Rabbi Sid’s essay analyzing the state of the American Jewish community was thoughtful and on the mark. I appreciated his perspective, agreed with most of his ideas and adored others. His assessment that the 21st century cries out for a spiritual response is spot on and applies to the Jewish community as well as other faith communities. Here are my observations:
We are not the first Jewish community to confront change, and certainly not the last. Furthermore, I see our current challenges as rather benign in comparison to other periods in our history. For most of our 3000+ years, Jewish survival has been abetted by people hating us. Hey, it’s easy to stay Jewish when you’re confined to a ghetto. However, for many generations in America, we have been accepted, even embraced. During much of this time, we nevertheless coalesced around the idea that “they hate us” by self-defining around the Holocaust, the persecution of Soviet Jewry and the precariousness of the State of Israel.
Post Holocaust and 70 years after the establishment of the State of Israel, I do not see a Jewish community in crisis. If anything, we’ve won the birthright lottery. Crisis is war, dysfunctional families, abuse, disease, depression, poverty, genocide, hunger and the homeless. How Judaism responds to these real crises—mostly happening outside of the confines of the Jewish community–ultimately determines the spiritual health and relevance of our Jewish community.
Being relevant is what has allowed us to thrive, evolve and transition. It has been the key to Jewish survival: Constant adaptation to new circumstances, allowing ancient truths to keep being relevant. The Talmud was all about Judaism remaining relevant for a stateless people. This is the gift we are given, not a crisis we must confront.
Temples and JCC’s once had a monopoly on doing Jewish – and they did it very well. Today’s new media/digital reality allows everybody to reach anybody. Zuckerberg’s Facebook, like Gutenberg’s printing press, has leveled the playing field and returned power and responsibility to the people.
In order for religion to be relevant, the message must be heard, and that message must address the needs of the community. Passion is the fuel of success and no one has a monopoly on passion. Not the Orthodox or the Reconstructing, not the left or the right. If Not Now has passion and so does AIPAC, JStreet, our synagogues and Federations. Judaism is not science; it is art and spirit. If we want a renaissance, we need to address what matters to the people. The group that speaks to this, succeeds.
The best way to build passion is to find your truth by building relationships and spiritual connections. It may be a new Jewish world -and the only way to navigate it is with the Jewish values that we have inherited. Whether the focus be Wisdom (chochma), Sacred Purpose (Kedusha), Community (Kehillah), Social Justice (Tzedek) or some other yet-to-be-named proposition, the community that addresses the needs of its constituents will capture their hearts and determine the future.
The focus and mandate of the Pico Union Project is less about building a specific Jewish community and more about living Jewish values. The ancient principle “love your neighbor as you wish to be loved”, is central to our mission and we are committed to creating opportunities for all people who seek help, inspiration, love, joy and support.
Call it Abrahamic Big Tent Judaism, the Pico Union Project is open on all sides and strives to accentuate positive ways to be and to do Jewish. God knows (literally, as well as figuratively), there is plenty of positive in Judaism, so this shouldn’t be a stretch. But it requires exercising atrophied muscles and abandoning the current sinat chinam – bitter, petty rivalries – that tear our community apart.
As Rabbi Sid concludes: “It is just such spiritual leaders who will help usher in a new and vibrant era of American Jewish life. They will redefine the terms of Jewish identity and the structures of the institutions that guide the Jewish community. Their success will determine how well an ancient Jewish heritage can navigate the dizzying social changes that are destined to characterize the twenty-first century.”
The day is short and there is much work to be done! Let’s do it!
Craig Taubman’s music has been an inspiration to the Jewish community for over 40 years. In 2013, Craig purchased the first home of Sinai Temple in downtown Los Angeles creating the Pico Union Project – a multi faith, cultural arts center dedicated to the principle that we should strive to love our neighbors as we wish to be loved.
February 19, 2019 @ 3:19 pm
Thanks for your words of inspiration. Please take a look at the work of an incredible visionary in our community of The Greater Hartford CT Jewish community. Rabbi Donna Berman is Executive Director of the Charter Oak Cultural Center. ( I believe it is the oldest synagogue building in New England.) She talks about her work as a Havdalah candle, weaving together Judaism, social justice, and celebrating the varieties of cultures in Greater Hartford. I think you will find her helpful in the work you have set out for yourself in creating the Pico Union Project. Wishing you much success. Audrey