This is Judaism. Boooring.
“Jewish teens in the United States, apparently, aren’t very Jewish.”

So says the Jerusalem Post. According to a recent 4-year study:

Only 44 percent believe in a personal God who is involved in peoples’ lives today. Jewish respondents were less likely than all but Bahai teens to pray each day. Thirty-four percent said they never pray alone, and only 17% attend synagogue services on a weekly basis.

Mormon youths led the way in almost all the indicators of religious practice and identification, followed in order by Evangelical Protestants, black Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics. Jews lagged behind them all – and showed unflattering results in comparison to Hindus and Buddhists as well.

And what could possibly explain these results?

“We’re up against SAT courses, enrichment classes, even driver’s education classes – basically anything education-based – because [teens] need to build their resumes for college,” said Hali Herman, a regional director in New York City for the B’nai Brith Youth Organization (BBYO).”

Tests. Schoolwork. Clearly. Thank you, BBYO, for the explanation. After all, how can a 5,000 year old culture and way of life compete with the intricacies of parallel parking?

Let me offer an alternative explanation. Could it possibly be because Judaism, as presented to most American Jews by the educational system and organized community, is, well, a downer; an obsolete system of laws and a heritage of death that no one wants to be a part of?

With titles like “Stop fear-mongering” and “Spread our message, not our fears” recent editorials in the Jerusalem Post have been challenging the Jewish community to reexamine and reassess its priorities. Annually American Jewish organizations solicit and spend over $100 million “protecting” us from anti-Semitism in a country where we have been granted an unprecedented amount of freedom (despite what shrill full page warnings in the NYTimes would have us believe). As if the Jewish message to the world is nothing greater that “don’t tread on us”.

While the powers that be, Abe Foxman of the ADL, Marvin Hier of the Wiesenthal Center, etc. may ensure we “never forget” the Holocaust, it doesn’t really do anything to ensure Jewish survival. Have they not noticed that while they are busy drafting a statement to the press and picking up the Stop-Antisemitism Red Alert Phone anytime anyone, anywhere says “kike”, Jews are increasingly becoming uninterested in that which they keep soliciting our money to protect?


When we ponder why so few Jews are interested in perpetuating Jewish life, we need look no further than these skewed priorities. After all, who would want to connect with a Jewish heritage painted predominantly as tragedy?

The fact is, as I discover more all the time, Judaism rocks. It’s complex, it’s challenging, and full of joy. So why is Judaism, as perceived by the teenagers in the study above, and most of American Jewry, so painfully uninteresting? Because Judaism today is defined more by our persecutors than by our teachings.

Because Jewish education is the holocaust.

When you fail to teach or transmit the complexities of Jewish religion, when what’s left of Jewish culture is some Yiddish, a few vestiges of traditions gone by and humor from the Borscht Belt — all of which we can make fun of, oh so progressively, the only place we can show reverence to our past, the only thing left as sacred is the Holocaust. And that’s what is somehow supposed to hold us together.

No one I know from reform or conservative backgrounds had a positive Hebrew school experience. Not one. Myself included. The teachers were often incompetent, the curriculum was more dull than “real” school and the goal was to just get to the big pay off your Bar or Bat mitzvah, after which you needed only come back into that building a few days a year, like the adults do.

Most simply left spiritually unfulfilled, intellectually unchallenged and with the feeling that Judaism is irrelevant to their daily lives and really has nothing of interest to offer them. We are in a situation where Judaism has been watered down to the point that it cannot even compete with drivers Ed.

When Heeb Magazine, a character from a mixed marriage on the O.C. and Meet the Fockers is the height of Jewish culture, is it any wonder that it seems superficial and meaningless, and frankly, kind of annoying?

Steinhardt wrote

If a relative is gravely ill, we spare no expense to save them. We attempt the riskiest maneuvers and sometimes invest in the most outlandish cures. We should behave no differently with the health of our people. Currently, the Jewish community is facing a dire crisis of identity, affiliation, and knowledge. Where is the sense of crisis among our people?

