Increasing Jewish Engagement through the Arts

This week’s post is by David Franklin, LMSW, an exhibit curator and co-founding creator of the Jews, Rock and Roll Film and Exhibit. 

In 1920, upon the opening of the Lehrhaus (the Free Jewish Academy of Learning in Berlin), Franz Rosenzweig offered a vision that can still inspire Jewish learning and culture-creating as a response to the assimilation that defines the modern Jew:

“A new learning is about to born-rather it has been born. It is a learning in reverse order. A learning that no longer start from the Torah and lead in life but the other way round: from life, from a world that knows nothing of the Law, or pretends to know nothing, back to the Torah. That is the sign of the time. It is the sign of the time because it is the mark of the men of the time. There is no one today who is not alienated, or who does not contain within himself some small fraction of alienation. We all know that in being Jewish we must not give up anything, not renounce anything but lead every back to Judaism.  From the periphery, back to the center; from the outside in.”

In a time of great cultural changes, including dramatically expanded use of technology, diverse family structures, fluid identities, and unlimited choice, affiliation with existing Jewish institutions in most Jewish communities has declined sharply over the past 25 years. How do you help Jews remain highly engaged, highly connected to their sense of being Jewish? How can we make being part of their Jewish community something that is very important to more Jews?  The “People of the Book” are downloading Judaism, finding community online, and have quite a porous sense of the Jewish community, entering and leaving Jewish communal life at will. There is a call for new points of access to reach Jews who are not connected to the Jewish community, and those already committed.

In Rabbi Sid’s lead essay to Jewish Megatrends he states: “I believe that over the course of the next decade there is a unique opportunity for cross-fertilization between the established institutions of the American Jewish community and the robust innovation sector of American Jewish life. If each side recognizes the value of the other and commits to a program of collaboration, I believe that we are on the verge of a renaissance of American Jewish life.” 

JEWS, ROCK & ROLL, a museum exhibit and documentary film project about the role of Jews in helping shape American popular culture, can serve as a model for future Jewish community engagement efforts to connect with hard-to-reach segments of the community. Jews are seeking new avenues for creating meaning and community in their lives. Schwarz rightly points out that “Jews are turning their backs on larger, mainstream organizations that are experienced as top-down institutions in an era when Jews want to do it themselves.”

  • Exhibit talkbacks, which will engage audiences in meaningful dialogue around contemporary issues;
  • Exhibit-focused curriculum, which will inspire students with a fresh approach to Jewish history;
  • Peter Yarrow’s “Respect” Curriculum, which will be introduced in Jewish Day Schools;
  • Young Adult Exhibit Events sponsored by Hillel and Birthright, which will reach new audiences;
  • Guest rock luminaries such as Mike Stoller, David Lee Ross, Lisa Loeb, who will appear in host cities and in on-air appearances on local radio and TV media outlets.

The exhibit and film deliver an innovative Jewish educational experience that attracts and engages Jewish learners, implements new approaches from beyond the traditional Jewish education and museum fields. JEWS, ROCK & ROLL:

  • Strengthens Jewish identity and connection in Jewish youth, young adults, maturing adults, and baby boomers by providing a Pop Up traveling exhibit utilizing the power of music to attract, inspire, entertain, and educate;
  • Inspires audiences towards greater understanding of the underlying Jewish values and perspectives that informed Jewish involvement in music and Jewish influence on contemporary popular culture;
  • Presents transformative historical treatment of the story of Jews in America and the creators of American culture.

Some established institutions are stuck in old paradigms. JEWS, ROCK & ROLL Traveling Pop-Up Museum will be a new popular culture experience for the Jewish community and beyond. JEWS, ROCK & ROLL won’t just tell that story, it will serve as a model of Jewish community engagement, connecting hard-to-reach segments of the community.

David Franklin, LMSW, is an exhibit curator and co-founding creator of Jews, Rock and Roll Film and Exhibit.  David served as the director of Downtown Arts Development in New York City and there helped to convene The International Jewish Presenters Association Schmooze Culture Conference.  He also works as a family therapist in the New Haven area.

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