On the Vitality of Spontaneous Judaism

By Rabbi Micah Lapidus, Ed.D.

The last couple of Fridays I’ve found myself wandering out to lunch and recess with my guitar. The sun has been shining here in Atlanta and by the time Friday afternoon rolls around the idea of bumping into kids on the playground and lunch room for some casual pre-Shabbat visits and possibly a song or two is, in my humble opinion, an excellent use of a Day School rabbi’s time. The kids’ response is reflected in two spontaneous experiences this past Friday.

First, a small group of 5th graders and I took an excursion to our beautiful outdoor sanctuary. While enjoying having such a special space all to ourselves a gigantic hawk sailed through the sanctuary, landed in a nearby tree, and stared us down. As we stared back, I pointed out that the word “sanctuary” can be looked at in multiple ways – as a nature refuge, as a place for human reflection and prayer, or as a safe and sacred space more generally. We sang a version of Mizmor Shir that I wrote a few years ago, danced a bit, and headed off.

From there I headed into the lunch room where 4th graders were wrapping up their lunch period. Since I had my guitar, we decided to sing Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu. The snippet of video below captures the Ruach of the moment.

Though this post is based on an experience that I had, and in some respects facilitated, it isn’t a post about me. It’s a post about Jewish Day Schools and the importance of spontaneous Judaism. Where else in North America could a group of 60 4th graders possibly find themselves in the midst of an impromptu Jewish song session during lunch on a Friday afternoon in the middle of February? Seriously, where else? And where else would such an occurrence be experienced as a unexpected delight but also as something completely within the realm of possibility for a typical day at school?

Then multiply these experiences – the hawk and the song session, by, I don’t know, a thousand? Every day, every hour, every moment that a Jewish Day School like The Davis Academy is open for business there exists a unique and compelling potential – the potential for spontaneous Judaism.

One of the unintended (and I think detrimental) consequences of being in the Diaspora is that Judaism is something that gets scheduled rather than being something that just naturally occurs.We wait until Friday night, Saturday morning, or some other time to allow ourselves to enter into a Jewish state of mind or to be in the midst of a Jewish community. Even if someone were to find him or herself unexpectedly yearning for a Jewish experience in the middle of a random day, the likelihood of being able to honor that yearning is unfortunately minimal. I don’t think this is a controversial observation.

The hawk, the song session, the ability to recite Kaddish on a regular basis for a grandparent that has recently passed away, the casual and unplanned theological conversation with the rabbi or Jewish studies teacher, hearing Hebrew spoken in the hallways… The power in each of these is their authentic spontaneity. More than merely episodic, this spontaneity is essential if we’re going to embed Judaism in our lives in compelling and meaningful ways.

I hope I’m describing a phenomenon that many Jews value. If authentic, spontaneous, contextual, informed, substantive, and meaningful Jewish experiences are still of value to the Jewish people, then Jewish Day Schools offer the greatest likelihood of providing them on a random Friday afternoon in February.

Rabbi Micah Lapidus, Ed.D. is the Director of Jewish and Hebrew Studies at The Alfred & Adele Davis Academy, Atlanta’s Reform Jewish Day School. He is a member of the board of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and an alum of DSLTI (Cohort 8).

cross-posted on Rabbi’s Pen