The Educational Significance of the Pew Report for Ayeka

by Aryeh Ben David

The Jewish world is buzzing with responses to the PEW report. Proclamations of disaster, self-validation, and denominational rivalry dominate the headlines. In short, the expected reactions.

The PEW report confirmed something all of us have been aware of for the longest time – it is very difficult to maintain traditional structures in a world filled with choice. There are countless competitors for people’s attention and connection. Continuity is anathema to progress and chaos eclipses order.

Hundreds of years ago, a Jew faced a simple choice: “Am I in or out of the Jewish world?” People made their choices.

Today, living in a world inundated with the freedom of choice – we are faced with 57 different brands of Jewish identity to choose from. And once again, people are making their choices.

This cuts across all the denominational and post-denominational lines. No rabbi or movement leader should think they’re immune – people are choosing to make and re-make and then re-make their Jewish identity. It’s fluid, creative, and exciting.

I can sum up Ayeka’s response to this phenomenon in one word: YAY!

Choosing is an essential element of adulthood. Continuing for the sake of continuing, because of parental or communal expectations, does not reflect adult choice.

Ayeka’s response to the PEW report is that today’s reality of choice is offering a new opportunity to us as Jews and a new challenge for us as educators.

The New Opportunity: We can choose to make our religious lives honest, authentic, personally meaningful, and passionate. Out-of-the-box Judaism is now “in”.

The New Challenge: We have to figure out how to enable Jews of all ages to hear their authentic voices and choose Judaism.

Rick Warren, the founder of the Mega-Church Movement in the US, was asked in a NY Times interview, “How did you manage to create a church which averages over 20,000 people weekly, and whose participants are genuinely engaged?!”

He answered, “I started with a home group of 6–10 people. And then another group of 6–10. And then another. After a while, we had a service for 200 people.” Now they have 20,000 active members.

There is no quick fix for creating a deep connection. Mega-events and “big number” projects that donors so love – fade in a moment and leave no trace.

Ayeka’s approach is – let’s create one small group that allows for intimate connection with Judaism and each other. Then another small group. Then another.

Only in the intimacy and safety of small groups can deep imprints and changes be made. Bonds are forged and friendships are deepened. The impact made in the small group begins to be felt be others, one group inevitably leads to the formation of another.

We would offer the same advice for synagogues, Hillels, and all educational settings: one small group of 6-10 people, then another, and another.

And lest someone say:

  • • “We don’t have the staff to accommodate this” – then I would reply: Create a training program for your congregants or students. Not everything has to be led by a Jewish professional.
  • • “The Jewish People are drowning and you’re saying 6-10?!” – Then I would reply: There simply is no other way. Deep identity and passion are not forged in crowds. Think long-term.

Only in a small group setting with full safe space can people begin to hear their own voices and envision how Judaism can authentically and deeply affect and enrich their lives.

One small group, and then another, and then another. This is Ayeka’s response to the PEW report. We firmly believe that we can create powerful and passionate adult Jewish identities while living in the world of choice.

Aryeh Ben David is the Founder and Director of Ayeka: Center for Soulful Education. Ayeka developed a unique educational approach and curriculum to enable adults to personalize Jewish wisdom and enhance their lives. www.ayeka.org.il