No! I'm right!I’m writing this post while sitting in on a on “Jewish Expressions in New Media” (does that count as my meta moment of the day, Esther?) so please forgive anything that might sound a little disjointed. I just wanted to put some thoughts down while they were fresh.

My feelings after the discussion with Gil Troy are a little different that ck’s. Here’s what I took away from it…

Gil brought in quotes from the book Stars of David, where famous Jews talk about being Jewish. With quotes from Steven Spielberg, Jason Alexander and Sarah Jessica Parker among others, every one’s reasons for being Jewish ranged from ambiguous to negative. Indeed, their views were representative of large segments of Jewish society. Sarah Lefton commented however, that nearly all the quotes were from people over 50, and it is precisely those views which that the people here at this conference are rebelling against.

However, the 120 super-Jews here are not representative of the norm as far as I can see. Gil mentioned that Elie Wiesel has called this generation the “spoiled brats of Jewish history.” We have been given everything, and we have come back with illiteracy. Sari Lisch concurred that despite her childhood of Jewish education and her family’s community involvement, she just recently discovered what Shavuot is. The keyword that caused many an audience member to nod their heads was the feeling of being “cheated”. Cheated out of the knowledge of our own history and culture, and yes, our religion.

Dan Sieradski (aka Mobius) felt the problem was the high cost of formal Jewish education. While clearly that’s a problem I felt that it’s not the real issue. If I, for example, had grown up in a vibrant and committed Jewish household or community I would not have heard the world “havdala” for the first time at the age of twenty. We were cheated not just by our institutions, but by our parents whole generation.

This was echoed by a Hebrew school teacher in the first row who saw that when her students went home they didn’t have the tools and the consistency necessary to internalize and sense the relevance of the lessons learned. Judaism, like charity, starts at home.

But what does that home/community based learning and lifestyle look like? There was some discussion about how religion can’t be the central focus of every one’s Jewish identity. Understandably, everyone has a different path and the religious mold won’t do it for everyone. (That being said, another commentor likened certain knee jerk rejections of orthodoxy to someone insisting he hates oranges while never actually having eaten one) But the question then, is what exactly does that look like?

You don’t want to be religious, but you want a vibrant committed Jewish life? Fan-fricken-tastic. Tell me what that’s gonna look like. Does it go beyond bagels and Seinfeld?
Can you not be religious but celebrate Shabbat because it is in many ways a cornerstone of Jewish community? What do your children study? Can you divorce our history from our religion? Is Torah a the central rallying point of our religion or our culture, or both? Is community a virtue and do you therefore keep kosher, not for God, but so that any Jew can eat in your house? What do you emphasize, what do you leave out?

Give me Tachliss or give me death.

More to come.

About the author

Laya Millman


  • I’m two rows behind you…The thing that Jews (from all around the world!) love more than arguing is hearing themselves talk and talk and talk and talk…tachlis indeed.

  • There’s clearly a culture of complaining. What personally drives me crazy, are the Israelis. Where is that “Israeli courage” when it comes to reclaiming their Judaism? Beseder, we’ve heard it a 100 times, the chareidim this and the chareidim that, why is that stopping “secular” israelis from embracing the Jewish element inherent in every Israeli Jew. What are they afraid of? Honestly, a lot of them sound infantile in their endless complaints about the highjacking of Judaism in Israel. So DO something about…are do all they want to do is complain…

  • Yes, Laya, it counts.

    I went to yeshiva high school, and some of those kids didn’t have the home structure to support a continued investment in Jewish life either. There are even a few who I don’t think knew about Havdalah either, because it’s a Saturday night activity, when most people aren’t in a school controlled environment. So not knowing Havdalah isn’t the worst symptom of the lack of Jewish education in the diaspora. But you knew that. 😉

    In our own personal relationship to Judaism, we all emphasize different things. Obviously. We embrace fully what resonates fully. And all the rest is done in an a la carte type of manner, choosing what resonates, and either rejecting, or setting aside, what doesn’t. Anyone who’s not enmeshed in a fully observant Torah lifestyle–and by that, I mean to the exclusion of all other perspectives–is engaging in this “selective content” model. At one of our sessions, Ariel talked about content modules, as exemplified by Google’s new homepage interface. We are choosing our Judaism–whether it’s what shul we go to, what level of hekhsher we permit in our homes, how religious or observant or whatever we want our significant others to be, etc, we are NOT accepting the whole package. We are questioning, and altering-to-fit, and it’s an ongoing process.