The lingering fear of anti-Semitism, regardless of whether it is based on current reality, summons millions of dollars for Jewish defense agencies and Holocaust memorials. But when it comes to reinforcing Jewish identity, we come up short. Programs that emphasize spiritual renewal and cultural joy are funded almost as an afterthought

It is imperative that Judaism be portrayed as interesting and relevant. The best part is we don’t even need to lie. Judaism is not only compatible with, but an aid to living a meaningful life in the modern world.

Judaism itself is beautiful, but its image needs a make over, with:

  • A focus on community, family and unity
  • A heightened sensitivity to the joy and awe of living
  • Ethical laws that when implemented properly help create a just society and moral people.
  • An emphasis on tikkun olam
  • The teaching of an intellectually challenging and complex history and theology
  • A foundation from which to seek spiritual fulfillment
  • A built in ability for diversity and finding your own way

All of our talents need to be employed to do so. The focus on anti-Semitism has proven that we as Jews are collectively as loud mouthed as we are individually and quite capable of getting a message heard. It’s time to start shouting a new message.

About the author

Laya Millman


  • I think another major problem with American Judaism is the profusion of religious voices: someone’s rabbi at their Reform synagogue back home says Judaism is man-made religion and that its laws are not binding and its main point is that Jews should do tikkun olam, while their college Chabad rabbi is telling them to put on tefillin so Moshiach will come and rebuild the Temple and raise the dead.

    See how that could be bewildering? Which is the “real” Judaism? If people with wildy differing views are all saying that their Judaism is correct, no wonder a lot of people just give up and drift away. American Jews can’t even agree on what a Jew is. Orthodox Jews now have to be suspicious of people who come up calling themselves Jews because of the acception of patrilineal descent or invalid conversion by other movements. Reform Jews think the Orthodox are intolerant and stuck in the past. The movements themselves are shifting. Reform is becoming more conservative and shrinking, Orthodoxy is liberalizing and growing, Conservative is disappearing.

    How can American Jews identify with American Judaism when American Judaism is defined by its utter lack of cohesion?

    My (admittedly biased) opinion is that American Judaism’s biggest mistake was reform, both the movement and the concept (of course, it was the Germans’ idea, but it really took off here). Tamper with 4000 years of history and what do you get? Millions of Jews on the brink of destruction — not from an outside source, but from their own assimilation.

    If the trends in American Judaism continue as they seem to be going now, the tragedy people will write about in 100 years is not the destruction of six million Jewish lives, but the voluntary conversion of millions of American Jews into millions of American goyim.

  • Yes. Your chances of seeing somebody white in the “Our Lord of Zion Ethiopian Methodist Church,” or what-have-you, is slim-to-none.

  • I agree with the post and previous comments. But I would like to point out a glaring omission.

    My dad emailed me an article that came out last week about the decline (numerically) of Conservative Judaism. BTW, a link to the article can be found in a recent posting. Anyway, I asked him what he thought the lessons of the article were. He wrote the following:

    “High level scholarship and a rational approach to religion will not make people motivated to live as Jews. Bottom line: people will live Jewish lives (a tough thing to do in America) if they believe there is a God who has truly revealed himself in Torah and who really wants Jews to live as Jews. Also, this God’s presence must be known and felt today. It is simply not enough to speak about what he did 3,000 years ago. Scholarship is important. But it simply is not enough.”

    This reminds me of a point in “The Jew in the Lotus” about how rabbis today, specifically Conservative/Reform rabbis in America, are afraid to sound too religious, eschewing God-talk. They don’t talk about relating to God, but always about relating to “Judaism,” as in “Judaism makes these demands on us,” “Judaism offers us this,” etc. This strikes me as analogous to reading TV guide instead of actually watching TV.


