I was particularly struck by Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s CEO, Steve Rakitt’s “Voices” column this week (Page 17). It contrasts with a sermon I heard this past Shabbat while I was attending a family bar mitzvah out of town. The rabbi there mentioned the “Pew” study while pinching his nose. Yes, the results stink, but they certainly didn’t come as a surprise. I like Rakitt’s approach to the news — let the study serve as a clarion call for action.
Let me say up front that I am not worried. Judaism has survived as long as it has because it’s dynamic. The Judaism today is not the Judaism of our parents or grandparents or great-grandparents. And it won’t be the Judaism of our children. It speaks to each generation slightly differently. As long as the core values remain, as long as a base in Torah and ethics and law remains, it is Judaism.
So what to do? I’d like to move forward with an idea suggested by Steve Rakitt and use Washington Jewish Week as a forum for ideas. And, as we wrote in our editorial last week, we must think big. Huge, even. We must dispend disbelief and forego details that impede creativity. Free Jewish nursery school? No, we can’t afford it, but let’s put it on the board and brainstorm. Birthright for everyone, be they high school students or retirees? Why not? Let’s explore the possibilities.
Beginning next week, we’ll feature “Pew Possibilities” — ideas suggested by experts in Jewish organizations as well as everyday Jews. Have an idea? Send me 300-500 words. Tell me who you are and why you think your idea could make a difference. And then, let’s talk about it.
I’ll get things rolling.
For years now, I’ve heard parents tell their children that when they were kids, they hated Hebrew school, but their parents made them go and now it’s their children’s turn. I’ve watched as parents “dropped and ran” for Shabbat services — clearly sending the message that synagogue is something you “have to do” as a child but when you grow up and are the one making the decisions, you don’t have to go. And the result is clearly do as I do, not as I say.
So, I believe, and it’s not rocket science, that if we can change parents’ priorities, we can make a difference in the future.
Two programs in particular serve as models. One is the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project. In 2008, eight local women journeyed to Utah for a four-day retreat with the goal of “creating a movement that would bring values back to the world.” The result? The JWRP, that has since brought thousands of young moms from 60 cities and 12 countries to Israel. It’s brilliant. The women, all of whom have children under the age of 18, return to their families inspired to bring more Jewish traditions and values into their homes.
The other program I believe serves as a model of “Pew Possibilities” is the Mother’s Circle. Created by Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute, Mother’s Circle teaches women who are not Jewish, but who are married to Jewish men and have agreed to raise their children as Jews. I had the distinct honor of teaching a Circle at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. Each week, we talked about what it means to create a Jewish home. We baked challah and other holiday foods, we grappled with Jewish beliefs about God and we illuminated the joys of the traditions. Some of the women converted, but perhaps more importantly, all of the children are being raised as Jews.
Each time I announced the program I received emails from Jewish women asking if they could attend. They can’t because the class needs to be a space the non-Jewish women can feel comfortable asking questions. I also know, from experience, that when programs are held for Jewish parents, it can be tough getting a turnout. But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop trying to create innovative programming that gets Jewish parents through the door. Remember, drop by drop fills the bucket. And each email I receive saying “I made challah this Shabbat and my family loved it” or “I blessed my children this weekend” makes all the effort worthwhile.
So, moms are my Pew focus. What are yours? Send them to me at [email protected] and let’s discuss the possibilities.
I am the dean (rosh kollel) of DATA, the Dallas Area Torah Association, Community Kollel. Thousands of unafilliated Jews have passed through our programs, classes and seminars and have been connected to their Judaism in a positive way, bringing them Jewish pride and renewed commitment. Many Kollel programs like ours exist throughout the country; we are connected and work together. We, the Community Kollels, are making a difference throughout the US, and with ample support we are one of the few organizations positioned to create a Jewish learning revolution which will truly make a dent in the Pew findings!