It’s been a strange 24 hours.
I was all set to write about Sunday’s phone call, but now, as I type at 12:18 Monday afternoon, I am haunted by the phone call that just ended.
So I’ll begin with Sunday.
My daughter sent me the link to the website so I could listen in on the conference call she had scheduled for 2 p.m. I watched my computer screen as 52 teens logged in from across the country and around the world. Kids from Rockville, New York and Kansas City; teens from Bulgaria, Argentina and the U.K. They were gathering virtually to discuss what it means to them to be a Jew in the Diaspora.
This wasn’t a school assignment. They didn’t know I would be listening and possibly reporting on their call. They weren’t calling in to further any sort of ambition. They just wanted to talk and connect.
My daughter, Sofie and her AZA counterpart, Dan Widawsky, initiated the call. Sofie and Dan serve as vice presidents of globalization for BBYO. They facilitate similar calls for members of their Global Networking Committee but thought it would be nice to give other teens, not on the committee, the chance to talk about Jewish issues with peers from around the world.
They debated if we should still consider ourselves a diasporic community. After all, they reasoned, Christians and Muslims are spread throughout the world. Interestingly, the international teens repeatedly discussed Judaism as a culture and said that as long as there was another Jew, wherever they were in the world, they were home.
Quite a few of the American teens spoke of what it was like to visit Israel. Many had traveled the previous summer with BBYO. They shared how it felt – the unexpected connection – and the importance of ensuring the safety and existence of Israel as a homeland for Jews.
The call ended after approximately 40 minutes. A schedule of future calls was announced with discussion topics ranging from “Wicked, simple, wise and silent: Which son are you?” to “Together as one, forever united: my identity in the global Jewish community.”
What I was most impressed with was the thoughtfulness of the conversation. I loved hearing not only the variety of answers but the diversity of voices. Here was our global Jewish community. And here were young people who were dedicating free time to grapple with what it means to be Jewish.
These are the stories I love to write about. I’m tired of worrying about what’s being lost — about what will happen to our synagogues or our denominations or our way of being Jewish. It’s changing. It’s changing because technology, like web-based free international conference calls, allows Jewish kids from five different countries to actually talk to each other. And they are talking about being Jewish.
Wondering what happens after bar mitzvah? This is what happens.
This is what we should be talking about – this new generation. This is what I have made space for under my editorship.
Last summer, I interviewed some local lacrosse players who were trying out to play on Israel’s national team. One young man, Matt Greenblatt, who had recently graduated from Wootton High School, told me he extended his Birthright trip to Israel because he was having such a great time. When he heard about the fledgling Israeli lacrosse team, he offered to help coach youth camps. I was happy to see him, and several other local guys including Jason Senter and Mark Jecowitz, were recently named to the team’s roster. And I was even happier to receive an email from Team Israel announcing a partnership with Taglit-Birthright creating lacrosse-specific trips to Israel connecting young athletes to Israel. It’s a connection to our heritage that was unimaginable in my youth. But it is something that will be there for my son.
I smile when I see that our new reporter, Max Moline, has placed his AEPi (Jewish fraternity) mug on his desk. I like when he excitedly pitches stories about Operation Understanding DC (OUDC) and USY— youth programs that clearly influenced his Judaism. I encourage him to write these stories, not only so that another young person may discover and take advantage of the opportunity, but so we grown-ups can learn about all the good that is happening.
So I had originally planned to write a column urging us to teach, as the late Edgar Bronfman wrote, “hope, not fear.”
But then I spoke with Herman Taube.
I had emailed Mr. Taube about a feature I’m planning for next week. I want to explore how the world will be different when there are no more Holocaust survivors. I’ve invited historians and students, social workers and survivors to write from their unique perspectives. Rather than simply submit an essay, Mr. Taube asked me to call him. His eyesight is failing and it is easier for him to talk.
He kept apologizing for keeping me on the phone, but I was grateful for every moment of it. I am so focused on the younger generation that I sometimes forget how important it is to take the time to learn from those who are older. I don’t want to give away what he told me (you’ll have to wait for next week’s issue), but suffice it to say his main point was that those who want to learn will always find a way.
I think this is how these two phone calls overlap. We may worry about kids disengaging from Judaism after bar mitzvah – but there are still those who want to connect. And, they will find a way. It may not be in the way we did or the way we expect or think they should, but they will find a way – they will learn. And we may worry what will happen when there is no one left to pull up their sleeves and point to their numbers and say, “I was there. This happened to me.” But future generations will find a way to learn the stories. There will be a way to hear the words and understand the lessons.
We just have to have faith.