  • I think the real problem is that Judaism, as it is presented to most young American Jews, is too suburban, institutionalized and vanilla to appeal to our sensibilities. I don’t want something easy to swallow- I want something dynamic and engaging.

    I’m a 30-ish passionate, urban, worldly, critically thinking, liberally-educated Jew moving to a new city in a month or so. I don’t think I’ll join any synagoge near my new home because the people, the rabbis and the form of worship just don’t appeal to me. I can’t stand that warbly Cantor voice, the giant sanctuary where everyone sits like an audience and mumbles along, the homogeneity, the lack of commitment and passion. I can’t stand the removed shtetl-cum-bourgeoisness of it all. I refuse to drive to the suburbs for Shabbat, I am not interested in being some drone in a huge institution, and I can’t afford hundreds (or thousands) of dollars in membership and High Holy Day tickets.

    I want a religious experience that is joyful, passionate, cultural, intellectual, and community-minded. Finding this in a Jewish commuity is rare, so it’s no doubt most of us opt out- and most don’t even know it’s an option.

  • Don’t worry, it goes like this:

    The kid will get kicked out of USY for smoking pot at an International convention, and then get hooked to Meth.

    In College they’ll spend their time between volunteering for ISM and practicing Buddhism.

    Once they’re through touring Europe, they’ll come back to thier home towns, with syphilis or herpes, and find that Buddhism, while a great way to meet chicks, isn’t so practical in their day to day lives in, oh say, Kansas.

    In their mid-20’s they’ll be dragged to a Chabad event, get into a theodicy conversation with a black hatter, think the hatter is nuts, but before the individual bolts, meets a spoken word poet/pierced eyebrow/women’s study grad who has lived a very similar life as themselves. They’ll fall in love. They will remember that they met at chabad. Warm feelings will be implanted in said individuals’ heart. And then…

    Poof, they’re spending 10-12 hours a day studying at Kfar Chabad.

    Or perhaps, in 50-100 years, we’ll all be visiting cons/reform shuls and fed cja’s the way we do museums and zoos. “And the ladies adn gentelman used to be where Jews would pray to their god. Please take some time and appreciate how much work they put into their stained glass windows.”

  • Laya–a big factor in Jewish teens not being as religious as people in other religions is because many people who identify with being Jewish are not observant of Judaism while most people who identify with being part of other religions do because they are religiously observant. That’s why this identity is something that needs to be built up on. We have this problem at our school where most of our Hillel events have to do with Israel and educating the campus…we need to step back and just plan fun events just so that we have fun as Jews.
    Also, you can’t teach Judaism 400 to Jews who never learned the basics. The problem comes when the education stops with the basics.
    And another thing is that I have a really good friend who is totally secular but he asked me to buy him a siddur at one point earlier this year, and when he came to a “shabbaton” we made at a friend whose parents were away, he came, observed shabbat according to halachah, and even bought a tallis for shul! He didn’t do this because he thought Yiddish songs are fun to sing. He did it because he knows halachicly observant kids who love their Judaism and are willing to answer any question he throws at us. (He calls me his rabbi.)
    The way to get people to want to daven or even just think God is to just love God yourself. And as for the Holocaust and anti-Semitism mentions, I’m sorry that it’s true, but there are so many people I’ve met who never gave their “Jewish identities” a thought until they experienced something anti-Semitic. It works, but it should be secondary to the amount of people who love being Jewish because they love Judaism.

    (and also, the ad in the NYTimes wasn’t a full page–that’s it’s actual size, it was a little bigger than a quarter of a page.)

  • ” This strikes me as analogous to reading TV guide instead of actually watching TV.

    Thoughts? ”

    We brought Rabbi Neil Gilman (theology professor at Jewish Theological Seminary) to McGill in the mid-90’s. Gilman is considered to be the Heschel of our time i.e. at least within the Conservative Movement. During the Amidah (Fri night), Gilman read an old McGill year book. When I asked him about this, he replied: “I daven in my own way”. Uh huh. A few months later I found myself davening and studying in Orthodox shuls.

