Friday, September 06, 2013

B'nai Mitzvah Redux

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.


Rachel said...

As mother of a bat mitzvah-aged girl and wife to a man who is counting the months until we can quit our expensive temple membership I could not agree more!

eashtov said...
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eashtov said...
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eashtov said...

Shalom Rav and All,

Unfortunately, this is yet another example of the clueless disconnect between many professional Jews (Jewish clergy, educators, movement staff etc.,) and most non-Orthodox Jews in North America.

And as sad is that these folks (professional Jews) are once again in the midst of fulfilling the axiom of "never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity (h/t Abba Eben Z'l)" to take advantage of the fact that there are more Jews in the pews during the High Holidays than at any other time during the year.

That opportunity lost would be to cast a meaningful and compelling vision for a relevant, practical application oriented non Orthodox Judaism; one that actually meets us where we experience our lives in 21rst century North America.

Oh well....

L'shana Tova U'm'tuqa, to all of us a good and sweet new year as well as the the strength, courage, grace, wisdom and support to face and deal with what isn't.


Raksha said...

I like that phrase "a global promised land." More and more we're going to have to see it that way, because we don't actually have a choice.

andrea perez said...

The problem may be a little bit more nuanced than is being expressed. Or those Rabbi's who suggested this are clueless to children and their motivations.
Bar/Bat Mitzah becomes all consumming. All those lessons, classes and papers to write. What average 12 year old wants to spend 3 days a week doing intensive anything. We aren't the only ones who go through this: Catholics make their kids go through 2-3 days a week of classes before their Holy Communions and those poor babies are in second grade. and, they don't have to give a speech!
The problem may just be too much of a good thing for a defined purpose: this right of passage has a definite beginning and an end. And the end is like being released from a prison sentence.
Maybe people would keep going if Bar/Bat Mitzvah was seen as a beginning instead of an end. Get rid of the parties and just call people up to read.
Then keep the learning going on without turning it into a torture session. We don't need to redefine Judaism and make it Liberal Christianity: we need to take a breath and enjoy being Jewish.

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