    Just like this conversation at the conference.

  • Were such DORKS!!!

    I can’t belive we’ve all been sitting in this same little room blog-communicating to each other. Such dorks.

  • Wow, I don’t normally agree with Mobius but he’s right. It’s not the only problem or the only cause because if Jewish education cost $1 plenty of people wouldn’t do it but it is a barrier.

    OTOH, I think the bigger problem is really quality vs. crap. My parents thought they were giving me a great Jewish education by sending me to afternoon Hebrew school (giving me the one that supposedly was better with Hebrew than history). I guess it was better than nothing. But there is so much I never learned and so much that isn’t taught and so much that’s missing. That’s one of my problems with Ariel (and other’s) notion of choice and this generation picks and choses, creating its own content. Besides my ideas about normative halakha, I can’t choice A if I don’t know A exists or if I don’t know that real people do this and it’s not some ancient thing or some weird thing that only “the Orthos” do. The real problem is about quality Jewish education vs. no education or crappy education. I really think people should be sent to day school where they learn to be observant, learn Hebrew, learn Talmud, learn history, learn halakha, learn Jewish philosophy, have field trips, etc. I’m not saying that they necessarily need to come out shomer mitzvot but I am saying that — if they choose to — they have the tools and the knowledge (both practical and philosophical) to know what they are chosing or rejecting. I don’t think this is so difficult and I think people like Michael Steinheart (and the fact that the philanthropists aren’t supporting his Fund for Jewish Education disgusts me) get it, or at least part of it. But too often, people think that “imitation Judaism” (I have serious problems with Reform or Reconstructionist or now LW-Conservative Judaism’s focus on “create your own rituals” when they don’t know “traditional” ritual. If they knew it and rejected it, while I would disagree, it wouldn’t be such a problem in my mind).

  • In other words, you can’t choose something that you don’t know exists and is a realistic option.

    This is what I always say about American aliya. I’m not telling anyone to do it but don’t laugh it off, it’s a realistic possibility. Havdalah and Shavuot and halakha have to be made “realistic possibilities” but too often we spend time and money at education that doesn’t educate us

  • …I feel so left out. I’m crashing this convention next year if I don’t get a goddamned invitation 🙂

  • This was echoed by a Hebrew school teacher in the first row who saw that when her students went home they didn’t have the tools and the consistency necessary to internalize and sense the relevance of the lessons learned. Judaism, like charity, starts at home.

    100% correct, and that’s the challenge faced by many Conservative and Reform (and some “orthoprax”) Jews. It’s rarely hard to tell whether a kid at their bnai mitsva at my (pretty observant Conservative) shul comes from a religious family or not. It has nothing to so with the kids, and everything to do with the quote I clipped above.

  • Laya, you have Tachliss!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    There are as many different reactions and thoughts about being Jewish as there are Jews.
    But this is one thing I do know…that part of being Jewish, is the continuing discussion, dissection and questioning, etc.
    We have the good fortune, whether with pride, anger, resentment, et al, of questioning, of analyzing, of searching, of seeing the nuances and angles. Is it ritual that will hold us together or some “vast eternal plan”.
    If “Stars of David” represents the over 50 club, you, my dear, represent the youth, the new, the future.

  • wow. a remarkably well written post. good job. and even the middle made sense mostly (shehechiyanu on that) though i’m wondering about the

    Imagine a non-pressure, non-Orthodox informational class offered to parents as part of the curriculum in their children’s day school education. If the schools would open these up to the public at large, you might even get more individuals involved who would eventually send their kids to these schools…and of course, know how to follow up in their observance at home.

    part. what information are you going to give if not orthodox? that everything in judaism is relative except for the bagels?
    that the world may have been created in six days or 5 billion years.. or in fact maybe the torah wasn’t divine and maybe the mitzvos aren’t either…

    but as i said, the rest sounded good.

