Rabbi Terry Bookman, a nationally known Jewish leader, author and educator knows firsthand some of the biggest challenges facing those in the Jewish community.
Bookman’s concern for the fate of the Jewish people is not unfounded as there examples in the news almost every day. There are obstacles preventing the growth of the Jewish people. One of the big reasons is because the paradigm has not yet shifted.
“I believe in the history of Judaism that we have entered a postmodern era,” Bookman said. “The [established] Jewish community by and large…is operating as if we’re still in a modern period with an agenda that no longer speaks to anybody from the millennial generation.”
His new book, Beyond Survival is said to challenge the current agenda, assumptions, mindset and sacred crows of the Jewish establishment, which has largely accepted and become resigned to its communal decline.
“We have before us today a radically different reality for the Jewish world. If we don’t shift the paradigm to speak to that reality, we’ll lose the opportunity. The result of not doing so as we’re seeing everywhere around the world is that the Jewish community continues to shrink.”
While he’s never been a numbers guy, there is a point where numbers become vital for any sort of relevancy, Bookman said.
Beyond Survival is about looking at the old agenda and why we need to let go of it. It also explores some of the new opportunities, that if the Jewish community takes strategic advantage of, can really lead to Jewish communities thriving instead of the old agenda of surviving, Bookman said.
Bookman also talks in detail about the three obstacles plus one that currently prevent the growth of Jewish people. The three obstacles that comprise the old agenda include anti-Semitism as a threat to Jewish survival, the Holocaust which is an outlook of anti-Semitism and the focus on victimization that we have to it, and Israel as a threatened nation – not Israel as a place for the Jewish people to return and thrive. The plus one is assimilation which again is seen as a threat, Bookman said.
“The threat is that all of the old agenda, the survival agenda which was very important because we did need to survive under very dire circumstances for long periods of our history. The old agenda is based on threat and a sense of victimization. But that is no longer a reality in the Jewish world.”
Bookman makes it clear that this isn’t to diminish the survival agenda when under attack because when one is under attack, survival is of the essence, he said.
In the book, Bookman shares an incident in which he met the Dalai Lama. He came to the Jewish people because he wanted to know how a religion and a people survive away from their land. The Dalai Lama believed the experts on this were the Jewish people because we were off of our land for almost 2000 years and they did survive.
While the survival agenda is important, it no longer speaks to the current reality, Bookman said.
The book also offers an alternative vision for the Jewish future. This includes the concept of the paradigm shift in which individuals can find an open and accepting community that joyously and creatively celebrates their sacred way of life. This is a future in which society can all grow and thrive.
Bookman ultimately hopes the book will reach decision-makers in the Jewish establishment – the heads of synagogue and the heads of major Jewish organizations. He believes it’s important that they are reached because they need to take a look at the new reality as well if they are to survive and beyond survival if they want to thrive.
However, the book is not limited to Jewish decision-makers and leaders only. He also hopes the book and its message will reach those who have an interest in the Jewish community including brothers and sisters of the Christian faith, along with Jewish millennials who are just as involved in this.
In talking with his sons, who encouraged him to write the book, along with other young people in the Jewish community, he continued hearing that their experiences in the organized Jewish world don’t speak to them. Through this book, they can see the hope for the future.
Just as there are bright forces in the world, there are also dark forces. Just as there is love in the world, there is also hate. Bookman addresses this reality head on the book.
“One of the things I say in the book is that there is evil and hatred in the human heart. It’s the ugly side of human beings,” Bookman said. “We are for the most part good but we do have the other side within us and that’s often triggered when there’s fear and insecurity.”
Unfortunately, we see in our world that there are anti-Semites because there are Jews, just as there are racists because there are people of color, just as there are misogynists because there are women in the world and people who are homophobic because there are homosexuals in the world. That’s not going to change. However, we can be the change we want to see in our world. What’s important is the tone of our society. We have to ask ourselves if we tolerate this kind of hatred or are we opposed to it, Bookman said.
“In every incident that has happened in the last couple of decades we have seen an outpouring of love and support throughout the faith communities,” Bookman said. “When mosques are attacked, pastors and rabbis are there…I do think that the majority of people are supporting one another and what’s most important is that our society doesn’t tolerate it.”
Against all the negative forces that Jewish people have faced in the past and face in the world today, Bookman says there is great hope they can look forward to.“What I present is a hopeful vision, what I believe is truly possibly…It is a vision meant to inspire,” Bookman said. “When Martin Luther King said in 1962 in Washington, DC, I have a dream that one day our children will go to school together and play together and love one another, that was not realistic. People were still struggling for Civil Rights in this country but it was a vision that inspired people to create, to move it in to effect.” He is hopeful that the words in this book will not people of Jewish faith but from all different backgrounds. Bookman hopes to create a worldwide conversation that will ask the question, how can we as a people thrive? Bookman’s vision is a world of “thrival,” a word he created to counterbalance the word of “survival.” He hopes that people all around the world will gather in groups and have conversations discussing what it will take to create new institutions to thrive. “Some will inevitably say that I am not being realistic. Of course, I am not. Nothing great has ever happened in this world being realistic,” Bookman said. “But I believe in us…We can do better than survive, we can truly thrive.”