Embracing Jewish Life

Why we do what we do

"I'm not going to be the one to let Judaism disappear after these thousands of years!" This was the fairly common response I received from two longtime community supporters to the question of why they care whether their grandchildren are Jewish. To someone without context, or from Mars, a reasonable conclusion might be that guilt and responsibility are the key motivations to maintaining Jewish life.

We all know that there are much deeper reasons to sustain Judaism, but in the post-Holocaust world in which many of us were raised this fear of the decline of Judaism – and the explicit need for survival – touches us profoundly. However, this same existential fear does not motivate a significant number of the Jews of the younger generations.

Without that fear as a driving force, and given the freedom to identify with their Jewishness in any way they wish, NextGen Jews must be persuaded of the value of engagement with Jewish life.

In this environment, it's imperative that those of us who believe in the power and promise of Jewish life and tradition share our sense of that gift rather than appeal to the existential fear, even as we sadly have to continue to educate about the very real and troubling anti-Semitism around the world.

In our role as community planner and convener, the Federation looks forward to collaborating even more significantly with our agency and synagogue partners who are actively sharing this wonderful gift of Jewish life, with the common goal of widening and deepening engagement. We'll be sharing more about this goal in the coming months, but I wanted to begin to share our thinking about the concept.

Last week, I attended the General Assembly, the national gathering of the Federation movement, which took place in Washington, D.C. Along with 3,000 Jewish professionals from around the United States and Canada, I was privileged to hear inspirational speeches from Jewish leaders, many of whom tapped into that visceral sense of fear and responsibility. 

One memorable exception was a speech by David Gregory, the former host of Meet the Press. Gregory appeared at the conference only days after the death of his father and three days prior to his eldest son's Bar Mitzvah. He spoke beautifully of how Jewish tradition and practice enabled him to reconcile with his father, grapple with his own sense of loss, and prepare for the simcha (joy) of his son's Bar Mitzvah. That's a powerful, forward-looking case for engaging in and embracing Jewish life!

Categories: Community


November 16, 2015