  • Shtreimel, that was pretty funny and…eerily accurate…although are you saying that piercings and pot smoking are in any real conflict with Orthodox Judaism? Because, hey, that hasn’t been my. If I had a shekel for every frum stoner I know…

  • ruchele,

    I worked in shuls and cja’s. People know this. They’re simply too scared too scrap their 1950’s style of Judaism (oy vey, what if we lose some funders) and start over. However chabad, aish, ohr and Isralight (to name a few) figured this shit out long ago, and are doing things that impress this Yid. Anyway, it has to get worse before it gets better (same thing with individuals and their shitty/self-destructive habits, families, cities, nations, etc).

    BTW, in Vancouver (at our local Kollel run by a Chabad rabbi from Israel) we’re averaging 80-100 people on Friday night (dinner included), and most of attendees are about as religious as these teens we’re talking about.

  • But Mad Chalupa, “wrestling with God” as you describe, and as we are supposed to do by definition, might interfere with the Sisterhood meeting, the BBYO carwash, and the fundraising campaigns! It would make Judaism HARD! We might actually quit the crappy shul and find a community that speaks to us! That would wreck the whole system!

  • Michael,

    What the hell do I know about what conflicts with Orthodox Judaism and what does not. As you can tell, I tend to harp (see past comments) on the sexual goings-on in NCSY and how THAT conflicts with the whole “spilling the seed” shtick. The piercings and pot should be the least of an NCSY advisors concerns.

  • “That would wreck the whole system!”

    And what a glorious day that will be. I’ve said this to rabbis (as well as my Planning supervisor at Fed CJA), stop ALL funding to ALL programs. If I had my way, every year people would have to reapply for their funding, proving what they’re doing works. Let everything else fall to the ground and rot.

    Oh and fucking destroy this whole 4 shuls on one block, each barely getting a minyan, phenomenon that I’ve witnessed in Montreal and Vancouver. Create one shul, with 2-4 services. In general, people want to be around other people. They don’t want to sit and pray with 17 other Yids inside a shul that seats 1300.

  • Interesting considerations, Laya. Muffti is curious though; why aren’t people going and and asking the generation y’all seem so scared of losing. Get a picture of their concerns, desires, spiritual longings and appreciation of tradition. And then perhaps look at other groups and cultures that have experienced similar declines. And then see if their is a common solution that might work. Or, we could sit back and watch shtremiel speculate, tell amusing anecdotes (yearbook during ma’ariv…hhehehe) and paint illustrative pictures.

  • GM,

    Ah yes, we should treat this phenomenon as a cultural oddity, hire professors and researchers to publish the results, and then create committees to plan and implement solutions…one sec, they all ready do that at UJA.

    GM we don’t need that stuff, we need this:

    1) Excellent and engaging teacher’s/rabbis

    Everything else will fall into place.

    Oh, and by the way, most of the good folks at UJA hold similar views as your own. They really don’t take the whole God thing too seriously. So is it any wonder we’re in this conundrum in the first place?

  • By the way, it is a well known fact that most Torah/Talmud day school teachers (think Bialik (montreal)) are Sabras w no interest in “doing” anything Jewish. And then we wonder why Jewish day school grads travel through life with a persistent feeling of nausea whenever anybody mentions the weekly parsha.

  • Muffti never said it was a cultural oddity. If anything it is a virtual cultural certitude that groups that mingle lose their identity and the older generation whines about it a lot. And then finds themselves in massive disagreement about what is important, what needs to be preserved and what can be done about it.

    As for the atheist trends at UJA, you are going to blame THAT on the conundrum? Well, if it makes you feel better, Muffti has nothing to do with the UJA.

