. That’s were the bands I “grew up with” were being played. Or, if you had cable, you could figure out a way to stay up late on Sunday nights to watch MTV’s “120 Minutes” a show that aired “underground” music videos and had interviews with non-top 40 musicians. Both options involved drinking some coffee around 7pm at night. If you wanted a cool band merch you had to use something called “mail-order” and wait for weeks until your shirt, button, or patch showed up at your door. You had to hunt down the albums, cassettes, or CDs you wanted.
Today, if you want to be punk, you really just need to go your local mall and enter the chain of stores known as “Hot Topic”. I walked in once, a few months ago. They have the clothes, the band t-shirts, CD, vinyl albums, and even a slick kiosk that allows one to order additional band merch and music from a website then get it delivered to the store. Amazing. I was impressed, and I admit that I felt a bit nostalgic, when I saw t-shirt for sale from the Ramones, the Clash, and Black Flag. I won’t even get into things like file sharing (to get the entire discography of most bands for free) and any punk history lessons you want from various Wiki articles. The commercialism of the punk scene had made it to the masses. Now everyone could look the part.
And that’s just it. You can look the part today. Accessibility for those seeking Yiddishkeit has resulted in an internal growth of Torah knowledge and availability of a few “necessary” items that can enhance your observance. It is mostly, in my opinion, something that happens from within and then sprouts up to a blossom of Torah observance.
With the “punk” thing (and most cultures/sub-cultures) its almost completely the opposite. You can adorn yourself with shirts, bracelets, rings (for your finger, ear, or nose), and fill you ears with music that was difficult to acquire even 30 years ago. However, it’s mostly just a anchor to externally identify with a sub-culture. Its’ easy of access most not something that moves on from within.