This week I had the privilege of attending a conference run by The PJ Library. It was great fun – and not just because of the absurdly high percentage of people in attendance who had read my book (although it certainly didn’t hurt.) I also had the chance to find out about some of the amazing Jewish family programs going on all over the country, drink (kosher) wine with colleagues whom I hardly ever get to spend time with, read the adorable books going out as part of Sifriyat Pijama in Israel, and have breakfast with Rick Recht. If you haven’t heard of Rick Recht, he’s kind of the Elvis of the Jewish world. Only younger (well, alive-r) and thinner. He tours synagogues and summer camps and he’s actually very talented. And very, very committed. We talked over oatmeal (mine) and eggs (his) about being a Jewish parent and a rock star, and the future of Judaism as he sees it.
Rick is someone working on the cutting edge of contemporary Judaism, working hard to change the face of Jewish music and techonology through his project Jewish Rock Radio, an internet radio station devoted exclusively to contemporary (and cool) Jewish music.
I asked him how his work affects his parenting, and how his parenting affects his work.
Rick: I have 2 kids, 6 and 9 – Kobi and Tal. My kids are my litmus test. And I see the way they process life and the way they process Judiasm and the parts of Judaism that reach them and connect them. I see the intersections between their secular lives and their Jewish lives, and I try to create as many intersections as possible. My kids, like most youth, spend an extraordinary amout of time on computers, listening to music, playing games, creating community. They are skyping on a nightly basis. At first it was scary, but then it made me realize the incredible potential.
Rick went on to describe another surprising influence and source of inspiration.
I was doing some work with the national civil rights movement “Tear Down the Walls’ – a lot of the concerts were based in mega-churches. I had the opportunity to meet with pastors and see the ways they are harnessing music and techonology to meet the needs of their youth and create a Christian context for their activities….I began to imagine a world where we as a Jewish world are meeting kids’ needs for connectivity. Where we are creating a Jewish context for their activities. Where kids will be able to listen to Jewish music and play Jewish games and buy Jewish t-shirts, and learn about the ways they can make a difference. My greatest fear is that the relevance gap is widening – exponentially – and if the Jewish world doesn’t adapt quickly, the gap will increase. I want kids not be shocked when they experience “high quality Judaism.” I want them to be able to walk into a store and have a section other than Manischevitz.
Rick’s projects are big and loud and sexy. His concerts, his radio station, his Songleader Boot Camp, are Judaism on a totally different scale than the way I experience it, which is slow-paced, intimate and perhaps just a tiny bit nerdy. Since interviewing Rick, I’ve been mulling over his vision of Judaism that emulates the mega-church. Ultimately, I realized it’s not a place I’d probably ever choose to go. On the other hand, my version of Judaism is clearly somewhere that lots and lots of Jewish already never choose to go, and probably never will. Those are the Jews Rick is trying to reach.
Interestingly, I found Rick to be soft-spoken and humble. He described the challenges of managing a Jewish home while performing concerts almost every single shabbat of the year. (He has a complete shabbat dinner with his family on Thursday nights.) He was sincere and charming, and I admire his commitment, even though I’m not sure that getting a kid to buy a Jewish t-shirt or listen to Jewish rock music is really going to make a significant difference, either for that kid or the Jewish people.
But then again, it might…
ps, the winner of Chicken Man, chosen at Random.org is Midianite Manna. Mazal Tov!