  • “And then finds themselves in massive disagreement about what is important”

    Really? The ortho shuls I go to are quite busy and not sure what to do with the increase in numbers. But I agree with you, many of the liberal shuls (and I worked in one for 4 years) are shaking in their boots with the reality that their machers and goldie oldies are not going to be around to fill/fund pews in the next 50 years. And then my “illustrative pictures” of museums will apply.

    I have no doubt that the Belz and Satmar shuls will be doing quite well in 2055.

  • This thread makes me glad that I live in a small town with a small synagogue, where we all must learn to get along. We have attendance problems and what not, but at the end of the day, we all work together, get along with each other, and work on our common goals. We all learn to compromise, because it is better that we have a Jewish community that can cooperate and do the important things than a fragmented set of Jewish individuals who spend more time criticizing each other than working towards common goals.

  • Muffti isn’t sure what is going on anymore. Shtremiel, is there a problem with jewish teens or isn’t there? If not, well, what are we worried about?

  • Torah and mitzvot are the only way to go. Nothing else can hold anyone’s interest, especially if they are curious and eager for something real. The kind of Institutionalized “anti-anti-Semitism” that passes for Judaism in the US is a straight downhill road to communal extinction, no curves and no brakes. If you’re a Jewish kid and all your parents can talk about is hiding under the bed from the Cossacks, you’re going to take the first train out of town the first chance you get.

    Every single dollar wasted on a new “Museum of Tolerance” or some damn “The Goyim Hate Us 10% More Than They Did Last Year, We Need $100 Million for Anti-Anti-Semitism Education” study is a dollar not being spent on giving our youth what they really need: real, solid, Torah-true chinuch.

    I don’t know about you guys, but our Ortho shul is growing, and there are so many children underfoot that kiddush is downright dangerous.

    The organized non-Orthodox community has every reason to fear for it’s continued existence. Spiritually, it has nothing to offer. The only purpose it can serve is to be an entry way for people to learn a little until they are mature enough to go on to the real thing.

  • Look, I’ve been working with teens (both clinically and programmatically) for over 13 years. Kids are kids. If they’re healthy, there’s a tendency to reject parts of what their parent’s hold dear. If not, they tend to slide towards asceticism or nihilism (and can oscillate b/w both of those poles). With respect to Jewish teens, they mirror the problems that Laya has discussed. Do I personally care if Jewish teens believe in God? No. I care if I do. And if I do something (like keeping kosher) from a healthy place (passion) then there’s a possibility that others (friends, family members, teens, etc) will take notice. I don’t do it for that reason, but if I turn a few folks on in the process, lovely. In the marketing world it’s called a soft sell. You buy the idea/product/service because the benefits are obvious.

    At Bialik, the benefits are not obvious. When we focus on Holocaust related issues, the benefits are not obvious. When we cow-toe to the 2% of our wealthy donors, the benefits are not obvious. When our shuls resemble museums, the benefits are not obvious.

    At Jewlicious, the benefits seem to be more obvious. Y’ashear koach.

  • First of all, excellent post, Laya.

    I think we should revisit your ideas in the near future by asking for input from our guests to see what things they see as key to a vibrant Judaism.

    To all those who keep talking about Orthodox Judaism as booming, I’d like to point out that in order to live as an Orthodox Jew, at least one who isn’t living a lie, one has to have faith. This would be faith not only that god exists, but that his manifestation is that of the god we know from the bible.

    Does that mean that one cannot be a Jew with a future if one doesn’t subscribe to that faith? Does that mean that the very same points Laya lists above don’t apply to Conservative, unaffiliated and Reform Jews? I don’t think so. I think the reason the Orthodox community is better able to resist the very same problems that plague most Jewish organizations and communities today is that faith overcomes these hurdles. It is a very powerful tool.

    Since non-Orthodox communities cannot rely upon absolute faith in the same way, they have to rely upon spirituality. Spirituality is not as strong a lever in ensuring that people remain within the fold.

