Ok, that's a few goals. But they're connected.
Lately, I've been listening to a lot of podcasts. I'm particularly enjoying being challenged and inspired by the Jewish podcasts I've been listening to. Except that what happens is....nothing. I listen in my car. I talk back to the "radio". I muse while I drive. I get to my destination. I forget to follow up on my musings.
So here's a new approach. I've been saving my Jewish podcasts for blog inspiration. My plan: listen to the podcasts while NOT in the car. Write as I listen. Share my musings instead of forgetting about them.
Ok? Hopefully whatever inspires me will inspire you too!
Maybe we can muse together? Maybe we can change the world?
So here we go.
First up, an episode of Judaism Unbound, from the Institute for the Next Jewish Future. If you're not familiar with this podcast you should check it out for sure. Dan Libenson and Lex Rofes analyze what they identify as "pressing issues" for 21st century American Judaism. "Mixing their own analysis with interviews of leading thinkers, practitioners, and even "regular Jews," Dan and Lex look to push past the bounds of what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century." I have a dream that one day they will want to interview Aaron or I about Makom. You never know.
So, this episode is from March (because that's how long it's taken me to actually follow up on this goal of blogging my pod-cast listening and musing!). It's entitled "From the Gate to the Garden". In this exploration of Genesis, Dan and Lex share some of their own stories.
Here is the first piece that stands out to me. From Lex's story:
Lex: I go into a lot of Jewish institutions, including the ones I grew up in, and I don't find much creativity. I find a need to prioritize the way things have been done - the way we mark holidays, the way we incorporate rituals into our life. It's all like a formula. And I didn't see many Jewish institutions I was involved with experimenting and thinking outside the box and for me, as somebody who is a millennial...I'm BORED when I participate in institutions that aren't really looking to excel. I live in a world where I can go online and find excellent sources of culture and history and everything, and if I can do that for Judaism too, there's nothing taking me into the Jewish institutions in my community. Right now I'm not a member of a synagogue. The only reason that I and my partner are considering becoming one is that we did find a congregation that really does speak to our needs and our wants, and after a number of months of going, we've decided fits for us. But we didn't just decide to join right away. It took us many months to get there.
Dan asks Lex why he felt the institutions needed to be different than they were - they satisfied Lex as a younger person but not in college.
Lex (as part of his answer says): When I started approaching Judaism in a more sophisticated way and understanding that the way I grew up isn't the only way to do it, the familiarity wasn't enough. . .We can't rely on familiarity. We need actual depth; actual meaning.
In Dan's story, here's what stands out for me
Dan: When I think back to my positive Jewish memories from childhood I think of holidays with my family and at home in one way or another. But other than that I feel that most of the large-scale, organizational ways of experiencing Judaism just never really connected with me. And I think that I would have left it if I hadn't had an experience in high school where I read a book called, "Who Wrote the Bible", which is really an introduction to biblical criticism. . .(It) basically said to me all of this material doesn't need to be discarded, it can just be re-understood in a different way. . .(It) gave me a different way of thinking about my own dissatisfaction with Judaism.
Dan also says this:
I started to feel like what I wanted to see happening in the Jewish community could happen in the Jewish community as it is. Meaning that we can't just turn the organizations around that we have . . .for reasons relating to the way that organizations work, many of these organizations are just too big to be really changed. That's a simplified way of saying it.
Somewhere, there is a quote about how friendship begins when one person says to the other, "You too? I thought I was the only one!" Listening to Dan and Lex makes me think of this quote and think that if I was in a room with Lex and Dan, we'd all be instant friends. Their stories reflect my own increasing disenchantment with the suburban Jewish institutions of my own childhood and the larger Jewish organizations that drive them. The big organizations are sluggish compared to the furiously fast pace of change in today's world. Dan is right, they're just too big. And as for the synagogues of my youth (which are many - as a child of a rabbi it feels like I grew up in temples all across North America, so I'm not speaking here about any specific shul), these are no longer the buildings that invite the kind of meaningful Judaism I'm seeking for myself and seeking to create for others. The familiarity of the melodies and the faces is a comfort when I visit these places, but I never leave thinking, I wan't to work THERE! I'm not excited by what's happening within those walls. And neither are my friends; my contemporaries. Most of the Jews I grew up with (at Jewish Day School, at Jewish camp, in youth group) did not translate their active participation in Judaism as young people into suburban synagogue membership as adults. They strongly identify as Jewish, whether or not they married Jews, but they aren't called to join the institutions that they themselves grew up in. And I, their friendly local rabbi, can hardly blame them. I'm bored too, and I understand what's going on!
All of which is to say that I continue to be so excited to be part of Makom now. Where we are doing exactly what Lex and Dan are talking about: experimenting and thinking outside the box; trying to provide real depth and real meaning; trying to give people different ways to understand their Judaism and Jewish experiences; re-imagining Jewish education; pushing back against the expected. Tradition can live next to Innovation. Halacha can live next to Egalitarianism. Does it always work in perfect harmony? No. Does it make a difference that we're trying? I think so!
Anyway. So that's a little bit of my story for you. An update if you will. In case you've been wondering what I'm up to, what I'm thinking about, and why I keep blabbering about how much I love my job to anyone who will listen.
Now for the real question? Will I manage to do this again in a timely way? Listen and respond? Share instead of forgetting to share?
Stay tuned to find out...