  • Arguementative and, judgung by the blog & comments, long-winded.

  • Judaism is not just a body of knowledge although there is plenty of that.

    It’s the belief that is the gasoline. It can be entirely amazing to be in the presence of someone who believes. That is catching, if you are into it or want that.

    There are plenty of self-taught Jews. The bookstores and the outreach programs are there, for those who want this way of life. Chabad, National Jewish Outreach, and the bookstores have excellent Judaica sections. And the web pages.

    It can be managed and mastered. It can be done.

  • But, this must never break up families. That would be a travesty of its intent. Be tactful! Be careful. Very careful. There are a lot of ways to work out compromises. If you put on the uniform, you must add to its prestige. People must say, how cool. It should be clear that this has made you happier and better, not wierder and more rigid or distant.

  • Belief… that may be what was missing, in these stories of the disaffected or the partially disaffected or the slightly not enchanted.


  • This is exactly how I feel: cheated.

    Cheated because my mother belongs to that 50-year-old Jewish generation, and because raising her three children Jewish was something she never wanted; our being Jewish was something that was never spoken of, except in the context of placating potential future in-laws. We were raised Catholic and it destroyed any faith any of us had. (Re)discovering Judaism, through the web and through communities primarily on livejournal, through sites like this and others, I often am overwhelmed by what I can only describe as my soul hurting, a physical scooped-out ache that often brings tears to my eyes, reflecting on what feels stolen from me.

  • nothing of substance, but esther and laya, specifically esther, thanks for blogging the shit outta this conference. we couldnt do it without you.

    encino man

  • Christine – it’s never too late to get on the train. Rabbi Akiva is said to have started learning at age 40, and I only had a few years head start on him (so I’m slow, sue me). Find a rabbi with whom you feel good learning, join a shul and jump in – the water’s good.

  • The original post says what I’ve been trying to articulate for years. I felt my heading nodding too. I’m not sure the problem is with the very high price of Jewish education. It is with a knee-jerk reaction against what the “Orthos” do, and an unwillingness to commit to a Jewish lifestyle among non-traditionally observant Jews. It’s not just that we don’t take “created rituals” as seriously as “traditional rituals”; no one does. Jewlicious comes through again. Now if only anyone listened.

  • Well, I know this guy (American) whose father is Israeli and he claims that his mother is of Jewish descent too. He happens to be a non-practicing Jew (he eats pork and such), but I once caught him studying from a book trying to learn Hebrew. The irony is that, although not of Jewish ancestry that I know of, I’m the one who embraces keeping kosher and attending shabbat! (I’m also slowly trying to learn Hebrew, but it is difficult where I live, since there are no Hebrew speakers that I know of) So, although my buddy has the Jewish genetics, I (or so I’ve been told by a Jewish businessman in SE Asia) seem to have a Jewish heart and mind, which is comforting indeed. Someday, I too must visit Israel…

  • i certainly don’t think the prohibitive price of jewish education is the only barrier. however, i do believe that make jewish education a more affordable option — and, in that, supporting school vouchers — may have an overall positive effect in remedying this issue.

  • Christine, post # 21 is right.

    If you are in New York you might look into Hineni, on West End Avenue and 70th Street. They have a website too.

    You can ask a genuine ordained rabbi for a Hebrew name, too.

    No one can change the truth about you and your ancestry, not even your mother.

    The bookstores have good Judaica sections. You made need to buy a new bookcase for home.

    Your mama is really Jewish? You get to light two candles this Friday evening, by right, by law.

    You don’t know what to say or when to light? Ask Esther.

    So go spend some money on a pair of candlesticks.

    There is National Jewish Outreach Program, also.

    There is Partners In Torah, 1800-STUDY-4-2. That is a totally free phone-study partnering service (it would be another woman, not a man, and they match you carefully).

    Shabbat Shalom, kiddo.

  • (Partners In Torah matches men with men, and women with women.)