    However, I don’t see why a non-Orthodox Jew cannot benefit and find Judaism far more enticing if exposed to the things Laya lists in her post. On the contrary, it is precisely that belief that guides me in many of the Jewish-related ideas, activities and community I pursue.

  • Well I hate to beat on a dead horse TM, but I think it’s an issue of continuity. As we get further and further away from the holocaust, as institutionalized anti-semitism becomes more and more of a historical relic, newer generations of secular Jews will find it harder to relate to these issues. I mean look – that’s what’s happening now.

    We see above 50% intermarriage rates, affinity with Israel has gone down from 72% of the Jewish community to 56% etc. etc. Young secular Jews are choosing more and more to remain unaffiliated – forget synagogues, they also want nothing to do with otherwise secular Jewish communal organizations.

    As Alan Dershowitz once said, “… the Orthodox have built in mechanisms to help deal with continuity …” – more liberal streams of Judaism and secular Jews, not so much. I’m not passing judgement on anyone – I am merely reflecting the statistical reality of what’s going on out there.

    Participating in Orthodox Judaism does require a certain measure of faith and absent that, it is still possible to revel in the cultural aspects of Judaism, for we are after all also possessed of a beautiful cultural and historical heritage. But then again so are many other cultures and civilizations. Many people study and are fascinated by Roman history, or Florentine history or Chinese culture etc. But that sort of thing is like a hobby and the love of particular hobbies are notriously difficult to pass on to your children and grand children.

    I mean imagine telling your kids they can’t marry the love of their lives because their beloved does not share YOUR love of model railroads and will therefor not maintain your train sets after you pass on? That’s crazy!

    But whatever. It’s all good. Shabbat Shalom! Great discussion so far!

  • Shavuah tov folks.

    Consider moving to Israel. It’s our only hope.

    Attempting to discuss how to save ‘American’ Jewry for the next 50 years is, IMO, h o p e l e s s . The only way to save the Jews is to move to Israel. Start studying hebrew today, or start improving it if you have the base already. I made aliyah when I was 22. not religious, and had some hebrew. Everyone can do it. Think about it.


  • “I mean imagine telling your kids they can’t marry the love of their lives because their beloved does not share YOUR love of model railroads and will therefor not maintain your train sets after you pass on? That’s crazy!”

    Right, it is crazy. Because children learn from behaviors they see and when they see parents who choose paths that their parents (possibly more religious Holocaust survivors) are not happy about, they learn that happiness comes through something selfishly chosen over compromise. But of course, that isn’t always the case. American society is a frighteningly selfish one. The whole concept of, “it’s my life, I can do what ever I want now that I’m an adult,” is totally unJewish and yet totally everywhere so that even if parents are not selfish, they really have to show their children a tolerance for them and a love and acceptance for their children so that their children only want to give back to their parents in that manner.

    Besides, in shul this week my Rav said an interesting dvar Torah about how sometimes we need an Amalek to help us bond together and, basically, find our Jewish identities but that this is only like a back-up. That if we build up our shuls (the closest we have to a Beit HaMikdash) and treat them with respect, and build up our communities and treat each other with dignity, we can find our strength as a nation in that and the need for an Amalek will not exist.

    I think I lost my point somewhere…

  • Josh is right. I grew up in a Conservative household where I high-tailed out of synagogue the day after my Bar Mitzvah, and joined my parents in going to services three days a year for the next 15-odd years.

    If I hadn’t went on a JUF mission to Israel, which set up friendships that directly led to me marrying a Jewish woman from a Traditional background, I’d likely be skateboarding for Jesus and be raising kids whose main religious holidays involve a Christmas Tree and Easter dinners. Hell, that’s what almost everyone on both sides of my family have done (except the grandparents). And we live in Chicago, a metro area with a major Jewish population base!

    While my wife and I are both pretty secular at home (not Shomer Shabbat, but we do keep separate plates at home, and buy perhaps 60% explicitly Kosher food and don’t mix), we’re getting active in our Conservative synagogue and send our seven-year-old son to religious school.

