Thursday, April 25, 2013

Judaism IV: A New Hope - My Two Cents


Nowadays it is very in vogue to declare the demise of Judaism and Jews.  With intermarriage, assimilation, secularism, particularism, post-denominationalism, atheism, un-affiliation, decline in participation, failures of our institutions, and the like, it would appear that we are doomed.

That we are facing certain modern challenges is indeed striking.  But this existential idea that we are going to disappear, does not play out either against the facts or against our history.

I can't help but think this is a little bit of hubris and arrogance on our part.  Jews and Judaism have faced much greater, much more insidious "threats", and survived.  And by the way, most of the 'threats' listed above, are not threats at all.  Many of them represent opportunities for inclusion and growth, we just have to be more open and welcoming.

Are demographic and sociological numbers concerning?  To some degree, it depends upon how you look at them.  Throughout most of our history, most Jews have not been strident observers.  And in the cases they were, it was often through communal pressures. 

It has become clear that though there are fewer among us who choose to affiliate, those who do affiliate are as strong if not stronger in their Jewish identity and connection to our heritage.

Judaism at its best, has always been dynamic.  It has always faced the challenges of its times.  We overcame the destruction of the first and second Temples.  We overcame Roman rule.  We have survived the anti-Semitism of the Middle Ages and modern times. 

True our communities are becoming increasingly consolidated.  True our institutions are struggling with membership and income.  And yet, our professionals are as excellent as they have ever been.  Our methods of teaching are perhaps better than at any time.  True we are just one priority amidst the myriad of priorities modern families face.  But let's not forget, we are a priority.  Do we have to make a more compelling case? Perhaps.  Do we need to continue to be more relevant?  Absolutely.  But not because we are doing this out of a desperate attempt to remain viable, but because this is what we have always done.

Yes we are likely to see the continued consolidation of our beloved institutions.  Our congregations are not going anywhere, but there will be fewer of them.  But then again, perhaps it is also time to change the paradigm of two Jews - three congregations. 

Also living a Jewish life is increasingly expensive.  Synagogue dues, JCC dues, religious school fees, High Holy Day tickets, and the like to cause a serious drain on the pocketbook.  And we do very much have to deal with the issue of making a Jewish life more affordable.  It will require us to re-examine how we conduct the 'business' of congregational life.  But there are already many intelligent individuals who are exploring new models and new approaches. 

Judaism, at its heart, is an approach to how we treat our fellow human beings through the prism of ethical monotheism.  This means we are in a covenantal relationship with God, no matter how we define God.  This means we are encouraged and expected to act in ways that brings greater holiness in the world.  Whether or not we choose the halachic path is only part of the conversation.  Ultimately our goal is to leave the world a little bit better than we found it.  And Judaism helps to provide the framework for this endeavor.

I hear it often: Judaism is at a crossroads.  Truth be told, Judaism is always at a crossroads.  As long as we continue to be dynamic in our traditions, observances, and the like, we will take on these crossroads and keep moving ever forward.  But to do nothing and bemoan that life is not like it once was, helps no one.

Instead let's take on these challenges and turn them on their head, so that they become opportunities.  Judaism is not going anywhere, so let's get away from eulogizing it and instead refocus on celebrating it.

True our communities are becoming increasingly consolidated.  True our institutions are struggling with membership and income.  And yet, our professionals are as excellent as they have ever been.  Our methods of teaching are perhaps better than at any time.  True we are just one priority amidst the myriad of priorities modern families face.  But let's not forget, we are a priority.  Do we have to make a more compelling case? Perhaps.  Do we need to continue to be more relevant?  Absolutely.  But not because we are doing this out of a desperate attempt to remain viable, but because this is what we have always done.

Yes we are likely to see the continued consolidation of our beloved institutions.  Our congregations are not going anywhere, but there will be fewer of them.  But then again, perhaps it is also time to change the paradigm of two Jews - three congregations. 
Also living a Jewish life is increasingly expensive.  Synagogue dues, JCC dues, religious school fees, High Holy Day tickets, and the like to cause a serious drain on the pocketbook.  And we do very much have to deal wit the issue of making a Jewish life more affordable.  It will require us to re-examine how we conduct the 'business' of congregational life.  But there are already many intelligent individuals who are exploring new models and new approaches. 

Judaism, at its heart, is an approach to how we treat our fellow human beings through the prism of ethical monotheism.  This means we are in a covenantal relationship with God, no matter how we define God.  This means we are encouraged and expected to act in ways that brings greater holiness in the world.  Whether or not we choose the halachic path is only part of the conversation.  Ultimately our goal is to leave the world a little bit better than we found it.  And Judaism helps to provide the framework for this endeavor.

I hear it often: Judaism is at a crossroads.  Truth be told, Judaism is always at a crossroads.  As long as we continue to be dynamic in our traditions, observances, and the like, we will take on these crossroads and keep moving ever forward.  But to do nothing and bemoan that life is not like it once was, helps no one.

Instead let's take on these challenges and turn them on their head, so that they become opportunities.  Judaism is not going anywhere, so let's get away from eulogizing it and instead refocus on celebrating it.

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