Rabbi Miriam's Blog
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.
Ahavat Torah of West Los Angeles
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.