What are we selling? Why would Jewish teens buy?
This morning I read a piece by Reform Rabbi Dana Evan Kaplan titled “We Failed Zuckerberg” about the movement’s failure to capture the facebook mogul’s attention in a meaningful way.
He referred to the fact that Zuckerberg does not seem to be living a committed Jewish life, though Mark celebrated a bar mitzvah and his parents are long-time members of a reform congregation. (Okay, so was there any Jewish education post-Bar Mitzvah when teens are actually ready to grapple with questions of belief and practice?)
Kaplan mentioned that Reform theology might be to blame, as it is a bit vacuous, and the big miss by the movement is in failing to attract young adults, who do want a more rational and intellectual approach to Judaism. It was a really well-written piece that encouraged some cheshbon-hanefesh (soul-searching) of the movement.
Yet, something in the piece troubled me.
With all the effort at pluralistic thinking and embracing others, the movement seems to have lost its guts.
Yes, guts to stand up for what might make a difference for Jewish continuity. My intention here is not to blame, but to challenge all of us to clarify for ourselves what our goals are in Jewish education. What exactly are we ‘selling’?
If it’s about a personal spiritual journey, with the goal of connecting to a Higher Entity than say so. But if it’s about the continuation of the Jewish people, every movement needs to back that up with words, actions, programs and educational efforts that match that intention.
In short, what do you want your teens to live like in a few years? If it’s the Zuckerberg model Kaplan refers to, then continue as is. If not, then roll up your sleeves because there is a disconnect in what Kaplan writes:
“…. as a Reform rabbi, it would be hard for me to tell a congregant not to date anyone who was not already Jewish (all bolded words, my emphasis). I would urge congregants to talk about their commitment to Judaism with any potential romantic interest and make it clear from the beginning that Judaism is an important and hopefully central part of their life. But it is simply impractical to tell single people to restrict their dating gaze to those who are of the Jewish faith. Even if we wanted to say such a thing, the reality in our congregations would make such exhortations antiquated and irrelevant.
Have we become membership machines? What would be the result of this ‘antiquated’ and ‘irrelevant’ request? Members may be insulted, get in a huff, feel that they may not be up to certain standards…and then leave. Really? Then we are selling ourselves short. It isn’t a zero sum game.
We need to straddle both camps, that of the committed and that of the embracing. It is possible. Hard, but possible.
Rabbi Dana Evan Kaplan affirms this himself when he states that “many of the most devoted Reform Jews are non-Jews who married Jews and embraced Judaism later, sometimes years or even decades later.”
I believe we need to welcome Interfaith families. Yet, that doesn’t mean that we give up entirely on what we feel can be a change-maker for Jewish identity and continuity….staying and marrying Jewish and raising Jewish families.
Have we become so politically correct that our values are slipping?
We are underselling the intelligence of our Jewish teens if we think that our wishy-washiness will bring them closer to our point of view.
The opposite is true—-having the guts to say what we believe, and providing sound reasons for it (all we need to do is share some statistics to make the point), we can emerge from any discourse feeling proud that we stand for something. If we have something of value to sell, then let’s sell it–proudly.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia