By David Strulowitz
“The first thing we do is kill all the lawyers”
Why would we kill all the lawyers? Perhaps among the many reasons is that they make all those detailed rules. Rules that are hard for the rest of us to follow. Rules that complicate life, beyond the point of manageability for many other non-lawyers. In their defense, their actions may even have what they perceive to be our best interests in mind. But ultimately the rules keep lawyers employed because you can’t manage without their assistance. And they are a necessary part of a balanced society.
Our Jewish movements have lawyers. We call them Rabbis, Chancellors, Presidents, Roshei Yeshiva and so on. I’m not suggesting we get rid of them. They serve an important if not essential role. I’m just suggesting we take the marketing element away from them. They are not good at it.
Labels actually are killable. There’s nothing sacrosanct about them. Rebranding takes place all the time. Ours are long overdue. The labels of Orthodox, Ultra Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist don’t do these movements justice. Worse than that, they are divisive. I would suggest that as a result of our institutional complacency, the labels by default have contributed to what has become a more fractious and divided Jewish culture and society.
The old labels have no meaning in a descriptive sense. So by default they are open to carry negative connotations. They do not advance the overall movement in any way and are open to misrepresentation by those who might be unfairly judgmental. So I say let’s rid ourselves of them.
In the interest of creating a more user-friendly, cohesive Jewish society, I have come up with a rebranding, if you will, of these movements. Feel free to help me brain storm in the comment section below. It would appear to me that this task is way past due but better late than never. For the life of me I can’t understand how nobody has thought to punch up these organizational images before now.
First a couple of guidelines. The new labels need to be positive, relevant, descriptive and easy for the followers to identify with. You know, like I perceive my group to be comfortable for me.
Orthodox – I mean what does that even mean? How can you identify with a movement that has what appears to be an out dated at best, or nonsensical at worst, label for the brand. So I propose Orthodox will now be called Originals, in that those who follow this movement try to retain the original approach.
Ultra Orthodox might now be Insular Originals. Insular, as in separated from other peoples and cultures. This is not something that they dispute. This is a badge of honor for them. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is. They have chosen this. Let’s just respect our insular brothers and sisters for it. Kol Hakavod.
Modern Orthodox could be Modern Originals. In contrast with the Insular Originals, they choose not to be separate from other peoples and cultures. I really doubt the movement has any legs because I suspect they are just Originals who enjoy modern culture, but they are deserving of a descriptive brand nonetheless. Also technically, this is where I live so I don’t want my buddies at Kiddush club to accuse me of marginalizing them – or worse, hide the scotch (“l’chaim, bros!”).
The term Conservative conjures up images of neo-cons and other sorts which couldn’t be further from the truth. So I propose Colorful. We accept those of all sizes and shapes. Yes, rules are important but not to the exclusion of living a colorful life. I mean Originals are cool but those limitations are a little too much for us right now. They stymie our desire for artful self-expression and reinterpretation.
Reform sounds like another political movement but means to connote that we need change, that whatever we are calling the other movements, they need reform and reinvention. So I propose Re-Discovery, as in, we choose to explore the broad spectrum of life through a Jewish lens.
Reconstructionist – is it just me or does it sound like we need to rebuild because the building is falling apart? How about ReThinking? Let’s look at what we do and why we do it and create a more meaningful practice by continuing to ask ourselves whether we need to rethink this in light of what is going on in the world right now. And Renewal? Well, that’s pretty good, but what about Neo-chasidic or neon-chasidic, or perhaps you can offer up something?
What I find most appealing about this rebranding is that the movements are not exclusive but become more inclusive. They are open to let me fashion my own practice by taking the best from all the above. And I am free to evolve. Which is what life is all about.
Now that we have moved past the old labels, let’s look at what we can share so that we can create more unity. Spirituality, Art, Israel, Technology-based educational initiatives, Cuisine… the list really is endless. And once we have made progress on the achdut/unity front, perhaps we can then be a model for a more cohesive, accepting and respectful world at large.
David Strulowitz, a Wexner Heritage Alum from Chicago 06 and Delegate to the WHA Council, is co-chairman of the building campaign for the Ida Crown Jewish Academy, a co-educational modern Orthodox Jewish High School. He also leads a bi-weekly Jewish spirituality study group and a weekly teleconference on spiritual insights into T’fillah. David has lectured extensively on Jewish spirituality topics at synagogues of various denominations and through the Chicago-based Dawn Schuman Institute, and created a blog at www.jewishstimes.blogspot.com where Wexner alumni and others can share what they have found to be purposeful and meaningful in their Jewish Spiritual lives. David also served as Board President of Hillel Torah, a prominent Orthodox co-educational North Shore day school, following a long and active role on the school’s board and finance committees. He is a Trustee of the Ark, an organization committed to providing free social and medical services to help distressed members of our Chicagoland community. In his day job, David is a partner in a wealth management and planning firm and tax attorney, and is co-author of the book “The Intelligent Guide to Your Financial Future” (2005). David can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
cross-posted on the Wexner Foundation Blog