This is a brief statement of revolutionary Judaism. In it we try to address some of the possible failings and potential answers to issues plaguing Judaism today. It is not an official statement of belief, but it is close. It is more like a letter written by two people who love Judaism, love their fellow Jews, and want to make the future a better place for all of us.
Zionism, what once for me was a clear cut discussion, becomes a prevailing debacle and inner dialogue. Concluding an important research report about the assimilation of American Jews and paradigm shifts, that affect the decline of the Jewish population, it is apparent that the state of Israel is providing a scapegoat for assimilation. American Jews see this new group of Bal Tuva Jews moving to Israel. This allows the American psyche to assimilate into modern pop-culture and evade the discussion of Jewish assimilation within the Diaspora altogether.
Pre-Holocaust, Jews separated themselves and seemed to maintain numbers in population. It is within the 1930’s-1970’s where Jews found assimilation to be the response to persecution. A decade later [1980s], Hitler’s “solution to the Jewish problem” still impacted population numbers. In the 21st century numbers are still on the decline and at an ever rapid pace.
The major concern is if Jews in the Diaspora rely only on Jews within the country of Israel, the near future of the Jewish faith will become a closing chapter. Yes, intermarriage and the Holocaust have a large part in this ideological decline, but I urge the public to open their eyes as to what the idea of Zionism does psychologically for the Jewish community. We cannot focus solely on “the right of return”. We as a community must discuss how we cannot depend on Jews overseas to create the identity of the Jew within the Diaspora nor can we use this “right” as a crutch for not being active in Jewish communities.
Likewise, the average Israeli feels less of a need to do “Jewish” because going to the market is a Jewish event in it of itself. The confusion between faith and nationalism does not stem from Zionism, but does allow itself to blur the lines all that much more. Nationalism is important on many levels, the Torah even mentions that, but it also is important to practice and value traditions and rituals as our ancestors have done for centuries.
It is imperative that the public understand that Zionism is not potent, but potentially dangerous. The paradigm needs to shift. No longer can we depend on another Jew to be Jewish. The numbers in the population are too small. It is absolutely fine to subscribe to Zionism, but when educating people or when in a discussion about the topic, it is important to address that as Jews of the Diaspora, we play an integral role in the success of our future. Without buy-in for this paradigm shift, cultural and religious traditions of the Jewish faith will be masked in Israeli nationalism, risking a much larger decline in Jewish population.
Be true to the streets-
Like any profession, those of us who are Jewish-For-A-Living have a secret language that we use with each other. To the outsider, this language is strange and unfamiliar. And since I believe in openness, here is my own personal WikiLeaks glossary of Jewish non-profit speak. And if this article inspires you to change your non-profit, then let us know, because we’re here to help you.
Jewish Communal Professional: anyone who works for a Jewish non-profit that is specifically Jewish in nature (example: Jewish National Fund, Birthright Israel, PunkTorah). Note that this does not apply to owners of Jewish for-profit businesses, even if they give more tzedekah than the non-profits do.
“Joshua just got a job at Hazon as Director of Youth Projects. We’re so excited to have another Jewish Communal Professional in the family. Too bad he wasn’t a doctor like Gerald.”
Engagement: getting Jews in a room to do something, no matter what it is, and taking credit for it. Ideally, this activity would have some kind of Jewy-ness to it, but even that is open for debate.
“Here at the local JCC we are actively involved in engagement, which is why we host a kosher pizza party once a month in the lobby. And it only takes us three months to plan it, which is great turn around time given all the meetings we have to have.”
Community Building: also called Community Development, this involves getting people to know about what your organization does and getting them to become involved.
“XYZ Jewish Organization is committed to community building, bridging the gap between the people who care about what we’re doing, and the people who could care less.”
Doing Jewish: a term coined by college Hillel (also called Hill-Hell by people who have interned there in their youth), “doing Jewish” is similar to engagement in that it gets Jews doing something Jewish together. The difference is that engagement is more formal, while doing Jewish is more relaxed. It can also mean that you are doing something Jewish right now, and are unavailable to do something else.
“Steven can’t go to the movies tonight. He’s doing Jewish over at the Hillel House on campus. Something about Israel…I don’t remember. I think some Israeli guy is telling everyone about the Floatilla thing that happened three months ago.”
Jewish Leadership Training: no different that any other kind of leadership training, except that there’s a bunch of Jewish folks doing it. The training is usually in the form of an institute, a weekend retreat with something called “breakout sessions” and kosher food despite the fact that no one keeps kosher.
“Adam just got home from Jewish Leadership training in Teaneck. I think it will really help him as the new Director of Engagement.”
Immersion: taking someone and making them “do Jewish” for an extended period of time or with some kind of intensity. Like engagement, but on steroids and more expensive.
“This two year immersion program brings post-college Jews to neighborhoods in Israel to learn language, culture, and build relations between the US and Israel. It’s like Birthright, but for a really, really long time.”
Donor Development: fundraising from people
Strategic Development: fundraising from organizations
Long Term Financial Planning: thinking about fundraising from people and organizations
“Whether you call it donor development, strategic development or long term financial planning, we’re still trying to get people to give us their money. The older folks are the easiest ones.”
Team Building: some kind of pre-meeting activity that reminds you of summer camp or elementary school, is supposed to connect you with your spirit (see Oprah) and get people to learn more about you. Usually very childish, but we put up with it because there’s that one person who will complain if we don’t do it and make our lives really painful until the next meeting.
“Before our meeting of the Temple Sisterhood, I’d like to do a team building activity where we each go around the room and say our name, where we are from, and the name of a fruit that describes us best.”