    Thanks to the Internet, I’ve developed a network of friends with a deep interest in Israeli music (we’re probably one of the few HH in Chicago that would go to NYC to go see the awesome groups Subliminal and Tipex!), and am taking Hebrew at an Ulpan. I probably spend more time reading Jewish blogs and websites than I do following baseball these days — go figure.

    With cultural assimilation, and the prospect of 16 years of Republican control of gov’t, I see aliyah as an inevitable step if we want to develop a legacy of Jewish identify for ourselves and our kids. Anything else than that means long-term assimilation, or the prospect of retreating into an Orthodox world, both of which I find uncomfortable. Oddly enough, I see aliyah as the best way to live a culturally (but not exclusively) Jewish life. So shalom haverim — see you in Israel when we’re ready to move to Tel Aviv or one of the Anglo suburbs in about 10 years!

  • “High level scholarship and a rational approach to religion will not make people motivated to live as Jews. Bottom line: people will live Jewish lives (a tough thing to do in America) if they believe there is a God who has truly revealed himself in Torah and who really wants Jews to live as Jews. Also, this God’s presence must be known and felt today. It is simply not enough to speak about what he did 3,000 years ago. Scholarship is important. But it simply is not enough.”

    Let’s compare this thesis to my “Conservative” family experiences this past Shabbos.

    On Friday afternoon I borrowed my three kids from their “Modern Orthodox” day school for an hour so that we could enjoy the performance of three traveling Breslev musicians ( with whom we are privileged to share friendship. Later, after dropping off my oldest daughter at the NCSY shabbaton at the local “Modern Orthodox” shul, the rest of our family had a nice quiet family Shabbos dinner featuring my wife’s stunning Challah.

    On Shabbos day, we walked a mile to our “Conservative” shul, as did many of the other families in attendance. It’s a tough call, but this Shabbos I’d give the edge to the men that leined – a welcome change from the usual mastery displayed by several of the women in the congregation. We have no cantor; all leading and leining is performed congregation members and the rabbi.

    All is not perfect in “Conservative” land, of course – some of the legal decisions in the shul make me itch (e.g. calling a bat cohen aliah), and I’d love to ditch the sound system (fixed “kosher” condenser microphones, system turned on before Shabbos, etc.), but no place is perfect, and neither are we. Most importantly to us, the members are warm, caring and friendly, and the rabbi is an open-minded mentch that leads with the carrot rather than the stick.

    My children, by the way, are fourth generation members of this shul. Now, I’m sorry – what were you saying about “not enough”?

    Kol tuv.

  • Neo-Conservaguy: I do not wish to diminish your commitment to Judaism. Sounds like y’all had a wonderful Shabat. But the numbers, they do not lie. Conservative Judaism is losing people on both ends – both to Reform and Orthodox Judaism. Perhaps the “meet you halfway” approach is not working so well in the grand scheme of things. I mean I am happy its working out for you and your family and your congregation even. But, sadly it’s not working overall. Any idea why? That’s a sincere question btw.

  • i’ve gotta learn not to post stuff right before shabbat. I come back sunday and I’m all intimidated by so many excellent comments. I’ve gotta get some “real work” done (it’s not really sunday here, its yom rishon) but i’ll come back to this later. thanks for the input everybody.

  • I complain a lot about the hashkafah of my yeshiva education, a perspective that really doesn’t grab me in its entirety for a few reasons, not the least of which is a role for women that is (let’s say) less than equal to that of men. (Another subject for another post, perhaps Chez Urban Kvetch.)

    But when it comes down to it, I have tools in my arsenal that non-yeshiva educated kids don’t have. I have a breadth of knowledge and understanding that gives me more questions than I have answers, but at least the knowledge is there. And I feel exceedingly lucky to have that.

