According to a new Reform effort the key to stopping parents from quitting the synagogue once their kids become Bar and Bat Mitzvah (“Repositioning Bar Mitzvahs to End Drain.” Wednesday, September 4, 2013) is to get “the children to spend less time learning Hebrew and memorizing prayers, and more time working as a group on sustained ‘social action’ projects.” Seriously? If my goal is feeding people (the example offered in the article), wouldn’t the thousands of dollars I spend on synagogue membership be better spent actually feeding people? I’m sorry, but if you want liberal Jewish kids to stay Jewish you have to focus on the Jewish not the liberal.
Bar and Bat Mitzvah aged children are natural revolutionaries. If you want them to be Jewish you have to show them that Judaism is revolutionary. Teach them about Abraham shattering his father’s idols. Teach them how Abraham’s argument with God over Sodom was a battle of justice against power, and Abraham/justice won! Show them how living Jewishly is an ongoing struggle against idols and for justice.
Show them how keeping kosher—boldly redefined as lifting all their consuming to the highest ethical, moral, and environmental values they can muster, and then striving to go even higher—is a way to battle the consumerist culture and corporate class system that is destroying persons and planet. Show them (ala Levinas) how unplugging from the Internet on Shabbat and joining with family and friends to play and talk face to face is an act of radical resistance against the facelessness that defines American life and blinds us to the exploitation and demonization of the Other. Show them (ala Levi Strauss) how authentic Torah study teaches them how to deconstruct all texts (from newspapers to advertisements) to see what is really being said. Teach them that Jews question, doubt, and argue, and that these are our David–stones used to topple the corporate and statist Goliaths that turn all beings into commodities, and show them how to use Jewish tradition to free themselves and others from the narrows of Pharonic slavery and into the terrible desert of freedom, and toward the messianic redemption of a global promised land.
Giving our children less Judaism isn’t going to help their parents agree to pay for more dues. Parents will pay for those things that add value to their children’s lives and futures. If Judaism can’t do that, not only should parents leave, but all of us should get out as well.