Communications Management: the process of any large Jewish organization saying something. It usually takes several weeks and involves multiple meetings. The steps are as follows: 1) something happens (see Floatilla). 2) Jewish organization sits around for a while and talks about it. Possibly some team building taking place. 3) Multiple meetings of higher-ups who relay the message to the people lower-on-the-totem-pole. 4) PR person writes an email. It goes to the head honcho who approves it. 5) Email goes out. No one cares.
“We’re really glad that we have a new communications management specialist here at XYZ Organization. She has a masters degree from Brown and knows how to set up Microsoft Outlook. By the way, did anyone hear about Neil Armstrong landing on the moon? Crazy, huh? I just read about it in the Middle Market Jewish Times next to Sheila Rosenbloom’s kugel recipe.”
Jewish Community: three possible definitions for this. 1) The number of Jews in a city (how this is determined is still unknown). 2) The number of people in a given city that are involved with Jewish organizations (also called the Active Jewish Community). This number is usually 25% of the bigger number. 3) The number of Active Jewish Community people who go to events regularly and take on some role of prominence. This number is about 1% of the active Jewish Community.
So to recap: there are 100,000 Jews in Atlanta. 25,000 are active. 250 are really active. So how big is the community? We’re still not sure. But darn it if we’re not gonna get them active!
“He’s really active in building the Jewish community. Thirty people came to that JCC kosher pizza party. It was incredible. David Kleinbloom was there talking about Jewish immersion programs. Lots of engagement. Really great. I bet they got a lot of development out of it. But really, it’s about getting the Jewish communal professionals together to discuss communications management and community building. It’s a real exercise for the JCC, too. Good thing they all went to Jewish Leadership training.”
PunkTorah will be holding an interactive online Lamentation. Together we will mourn and lament.
Right here! At 9:15 PM Central. Participate in the “build-a-lamentation” where we will work together to create a work to be featured on PunkTorah.org!
Tonight starts the fast of Tisha B’Av, the ninth of Av.
What does that mean? There are some things we are told not to do:
1. No eating or drinking
2. No washing or bathing
3. No application of creams or oils
4. No wearing of leather shoes
5. No marital relations
6. No Torah study
Why Tisha B’Av?
The Talmud tells us that there are five things that happened to the Jews on Tisha B’Av:
1. The twelve spies sent by Moses to observe the land of Canaan returned from their mission. Only two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, brought a positive report, while the others spoke disparagingly about the land. The majority report caused the Children of Israel to cry, panic and despair of ever entering the “Promised Land”. For this, they were punished by G-d that their generation would not enter the land. Because of the Israelites’ lack of faith, G-d decreed that for all generations this date would become one of crying and misfortune for their descendants, the Jewish people. (See Numbers Ch. 13–14)
2. The First Temple built by King Solomon and the Kingdom of Judah was destroyed by the Babylonians led by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE and the Judeans were sent into the Babylonian exile.
3. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, scattering the people of Judea and commencing the Jewish exile from the Holy Land. According to the Talmud in tractate Ta’anit, the destruction of the Second Temple began on the Ninth of Av and the Temple continued to burn throughout the Tenth of Av.
4. The Romans crushed Bar Kokhba’s revolt and destroyed the city of Betar, killing over 100,000 Jews, in 132 CE.
5. Following the Roman siege of Jerusalem, Roman commander Turnus Rufus plowed the site of the Temple and the surrounding area, in 133 CE.
What can we learn from this now? How can we bring this into our lives today?
Well, we see that as a people we have a responsibility to mourn our collective losses. National tragedies tie a people together, just as national celebrations can. So mourning together as a people is an important part of being a Jew. Not only this, but we are told that Moshiach will be born on Tisha B’Av. The pain and mourning are akin to birth pangs.
If we look more closely at the first occurrence, the spies who were scared, the Israelites cried for no reason. G-d told them they would invade and be victorious, but they despaired of even trying. Because of this, because they cried empty tears, G-d told them that this day would be forever a day of mourning. It’s basically a parent saying, “Why are you crying over nothing! You’ve wasted all this time and energy crying over nothing, now you’ll really have something to cry about.”
The real sin of the Israelites is that they didn’t believe in themselves. They saw the inhabitants of Canaan and were scared, even after G-d told them not to worry. They didn’t have faith that they could do what G-d said they could. So this year let’s mourn for what we could have done, and resolve to do what we can. Recognize that Judaism doesn’t shy away from pain, it is a reality of life that needs to be acknowledged, but we have to allow our pain to give birth to a better world.
It’s hard enough imagining a time without the internet, let alone books. But that’s what it’s like to be an ancient Hebrew. Moses keeps repeating these same stories about the People over and over again, not because he’s lecturing or thinks that the Hebrews are too stupid to remember, but because there isn’t exactly a library of Jewish history sitting around the traveling camp.
It’s like in the book Fahrenheit 451 where an underground society of people called “book-keepers” each memorize a book in order to preserve knowledge. In the same way, Moses is turning each of his people into a living book…a living Torah, in fact. Instead of writing all the laws and stories on parchment, he demands that each person become a Torah in themselves, and collectively, the People of the Book.
One thing that particularly struck me about the portion this week was Moses recalling the time he appointed judges and magistrates to help him “mete out justice” and teach “the word of G_d”. Moses is basically saying:
“Hey, remember that time I tried to do everything myself and I couldn’t? Yeah, well you can’t either. Ask for help from each other and together anything can be accomplished.”
If even Moses himself, the pinnacle prophet of Judaism needed to get help from those around him, how much more do we? This is one of the key teachings that he leaves with the Israelites as they head into the Promised Land: you will need help, and you have to look to each other for it. No one, not even the prophet of G_d Almighty can do it alone.