It happened at a congregational meeting of a conservative shul in Northeast Philly. I had recently become a Bat Mitzvah and my parents felt I was ready for the drama that can ensue at meetings like that. The purpose of the meeting? The Old Guard was intent on getting rid of the congregation’s young, vibrant Rabbi who had revitalized that dying (literally) congregation. Most of the meeting is a somewhat hazy memory â€“ it was half my life ago â€“ but one particular moment sticks out so vividly in my mind. An angry old man, in the heated debate, claimed no purpose for investing resources in the young families who had recently joined the synagogue; no need for the pied piper Rabbi; no need to bother with the young families, or supporting the religious school â€“ why provide those kids with a Jewish education? They’ll just leave for the suburbs anywayâ€¦What’s the point?
I remember shaking with anger and frustration â€“ feeling personally attacked â€“ I stood and pointed at him, intending to tell everyone how important it is to invest in the next generation. All that came out of my mouth was a shaky â€œ That Manâ€¦â€. I burst into tears. I’d never been so angry in my life. When I pulled myself together and went up to the podium to speak (after a rousing chorus of â€œWe Can’t Hear Youâ€ from the peanut gallery) I found I had everyone’s attention â€“ even a red-faced â€œThat Manâ€. I told them, in the words of a 13 year old, that without a Jewish education, the next generation of the community won’t be able to raise Jewishly literate families, maintain a synagogue and surely won’t know how to say Kaddish when the time comes.
Well, they fired the Rabbi anyway. And when I was in high school, â€œThat Manâ€ apologized to me after High Holiday services. A few years later, the congregation sold the building my grandparents helped build and merged with a suburban synagogue that places an emphasis on congregational learning and has an active youth program. Who won? I think we all lost a little. But â€œThat Manâ€ has someone who says Kaddish for him.
For those I’ve encountered & disagreed with on this subject since that congregational meeting, I hope that I’ve changed their minds, altered their staid course or even just helped them to see their kids or grandkids in a different light. It’s always been my intention to create understanding and respect for the needs of the younger generation’s Jewish identity development/Jewish education. Unfortunately, people like â€œThat Manâ€ exist to this day and poison their institutional Judaism with negative feelings towards the â€˜youngins’ and anyÂ innovation. They come in all shapes and sizes; some try to trick you into believing they’re on your side. Be wary. Because they could care less about you and everyone like you who strives to change the status quo, to create new models and innovate the Jewish world. They can sit there and say â€œWhat’s in it for us? Why bother?â€ and not see the butterfly effect those questions and attitudes create. Or they see it and just don’t care. Why bother? Because people like me have venues like this where we can express ourselves, verbalize our Jewish-ness & not have to watch what we say because â€œThat Manâ€ said so.