The new PEW survey on the decline of Jewish life in the U.S. paints a bleak picture of our future. Among the discoveries were the fact that 58% of Jews now marry non-Jews, two-thirds of Jews don’t belong to a synagogue, and 32% of Jews born after 1980 say they have “no religion” and lack of interest in organized religion.
In response, Jessica Grose, a Slate Magazine contributor married to a non-Jew, wrote an article saying that she does want to teach her baby daughter about her Jewish background. She is at a loss as to what exactly her religious life will or should look like. She ended her article by saying, “The notion that American Jews are eschewing religion so broadly makes me a little sad, or worried for Jewish continuity (or guilty for being part of the problem). But I can’t see myself bringing my daughter to temple every Friday to honor a God I don’t believe in. What’s the solution?
Mark Oppenheimer, a religion columnist for the New York Times, offered Grose a few solutions. He tells Grose that in spite of some young Jews “liberal consumerism”, it is clear that Jewish affiliation means something to her. Otherwise, why would she feel so guilty? She should see her guilt as a call to explore her Jewish community and traditions. Ultimately, he recommends a deeper and more thorough engagement with Jewish tradition, culture, and thought which will give her the ability to live Judaism on her own terms.
Oppenheimer says, “It may be Torah study, if only to learn the stories that will give you cultural common ground with other Jews. It may be regular, inquisitive synagogue attendance, not to “pray to a God [you] don’t believe in,” which is not at all why most Jews attend synagogue, but to try to learn over time why Jewish routine and ritual can be comforting and inspiring. It may be celebrating more Jewish holidays than the two you grew up with.”
I agree with Oppenheimer on a theoretical basis, but really if there was ever something easier said than done, this is it! The advice is really not terribly useful for someone without a pre-existing Jewish background or community. The words “Torah study” alone are likely to make more than a few assimilated Jews’ palms sweat. So what can be a comfortable re-entry level to Judaism? Gandhi said, “The longest journey begins with the first step.” Start, by taking a Judaic class from a tolerant, non-judgmental and understanding teacher.
On my trip to Israel in November, I went to visit ELUL in Jerusalem. It is the first pluralistic Yeshivah that was created by Knesset Minister Ruth Calderon in 1989. We at Ahavat Torah have also created a pluralistic yeshivah, one that offers its members a fantastic learning opportunity. Our motto is, “One Torah, Many Teachers, One Community”. We have our monthly Midrasha program, weekly Ethics class, Torah Portion of the week classes for the past 10 years. Other classes include Ethics of our Fathers, Mishnah, Talmud, Holidays, Philosophy, Song of Songs, Psalms, and more.
At ELUL in Jerusalem, I met with the Executive Director, Shlomit Ravitsky Tur-Paz and her Resource Development Manager, Leah Goeppinger-Levy. It was a wonderful and very stimulating meeting. At the end of the meeting I invited Shlomit to come to Los Angeles and be an AT’s guest, and give us a taste of “Jerusalem learning”. We are not part of the PEW survey. We are the antidote to Generation-X’s problem. We do not have sweaty palms when we learn. Please plan on coming to AT and learning with Shlomit.
PLEASE SAVE THURSDAY, MARCH 20th @ 7:00PM for a fabulous learning, over coffee and dessert. Please plan on bringing some friends.
A portion of this article was taken from, “Give Us Our Gen-X Judaism,” by Elissa Strauss.
By Rabbinic Intern Gregory D. Metzger
I love time-lapse photography! It is the filming technique that gives us a glimpse into a world we otherwise would not see. With time-lapse, we get to see skyscrapers erected in minutes. We see plants go from seed to flower in seconds. We see the 405 actually move! Watching these films gets me wondering: can we see God, if we just slow the world down enough?
Moses was very attentive; he slowed the world down enough to notice that the burning bush was not being consumed. He saw miracles. He saw signs and wonders. But he wanted to see God face-to-face. Moses said: “If I have truly gained your favor, pray let me know Your ways that I may know you. . .Oh, let me behold Your Presence!” Exodus 33:15-18
God responds: “I shall cause to pass all my goodness before your face, and I shall call out the name ׳הוה before you. I shall show favor to whomever I choose, and I shall show mercy to whomever I choose. And . . . you will not be able to see My face for no man can [see It] and live. And he said, there is a place near Me on the rock. When My glory passes, I shall place you in a cleft in the rock; I shall shield you with My hand over you until I have passed. Then, I shall remove My hand and you will see My back, but My face may not be seen.” Exodos 33:19-23
There is a teaching of the Chatam Sofer, Moses Schreiber, a leading Orthodox rabbi of the 19th century. He taught that a period of time may only be understood once we are able to view the entire context of events and happenings.
When I take the time to look back at moments in my life, it is not hard for me to see that self-will alone did not bring me to the place (ha-Makom) where I stand today. A larger Force is at work in my life. As much as I seek to see this Force working “in the moment”, I, like Moses, must struggle to content myself with knowing that the “Ever Present” is truly ever present even though it can only be truly apprehended in retrospect.
As a person active in the Holy task of advocating for justice, human rights and the relief of suffering, the task for me, is to act as if I have True Faith that God is with me in this moment. Faith is therefore the ACTION not the belief. In G-d in Search of Man, Abraham Joshua Heschel writes, “The deed is the test, the trial and the risk. What we perform may seem slight, but the aftermath is immense. ”
This is how I understand our Rabbi, when she encourages us to plant trees whose fruits we may never see. Faith and God are present with the seed and the planting. There is “much greater” at work in the present than can be seen in the moment. This is so true in this great work of living a life of blessings. We can see this "Much Greater” in the lives of those we serve and in the souls of those who walk and work alongside us.
What is the deed you will perform this week? What is the risk that you will take this week, not knowing what fruit it will bear, where and to whom it will be made manifest? You have been given the seed, is up to you to plant it and encourage others to join as you nurture it.
Whether or not we will be fortunate enough to be able to look back as if with time-lapse photography and see the true beauty and power of our deed, we can all rejoice in the recognition of the great blessing that we have been invited to become a part of something awesome!
After the construction of The Mishkan, the building of which brought the community together and made space for God to dwell in the midst of the people, we are instructed, in this week’s Parsha to focus on what we bring into the holy space and who should be entrusted to create the objects that will be come sacred.
“And you shall command the Children of Israel that they shall bring to you olive oil that is clear, crushed to illuminate and to kindle a lamp, to light an eternal lamp.” - Exodus 27:20
We are instructed not just to light the lamp, but to kindle an eternal flame with olive oil. The first, most important thing to bring into our holy space is not an object, but an idea, a principle – the principle of peace. The Torah is teaching us that we need to make peace primary and central within our innermost selves and at the core of our communities, lest we invite corruption and become unable to care for the needy, stand up for the powerless and cry out for the voiceless.
Building peace takes time. I am told that for an olive tree to grow from a seed to bearing fruit is six years. How precious is the fruit of a tree that we have nurtured for so many years - How sweet the fruit. The fruits of peace are all the lives that grow within it and the connections that flourish beneath.
We are command to create light with the fruits of this tree of peace- a light that will kindle – a light that will create more light. For us, a people who have known genocide, this light is not just a symbol that we keep in our sanctuary. We are called to carry this light with us as we work to see that “never again” shall this happen to us or anyone else. If we carry this light, ignited by a true passion for peace, it will kindle the flame in others. From action-to-action, we make space for the light to expand. From person-to-person we expand the peace and spread God’s grace over the darkness that engulfs too much of our world.
Who is trusted with this sacred task?
“And you shall speak to all who are wise of heart, that I have filled with a spirit of wisdom.” Exodus 28:3
Who are the people God has chosen to build and preserve this holy space? This peace? To whom has He entrusted the sacred responsibility to spread this light and kindle these flames? This answer is you. You my friends, with wisdom in your heart - It is up to you to make this principle visible. It is up you to “light these lights”.
Please speak out about this …. V’shinantam l’vanecha v’dibarta bam b’shivt’cha b’veitecha uv’lecht’cha vaderech uv’shochb’cha uv’kumecha. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up.
May you be blessed to catch fire and may your sparks kindle the flame and may it spread the light of peace upon all.
About Rabbi Miriam
Rabbi Miriam E. Hamrell MHL, M.Ed., has served as our religious and spiritual leader at Ahavat Torah Congregation and helped it grow since it was founded in 2003.