Wednesday, March 31, 2021

A world turned upside down: Judaism

You can read part 1 of this "World turned upside down" series here,  click on the link at the end of that post to read part 2, then click on the link at the end of that post to read this third and final post in the series.


I'm 72 years old and I never expected to see such radical changes in my lifetime.  But the incredible changes that I've seen in the attitudes of some Jews toward Judaism have been unexpected and disheartening, to say the least.

Once upon a time, I looked forward to spending my senior years in a thriving synagogue with a rabbi, a cantor, a Hebrew School, and a congregation of several hundred members of various ages, where I would have numerous friends and where I would enjoy watching children grow from infancy to young adulthood.  Instead, I belong to a synagogue that has no rabbi, a part-time cantor whose voice was never good and is getting worse with age, no Hebrew School, fewer than fifty dues-paying members, only two members under the age of 50, and barely a baby or child in sight.

As I wrote here, many younger Jews have no interest in joining a synagogue, possibly because they find synagogues obsolete.  Here's a ". . . short synopsis of what I've heard [on Judaism Unbound]:  Jewish history has recorded a major "crash" in a paradigm previously central to Judaism--the "crash" resulting from the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash/Holy Temple in Jerusalem--and the creation, over time, of a successor paradigm--the synagogue and the prayer-book(s).  [My husband adds "and the study of Jewish sacred texts" to this successor paradigm.]  Daniel Libenson and Lex Rofeberg and guests are of the opinion that the synagogue paradigm has now "crashed" and that a new paradigm is currently "under construction."

Consequences ensue.

Some Jews choose to pray in independent minyanim or chavurot (prayer and/or study groups led exclusively by members, not by paid clergy), and many of them don't belong to a synagogue at all, even if their services are housed in synagogue.  Others opt for what some call "Off-the-Grid" or "Do-It-Yourself" Judaism, which *I* call "Do It *For* Yourself" Judaism--this group includes both those whose primary spiritual practice (meditation, chanting, and/or "spiritual dance," for example) may or may not involve the Jewish community; as well as parents who hire private tutors for their children, holding Bar and/or Bat Mitzvah ceremonies in homes, hotels or catering halls and completely bypassing the Jewish community.  A third approach involves flipping an old trend on its head:  While some older synagogue buildings were constructed to enable Jews to pray and play in the same place--a synagogue like that was sometimes affectionately dubbed "a shul with a pool"--some Jewish Ys and Jewish Community Centers are now offering High Holiday services and/or Jewish education programming for children, thus becoming, as it were, "a pool with a shul."  :)  Yet another trend is one that I would call, for lack of a better description, "Tikkun Olam" groups--their main, and sometimes exclusive, focus is on social-justice work.

What all of these approaches have in common, to a greater or lesser extent, is that they ignore Hillel's dictum, "Al tifrosh min hatzibur, Do not separate yourself from the community."  (Pirkei Avot, 2:4)  And that has consequences, too.  Minyanim have been known to find themselves without a home after the synagogue that housed them closed its doors or merged with another synagogue for lack of funds.  The same thing might happen to meditation retreat facilities.  Parents who raise their kid(s) with little or no contact with other Jewish children with whom to socialize might find that their kid(s) lose all interest in any form or aspect of Judaism.  Ys and/or JCCs have been known to merge in order to save money on administrative staffing, in the process changing their names to something not identifiably Jewish and revamping their advertising to target their mostly-non-Jewish users in order to survive financially.  (Been there, seen that.)  And it doesn't seem to have occurred to some "Tikkun Olam" Jews that, while social-justice work is *essential* to Judaism, it's not *exclusive* to Judaism.  To the best of my knowledge, there's not a faith tradition on this entire planet that doesn't do social-justice work.  In other words, Christians *do* strive to help people in need, but Christians *don't* do Kiddush. 

So we're back to Shimon HaTzaddik, Simon the Righteous, who said, "The world stands on three things:  al haTorah (on the Torah, or, more broadly interpreted, Jewish sacred texts), al haAvodah (on the Temple service, or, more broadly interpreted, Jewish worship), v'al Gemilut Chassadim (and on the practice of acts of piety, or, more broadly interpreted, the practice of acts of service).  I would also add, "the world stands al haEdah, on the community," because without the Jewish community, it would be difficult to sustain any of Shimon HaTzaddik's three.


Blogger David Staum said...

Relocate here to New Haven! While I'm a member of the Modern Orthodox shul, there's a wonderful Conservative shul here as well, inside the eruv, which we attend on occasion. While I wouldn't say it's bursting at the seams, there are a fair number of young families and it's a vibrant place with an unusually high percentage of full shabbat observance (it's inside the eruv). There's a lot of cooperation between that shul and my Orthodox one, including scholars in residence, and a wonderful Shabbat afternoon study group with people from all different Jewish denominations. (The last two things have been mostly on hold during the pandemic, but hopefully returning soon). Google "BEKI New Haven"

Wed Mar 31, 05:41:00 PM 2021  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

David, we've long since concluded that moving is not an option. Even if we could find an apartment that we could afford--we paid off our co-op mortgage years ago, and our maintenance is still less than $1,000 per month--the cost of buying and maintaining a car, instead of relying on subways and buses and the occasional rented car, would be prohibitive.

Thu Apr 01, 12:13:00 PM 2021  

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