Tuesday, September 15, 2009

To Be, Or Not To Be...Part Of The Jewish Community. That Is The Question

A few weeks ago a story broke in our local paper about a Jewish girl who is being privately trained for her Bat Mitzvah. The happy event will take place on a cruise ship – hence we are speaking of a “boat-mitzvah”. The family has not been affiliated with any synagogue. Letters to the Editor were sent by Rabbis and congregational leaders bemoaning the fact that such a ceremony was being planned and implemented sans congregational blessing. A hue and cry was raised asserting that becoming a Bat (or Bar) Mitzvah implies becoming part of the Jewish community, and to celebrate this milestone without said community makes the ceremony meaningless. This is all true, but…

I think the issue is that people are trying to find new ways of engaging in what they see as Judaism. Granted, deciding that the Bat Mitzvah should take place on a cruise without any synagogue involvement is troubling – reflecting a sense of communal alienation. Down here in Palm Beach County we suffer from an extremely high rate of non-affiliation – I believe that we are close to having the highest rate in the United States. What has caused such an alarming statistic? Is it a symptom of a poor educational system that failed to transmit the message of klal yisrael to these peripherally engaged Jews, or is because many feel that it's really expensive to be part of the organized Jewish community today, or is it that they perceive (rightly or wrongly) that they are not welcomed in congregations because they are in interfaith marriages? What do we do about all this? Is it fair to blame the unaffiliated, or must we look at ourselves in a mirror – seeing our own blemishes? What are our responsibilities?

The definition of living Jewishly is changing. This is not news. Assumptions regarding our relationship to Israel and to the organized Jewish community are being challenged. I refer you, for instance, to this article in New Voices – National Jewish Student Magazine: http://www.newvoices.org/community?id=0016 . The implications are, to say the least, intriguing. Questioning what traditional Jewish affiliation is has become acceptable and mainstream. What we are witnessing, it seems, is a redefinition of what it means to be part of the tribe. I’m not sure this is so bad.

When we are challenged, we thrive. I think that is what is happening to Judaism today. We are being forced to question what we always thought was right, and rethink what we need to do in the future. We are starting the process of retooling ourselves, developing new paradigms that will shape what it means to be Jewish, tomorrow.

You know what? I’m glad. Yeah – we always need to look back, but we have to focus on the road ahead. Seeing what’s behind us is what rear view mirrors are all about. However, the action is always in front of us. That’s why windshields are so big.

Here’s wishing one and all a joyous, sweet and fulfilling New Year. L’shana Tova u’m’tooka.