Three Thoughts for Jewish Educators as We Start the New School Year

By David Steiner This article is for directors of education, those people who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make the next generation of Jews worthy of the proud traditions of our people. At this time of year, while you are thinking about family services during the days of awe and school openings and curriculum nights, please try to leave room in your overflowing brains for some of the most important ideas behind our work. School is not a natural phenomenon. Teaching is. School may have existed in different forms over the years, from Socrates and his discourses to the cheder in the shtetle, but the organization of groups of children in learning places, away from the families where they live their Jewish life, is not ideal. Parents and guardians are the natural conveyors of treasured … [Read more...]

Strange Bedfellows

Aish HaTorah NY and the Union for Reform Judaism Find Common Ground with Bring Israel Home By Naomi Abelson and Rabbi David Markowitz We’ve heard the story before: a young woman goes on a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip and returns home with fun stories and an iPhone full of pictures. She also returns home energized and enthusiastic about the new friends she’s made and the knowledge she’s gained about Judaism and Israel. She’s questioning how Judaism fits into her life, looking for ways to explore her new found interest in Israeli culture, society and politics, and wondering how to access Jewish experiences at home. Yet upon return, she - like many of her peers - is not sure where to turn. Eventually, the flame dies out and her Jewish journey stalls. But what if we could capture that … [Read more...]

Ready to Prove a Prediction Wrong?

What does a more perfect Jewish world look like in the eyes of the Conservative Movement? And how does that world intersect with and influence the broader world? [This essay is from "Philanthropic Priorities in Light of Pew," reprinted with permission from Contact, a publication of The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life.] By Rabbi Hayim Herring The Reform and Conservative Movements are accidents of history and will disappear within 50 years.” Michael Steinhardt delivered that death sentence on September 6, 2000, before a group of about 150 people, mostly rabbis, at the formal launch of STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal). Thirteen years later, I want to assess Michael’s prediction within the shadow of the Pew study. Individual Conservative leaders correctly note that “there … [Read more...]

The Porch: It’s Southern, It’s Open, and It’s Jewish

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By Cantor Mary Rebecca Thomas When I was ordained a cantor in 2011, I never imagined that leading a congregation’s young adult group would fall within my professional portfolio. I’d never taken the much-lauded community organizing class and I didn’t think informal education was my thing. (In retrospect, it would have been great to have developed community organizing and informal education skills in advance.) As a part-time assistant cantor in Charlotte, NC, I expected to teach b’nai mitzvah kids and adult ed, lead services, and attend lots of meetings - all of which I do. Even a year after moving to Charlotte, however, I didn’t have many local friends, and I missed the ones I’d left behind in New York. Looking to enrich my life, I asked to take on our young adult group and our Tot Shabbat … [Read more...]

Just How Big Is Intermarriage? You Don’t Really Know.

By Paul Golin Even if you’re a very casual observer of the U.S. Jewish community and a friend who knows nothing about it asks you, “How big a phenomenon is Jewish intermarriage?” you’d probably be able to answer, “It’s pretty big.” There is a pantheon of proudly Jewish celebrities from Jon Stewart to Natalie Portman to Michael Douglas to Scarlett Johansson who have intermarried. (Douglas and Johansson are also children of intermarriage themselves.) If you’re more than just a casual observer of American Jewry, let’s say you’re a rabbi, you may know a bit more about the magnitude of Jewish intermarriage. You may know the rate at which Jews intermarry. The intermarriage rate is a number that the organized Jewish community has fixated on for decades, at least since the 1990 National Jewish … [Read more...]

Drop the Ambivalence – It’s All Good

By Jerry D. Isaak-Shapiro If Jerome Chanes had written “Orthodox “Retention” and Kiruv: the Bad News and the Good News” (eJewish Philanthropy and Contact Magazine, 8.20.14) for a newspaper, veteran editors would have said that he had buried his lead. After opening with a focus on the ostensible “bad news” (emulating another adage from media: if it bleeds, it leads) of poor intra-Orthodox retention, he only gets to the good stuff two-thirds into the piece. “But it’s not all about the numbers,” he writes (finally) - but while he explicitly calls for us not to overemphasize the numbers, he only implicitly praises an increase in aggregate Jewish engagement. Do we really need to mourn the “loss” of ___ Jews (fill in the blank - Conservative Jews; Orthodox (any flavor) Jews; “just Jews” - if those … [Read more...]

Orthodox “Retention” and Kiruv: The Bad News and the Good News

A mere 22 percent of Jews 65 and older who were raised Orthodox are still Orthodox, while 57 percent of people aged 30-49 who were raised Orthodox are still Orthodox - and the percentage rises as the group gets younger. [This essay is from "Philanthropic Priorities in Light of Pew," reprinted with permission from Contact, a publication of The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life.] By Jerome A. Chanes We are swimming - indeed drowning - in the ink spilled on the data from the Pew Research Center’s 2013 study of American Jewry. Early reactions from the religious movements have been, predictably, along the lines of the Talmudic “Kol ha-doresh, doresh l’atzmo” - “The one who analyzes, analyzes in his own interest.” There have been a number of analyses of the data, but to date we have seen … [Read more...]

The Reform Tent: Half Full or Half Empty?

The disengagement of so many Reform Jews from synagogue life is a significant concern in a movement where the organizational building block and the primary conduit of education, engagement and influence is the congregation. [This essay is from "Philanthropic Priorities in Light of Pew," reprinted with permission from Contact, a publication of The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life.] By Fern Chertok The Reform Movement stands at a crossroads. The current moment is rife with challenges to traditional religious institutions, and the movement faces a set of critical decisions about how to adapt in order to engage and serve the next generation of American Jews. The ability of the movement’s umbrella organization, the Union for Reform Jewry (URJ), its rabbinic organization, the Central … [Read more...]