New year, fresh start. And it’s hard not to wonder what’s to come. To help satisfy the curiosity of our readers (and our own) we asked seven experts to give us a view of the road ahead in their areas of expertise. Their responses point to some of the major trends in the Jewish world.
An insecure future
We are now dealing with mass casualty attacks on houses of worship, and the level of sophistication has increased markedly. The majority of attacks we’re seeing are home-growns. We’re in a very dangerous environment.
Here’s how we mitigate it in coming years: The only way we’re going to stop the next attack is by changing our own behavior. We need to become partners of law enforcement — empowering our communities through education and training. Knowledge empowers communities; fear terrorizes communities and therefore terrorists achieve their goals. We need to know how to respond to an active shooting. Community leaders have discovered that information is the lifeblood of this community.
—Paul Goldenberg is director of Secure Community Network of the Jewish Federations of North America and Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
Prediction one relates to the Iran nuclear deal. Reasonable people could easily disagree on its merits. What concerns me is how we Jews are being divided over the issue, with the president of the United States right now serving as the chief divider: We are either for the deal or we are one with the right-wing warmongers. I look for leaders to enter the fray to find common ground among us, without which there could be serious consequences.
Prediction two relates to continued attempts to direct Jewish communal endeavors away from religion, because [the 2013 Pew Center report on Jewish Americans] says that religion isn’t the motivator it once was. Secular and cultural Jews don’t produce Jewish grandchildren, as Pew also attests. Strong religious communities remain the most predictable path to Jewish growth and continuity, and I look for Jewish leadership to wake us up to that reality in the coming year.
—Bill Rudolph is rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County and rabbi of Fauquier Jewish Congregation
Embracing interfaith couples
5776 will be a groundbreaking year for Jewish millennials. Instead of focusing on how two Jews can meet each other, Jewish organizations are going to aim higher and design communities to foster an enduring sense of identity. If a millennial Jew has an authentic passion for Judaism, he or she can raise Jewish children in an interfaith family. In my work with 2239, Washington Hebrew Congregation’s young professionals’ community, I have seen firsthand that embracing interfaith couples into our community can provide a family with a strong sense of Jewish identity.
While there is a smattering of highly successful organizations engaging Jewish millennials, 5776 will be the year when congregations across the country step up to the plate. To shift the tide of declining engagement, forward-thinking congregations and rabbis will need to reimagine their roles. While we haven’t seen this groundswell yet, 5776 will be the year when things start to change.
—Aaron Miller is associate rabbi at Washington Hebrew Congregation
Aiming for the periphery
The 2013 Pew study highlighted that our community is filled with people involved in — and products of — interfaith marriages, and those who identify as Jewish, but are not religious or active. In the coming year, I hope to see three trends, all stemming from investment over the past 10 to 15 years in entrepreneurial initiatives, merge to create more opportunities to include these members of our community. These trends are:
• Maturing of innovative initiatives. Some initiatives from the last decade have grown into national powerhouses — Keshet, which works for LGBTQ inclusion, is just one example.
• Mainstream acceptance. Established institutions are embracing more contemporary and creative modes of engagement, such as a focus on social, environmental and food justice, and reaching Jews through new technologies.
• The empowerment of young people to create their own meaningful Jewish experiences.
Together, these will enable the community to reach more of those who are on the periphery.
—Lisa Lepson is executive director of Joshua Venture Group
Parents with young children are learning almost as quickly as their kids are. They’re trying to figure out how to explain things as their children are trying to learn what to call them. Digital Jewish education that’s successful will focus here.
Digital educational media focuses on entertaining, short episodic series in the wide world, and you will see that in the Jewish world. Just as you see literacy apps focused on the 2- and 3-year-old market in the wide world, you will see that here.
Expect a lot of singing along, music videos and interactive routines. Expect playful holidays, DIY digital Shabbat tables, and apps that let you put yourself in the action. Expect games that let you play through the complex rulesets of our tradition. Expect characters based on the values we want to teach.
—Sarah Lefton is founder and executive director of G-dcast
The Torah teaches, “Rise up before the elder, bring radiance to the face of aging.” As our community’s population includes ever older members, we will have an opportunity to fulfill this vision. Jewish life will gain vibrancy from the contributions of people beyond midlife who offer riches of skill and talent. We will find abundant energy for tikkun olam (healing the world) among boomers who spent their youth working for peace and justice. Many in our midst will face prolonged periods of chronic illness and disability. And we will have to rise up, to prepare not just to provide care, but to foster joy, meaning and dignity amid frailty. We will, as the poet Danny Siegel suggests, “let the faces of the elders shine,” and in the process, our community will bask in the light of their joy, wisdom and their very being.
—Rabbi Dayle A. Friedman is the author of Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older: Finding Your Grit and Grace Beyond Midlife (Jewish Lights, 2015).
Things are looking up
As a new year begins, we are all worried about the Middle East, global warming, the Keystone Cop routine which passes in America for a national election process, and other conundrums. Such worries should move us to get involved. There is some comfort in the insight of cognitive studies that, like it or not, we process everything emotionally as well as rationally.
Israeli-born scientist Tali Sharot’s book The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain tells us that “optimism may be so essential to our survival that it is hardwired into our most complex organ, the brain.” This, I suggest, with all that we have been through, is how Jews have kept going through the ages. On a gut level we “know” we will muddle through this year, too. Our brains will not let us give up, and neither will our Jewish faith.
—Ralph Mecklenburger is author of Our Religious Brains: What Cognitive Science Reveals about Belief, Morality, Community and Our Relationship with God (Jewish Lights, 2012) and rabbi of Beth El Congregation in Fort Worth, Texas.