By Rabbi Yael Buechler
Our Pesach dishes are barely stored away when we are suddenly barraged with a cluster of modern Jewish holidays, from Yom HaShoah, to Yom HaZikaron to Yom HaAtzmaut. These yamim (plural for yom), are often meaningful and powerful moments in modern Jewish history. However the way in which these holidays are currently being observed by most Jewish communities lull us into a communal “sleep mode” rather than energize us. It seems as if Jewish institutions across America go into a default “tekkes-”mode (ceremony-mode) for the variety of these upcoming holidays.
The tekkes itself ostensibly means sitting for a while, standing for a while, sometimes observing moments of silence, singing familiar Jewish songs, and often passively listening to speakers or instrumental pieces. The tekkes was and is a powerful mode for engaging certain generations, from Holocaust survivors, to children of Holocaust survivors, to Israelis who now live in America who grew up with tekasim (plural for tekkes) as “the” way of observing these holidays.
There is certainly something powerful and somber about the style of the tekkes but I’m not sure that it’s reaching the hearts and minds of our current generation of students and families. And I’m not sure it ever really reached mine – the generation of infamous millennials. Yes, I held a yellow tulip, but did I really engage in a developmentally appropriate way with the themes of Yom HaShoah? Yes, I waved an Israeli flag but did I truly understand and appreciate the miracle and nuanced complexities associated with the State of Israel?
Perhaps it’s an attention-span issue or perhaps it’s this generations’ ability to find meaning through primarily creating their own content. It seems that this across-the-board default mode of going from tekkes to tekkes is not building a deeply engaged future generation of the Jewish people. For many that the tekkes itself is an outmoded pageant that no longer has an appeal.
In the calendar of so many post-Passover holidays, the model of the tekkes overwhelms what could otherwise be unique and varied events. How do we make this yearly cluster of modern Jewish holidays more innovative and engaging so that we don’t do the same thing every year? How do we recognize these holidays in a way such that people don’t feel like they just have to show up?
With the number of Holocaust survivors dwindling, and the topic of Israel education being more prominently at the forefront, let’s use this time as an opportunity make these holidays more interactive and meaningful. I urge all Jewish educators, programmers, and lay leaders to think about how we can establish new traditions for these holidays that go beyond the outmoded model of the tekkes.
Let us find ways to empower participants to take charge of their own learning through innovative uses of music, art, videos, building, cooking, social media, and actual participation. Let’s re-craft this post-Passover holiday cluster and re-energize these holidays so that they are more meaningful to the current and next generations of the Jewish people.
Rabbi Yael Buechler is the Lower School Rabbi at Schechter Westchester, Soon-to-be The Leffell School and the founder of MidrashManicures.com, which promotes creative Jewish expression through nail art and Jewish educational accessories.