This dvar Torah has three parts:
- I come from a generation that was overwhelmed by programming
- Something, something, something, dead animals
- It’s the people
Let’s get started…
I come from a generation that was overwhelmed by programming.
It started when we were kids. Ballet, soccer practice, religious obligations, family-fun-time, foreign language classes, homework, play dates (scheduled, never impromptu), and a host of other requirements turned us into calendar zombies.
If something wasn’t planned, it could not happen. And for good reason.
Most of the kids I knew were either raised by one parent (usually Mom…remember this is the late 80′s and early 90′s) or two parents who worked more than full time. With that kind of work obligation and family strain, the only way to stay sane and to keep your household afloat was to become a slave to the calendar. No schedule means certain death.
In the Jewish community, we are trying to keep Millennials like myself afloat. The way we do that is through programming.
Reading Leviticus for the first time is a horrible experience.
It reads like something, something, something, dead animals.
Vayikra, the kick-off parshah, explains in fine detail the right way to sacrifice animals. It’s like Jonathan Safran Foer’s vision of a horror movie.
Today we’ve taken this sacrificial system and replaced it with three motifs: the Shabbat Table (which replaces the Tabernacle), the study of Torah and prayer (which replaces the actual sacrifices themselves).
Yes, you say. But where’s the sacrifice? Where’s the guilt offering and the sin offering?
The sacrifice we offer, in 2014 Judaism, is our time.
And that’s when the scheduling begins!
In post-Temple, post-modern, post-ethnic American Judaism, in communities like mine where only 25% of the Jewish community is involved in anything Jewish, the solution, we gather, is to make Jewish events more fun or more “relevant” to the audience.
And because we need some kind of measurable metric, Judaism is not about spirituality, it’s about entertainment and packing in seats.
And community is not about your neighbors, friends and family, but a niche peer group like NextGen, older adults (which is anyone who isn’t a senior or NextGen), seniors (who are older than older adults, but we’re not sure by how much), Tot Shabbat, young families (not to be confused with Young Jewish Professionals or NextGen…who are really just Young Professionals without jobs), teenagers, tweens, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.
This breaking apart of community into marketable groups, an overwhelming amount of programming aimed at serving these niches, and zero connectivity between these desperate parts is going to destroy Jewish life.
It’s death by scheduling.
The worst part is, it ignores the whole reason why people get involved in Judaism and Jewish life in the first place.
It isn’t the programs.
It isn’t the movements.
It isn’t the organizations.
It isn’t your website, your Executive Director, your Pinterest, your Twitter hashtags, your brisket, your siddur, your prayer services, your eco-kosher-social-justice-gluten-free-nut-free-vegan-passover-seder or your anything else.
It’s the people. The people are who matter.
People get involved in Jewish community and Jewish spirituality because of the people. Because when they go to your shul or your Jewish event, they are overwhelmed by the joy of others. The reason someone who does not think homosexuality is a sin can feel comfortable in an ultra-Orthodox rabbi’s household is because the people who live there warmly welcomed them with no judgements. The reason that young-families-with-kids come to your synagogue when there are fifty other options is not because your Hebrew school is so spectacular (though I’m sure it is), but because a kind, gentle, sweet Hebrew teacher made them feel good.
It’s the people.
And that’s just as true for us, as it is for everyone else.
No one comes to PunkTorah because what we write on the blog is magic. It’s because over the past five years, the people who have written for this blog have poured their hearts out…and it’s evident in the blog’s success.
No one comes to OneShul because we have reinvented Jewish prayer or because it’s just so simple to go online for services. People log in because they really like whoever is leading the service, or because they can’t wait to learn from whoever is teaching.
And no one goes on Darshan Yeshiva because of the thrill of online Jewish learning. They join our online school because the people at PunkTorah and OneShul built it, and that’s who their community is, and they want to support their people.
No one comes to Shabbat Atlanta dinners at my home because my food is that good (though I do make incredible garlic mashed potatoes and vegetarian mushroom gravy). People come over for Shabbat dinner because, again…
It’s the people.
And if we don’t step away from the calendar, step away from the boardrooms where we discuss the age old question of “how do we get blah blah blah to our programs?” and instead ask:
“How are we doing as a community to serve other people?”
“How can we help people’s hearts be overwhelmed spiritually?”
“How can we help create the kind of world that others want to live in?”
…then this enterprise called Judaism is completely screwed.
One last thought about something, something, something, dead animals:
The sacrificial system, albeit wonderful, never actually pleased God at all. The prophets remind us that God demands mercy (Hosea 6:6) and humility (Micah 6:8) above the sacrificial system.
It’s like this…
The Torah teaches us that we need programming (Leviticus).
But the prophets remind us that in the end, it’s really all about the people and how we treat them.
Written by Rabbi Patrick, executive director of PunkTorah.
Image taken from Stanford.edu