    Holidays, Hebrew language and literature, liturgy, Torah knowledge, aggadot, halakhot, Jewish values? The schooling is all there. Now it’s all churning away in the giant hopper in my head–along with my sense of humor, my personality, my world view and all the other things that make me me–in the ongoing attempt to define myself.

    And most days, it’s still a struggle, because I haven’t found the “label” of Judaism that seems to appropriately fit me. Educationally, I’m Orthodox. Practice-wise, I’m Conservadox (whatever that means). Ideologically, I’m mostly Conservative (but there are parts of Conservative ideology that don’t jive with me). And of course, the Reform dictum (which is not solely Reform) of tikkun olam makes a lot of sense. And to top it all off, I personally believe that (almost) whatever gets people to connect to their Judaism and to Jewish spirituality and faith is AOK and groovy.

    All that said, I’m going to make a brash generalization: most kids who grew up “Conservative” did not observe in the classical JTS sense, with a gestalt of keeping kosher and observing Shabbat–after shul on Saturdays, they went to the mall, or to movies with friends. Their education was bar/bat-mitzvah centered, or was stuff that filtered through from summer camp. While most of my friends are strongly, culturally identified Jewish, their daily lives are largely secular–their homes are not always kosher, shul is still a place you go before you pick up your drycleaning at the mall, etc. I’m not judging those who live their lives this way. But it’s very different from the way I live mine. And I wonder about the mixed messages that some of them may be sending their kids.

    If education espouses a Judaism that will never be practiced by the students’ families at home, how much of a lasting resonance can it have? If teachers, curricula and the education itself consist of uninspiring, and unrelatable rhetoric, how can it have an impact? There are certainly challenges that face all the movements, and I agree with Laya, that at the core of it all is education.

    I don’t have any solutions right now, but I think that actual and virtual places where Judaism is an active element (like the Jewish blogosphere) and allows for diverse opinions is a real step in the right direction. The programs like Storahtelling which are spinning tradition in a more creative and modern sensibility are another step in the right direction. And of course, conferences and birthright trips based on cool blogs are clearly another way to provide connections for today’s Jews to their cultural and spiritual heritage.

  • Ok, a few quick thoughts: mad chalupa I agree with you, that scholarship is important not enough. The problem with the God Says So approach in the modern era was recently written about in the Jpost:

    The challenge of religion, not just Judaism, in the modern world is that religion is based on recognition of a higher authority, while modernity inculcates the idea that the individual is the final, and perhaps only, arbiter of his own fate. Even religion has been subsumed into this framework, in that “God says so” has little resonance. If religion once had subjects, or adherents, now it has consumers, who will simply drop the product if it no longer seems to have any utility.

    Ruchele- you talked about wanted a “religious experience that is joyful, passionate, cultural, intellectual, and community-minded” I am SO with you. I didn’t find what I was looking for until I came to Israel. Just a thought for you 😉

    Michael and Shtriemel, I can tell you from my experience that piercings sure don’t seem to be a real conflict with Orthodox Judaism. Almost every frum girl I know has a nose ring. I had to take mine out a while back to make a statement. And as far as pot smoking goes, it’s a bit more complicated, but Michael and I could both be rich if we had a shekel…

    Muffti, you essentially asked why don’t we go to teenagers, ask them what they want out of Judaism and customize it accordingly, as well as looking at other cultures in a similar situation. It’s interesting in the book “Jew and the Lotus” mentioned above, the Dalai Lama was actually looking to Jews to answer the problem of assimilation the Tibetans are facing (we’ve lasted 2,000 years, we must have done SOMETHING right). My feeling is that you don’t ask teenagers what they want and give it to them. Teenagers seem to be a little short-sighted. I’m more in favor of a build it and they will come sorta thing, or some hybrid of the two ideas, assuming what your building is good enough.

    TM, the truth is, Judaism is less about faith, and more about commitment. We are not Christianity.

    Ok, all for now, back to work.