When I was younger, the federation slogan used to be “We are One;” just like the Israeli song that says “Am Ehad Im Lev Ead” (one people with one heart). What got me thinking about all this, a conversation with friends. They have a college bound son who has little to no interest in Judaism. They feel like they did everything right: Weekly Shabbat at home, Day School, Parents who went to Shul every week, and a house oozing Jewish commitment. They are playing “Where did we go wrong?” While I assured them that the story is far from over–and it is. What was clear to me was that they had missed the survival triangle of Jewish life: camp, youth group, and an Israel trip. By no means am I saying “Never” in this case. But this much I know.
A bad Bar Mitzvah experience with a rabbi who was too self-important soured the kid on Religious Judaism and in the kid’s mind he had no fall back position. It isn’t so much the kid’s fault. It isn’t particularly the parents fault. It is the collapse of the the experience of Jewish peoplehood. Peoplehood is complicated. Political correctness put us in a poly-ethnic universe. Society proved that intermarriage can work. Israel has not been overwhelming attractive for a long time. And, intermarriage and spirituality has done a lot to focus Jewish life on the religious more than the national. In the supplemental school market we have abandoned communicative Hebrew and taught that strange anomaly called “Siddur Hebrew” (and done that poorly). We have reduced the amount of Israeli Dance and Music in favor of the explosion of American created liturgical music. We may teach cooking, but Rye bread with given away to Native Americans and other ethnicities a long time ago. Frank Sinatra loved it!
We’ve been in a moment for a long time where Israel is low on the radar, demanding a Jewish spouse is considered racist, and peoplehood as a concept–even al a Mordechai Kaplan–is out of favor. Forget about choseness, peoplehood like gribness is all but gone.
And the simple truth is like this survivability is highly depended on the solitary thread of Jewish religiosity which is a lot like playing a harp with one string. The polyphonic dynamic of Judaism has lots of melodies to offer, a whole range of options that we need to re-expand. And somehow, the label of peoplehood, of nationality as an element needs to be given a good name. I don’t yet have answers. I am working on it. But I do need to share the problem and the challenge. Join me.