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Virtual Talmud

The Way Forward for Our Youth

It’s interesting to see the tension between Rabbi Stern and Rabbi Grossman’s posts–the former portrays himself as the purveyor of substance and the latter as the purveyor of sizzle. What we need, of course, is both. It goes without saying that we need to make Judaism accessible and inviting, but it also needs to be grounded in a content that does more than take the things people are already doing and flavor them “Jewish.” As a Reconstructionist, I’m a big believer in the collective wisdom of the Jewish people to make Jewish decisions–this is why Judaism has evolved over time and remained an organic and relevant part of Jews’ daily lives. So I don’t think we need to tell young people what their Judaism should look like, they can figure that out for themselves.
What we do need to do is emphasize the importance of Jewish identity and of proudly and publicly proclaiming their allegiance to Jewish peoplehood. We need to offer them ideas of what our civilization has created (abiding sense of holiness in the world, justice, ethics, belief in the perfectability of the world, beauty, humor) and the tools they can use (sacred texts, Jewish history, social action, liturgy, music, art) to help create a meaningful and dynamic Judaism in their own time. Then we watch them go in directions we can’t possibly imagine. The key is to get young Jews to care, to be invested in the Jewish project, to understand that being Jewish is important–possibly the most significant aspect of their being. It all flows from there.

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Julie Hamil

posted July 31, 2007 at 12:02 am

Isn’t it all about Him. It isn’t about being Jewish. It is all about being Godly, let’s switch our focus from our religion to our G-d. He was faithful to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and He will be faithful to us.

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posted July 31, 2007 at 2:39 pm

Julie: G-d is in our relationships with other people and our connection to Jewish community. We’re being “G-dly” by being Jewish.
I understand what R. Waxman is saying, but I think a lot of efforts to educate young people today get stuck in glorifying Jewish identity and DON’T get into the real substance of what Judaism is about and what being Jewish means. I remember reading that the vast majority, like more than 90 percent, of young Jews say they are “proud” of being Jewish but a majority also remains unaffiliated and unengaged.
The only way people can make good decisions (about how to be Jewish or anything else in life) is to have solid information about what has already been done, a working knowledge of history, ritual, etc. I think American culture now is so individualistic, so lacking in substantive knowledge about the world at large, that Jewish youth — like everyone else — are primarily in danger of feeling empty pride, of having self-esteem without much sense of responsibility. I think Jewish institutions, in their struggle to keep young people “in the fold,” promote that Judaism is not something you have to work hard for, that it’s just something you are and can define in any way you want. So I would say that while it’s true that collective wisdom influences Jewish decisions, that collective wisdom must be based in a deep system of knowledge and sense of responsibility — at least at the present time, where both things are seriously missing.

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posted August 1, 2007 at 12:43 pm

In America, a number of Jewish groups promote racial and cultural diversity for gentiles, but when it comes to Jews and Israel, intermarriage is a no no. Why is there one standard for gentiles and another for Jews?

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