After the Turkey and Before the Menorah: My Elevator Speech for Communal Action

by Robert Hyfler, Ph.D

After the Thanksgiving turkey, and before the menorah is lit, someone will ask, “So what do you think we should do?”, and I will answer, “Many things, but here are my top four”:

  1. Empower and Invest in the Jewish grandparent. With unconditional love a generation of Jewish boomers has embraced their children who chose to love and partner with individuals not raised as Jews. It is their parental commitment to the enduring bonds of family that, in their akedah moment, has put to rest a tribal definition of who we are and a narrow understanding of what we are. Those among us who have treated the choices and lifestyle of a younger generation as pathology worthy of radical therapy have lost standing. It is the right communal expenditure of effort and dollars to empower and celebrate Jewish grandparenthood. It is they who now stand proudly and lovingly on the front lines of our future.
  2. Maintain Excellence and Depth in the Range of Jewish Human Services and our Infrastructures of Caring and Social Action. Emmanuel Levinas, the great 20th century philosopher and Jewish teacher, taught that the Jewish religious experience is “primarily a moral experience”. It is the moral conscience of the Jew, reinforced and reinvigorated by our rituals, that propels our organizational life, our purpose and our uniqueness. We cannot denigrate this historical essence of what we are but must continue to renew the rituals of communal and synagogue life around this moral essence. I have long asserted that a Jewish life worth living requires a Jewish institutional life of caring and mutual support worth living in.
  3. Connect American Jewry to the Normalcy of Israeli Life. On so many levels the modern Jewish state is a laboratory of Jewish values where modernity and tradition, power and humility play themselves out. This reality includes a plurality of Israelis who live a relatively secular life with little fear of assimilation. As the 21st century American Jew relates to her or himself as a scientist, artisan, artist, Jew and global citizen so too do their Israeli counterparts. For both communities the lessons, connections, synergies and mutual life puzzles worth solving are there to be found.
  4. Create, fund and Sustain an Inclusive Space for an Adult Jewish Conversation. Modernity offered us emancipation and challenge – the freedom to engage in the shaping of our lives, individually and collectively, and the challenge of adapting and connecting that aspect of the spiritual imagination unique to us as Jews with the scientific imagination of our age. Our key to long term survival has always been, and dare I say always will be, in the nexus of humanism and revelation. Even those among us who see themselves as demographically strong are (as is most acutely the case of modern Orthodoxy) intellectually at risk. These are today’s weighty concerns that require of all of us life long engagement, the wisdom of generations, the faith of believers and the doubts of heretics. It goes so much beyond dreidels and turkey stuffing.

Bob Hyfler is a consultant to Jewish nonprofits and a proud lifelong participant in the Jewish conversation. He can be reached at

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  1. says

    If Israelis have “little fear of assimilation” it is only because they are physically separated from non-Jews. This is not replicable in the U.S. In fact, Jewish identity is under threat in Israel as well. American and Israeli Jews can and should learn from each other, but neither has the full answer.

  2. says

    Bob’s comments and call to action resonates deeply with me. His “top four” list recognizes the strength and dynamic role played through the Jewish family. He see the opportunity and relevance of letting our tradition of moral conscience, action and Tikkun Olam serve as a tool to positively engage Jews’ interest in social action and social justice.

    Moreover Bob recognizes the powerful potential for connection and collaboration on common social issues between Israelis and North American Jews.

    As Executive Director for Skilled Volunteers for Israel – serving primarily baby boomer age Jewish professionals – we have the privilege of working with the older Jewish adult – whether formally affiliated or not – in social justice and social action. We focus on connecting the skills and interests of the volunteer with a meaningful, personalized volunteer placement that addresses a need within Israeli society.

    The volunteer experience stimulates conversations about similarities and differences between Israel and Jewish communities abroad, provides windows into some of the unique challenges facing Israel today, and demonstrates how, by acting upon our Jewish values of “doing,” we create connections as Jews, professionals and as a people. I believe there is a hunger within our community for meaningful engagement and, as Bob suggests, a space to discuss and challenge, learn and teach together.

  3. says

    Couldn’t agree with you more on your first suggestion (“empower and invest in the Jewish grandparent”)! Grandparents whose sons and daughters married men and women of other background and now have grandchildren with one Jewish parent are a valuable link between their grandchildren and Jewish tradition.

    Grandparents who want to learn more about how to support and nurture the Jewish identities of their interfaith grandchildren should look into The Grandparents Circle, our program for people in exactly their situation:

    David A.M. Wilensky
    Program Associate
    Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI)

  4. Lois Weinsaft says

    You are super-smart, as always, Bob. I agree with all four of your priorities with special fondness for your recognition that the boomers are the key to the future.