I got a glimpse of the Jewish future this morning, and it is vibrant, caring, global, and Torah-free. I volunteered to work at the United Jewish Community’s 76th General Assembly where the leaders of Jewish Federations and other communal groups gather to learn how to improve their ability to meet the needs of the Jewish community worldwide.
The delegates I met were dedicated, passionate, and devoted to the survival of the Jewish people. We are in good hands. And yet I was troubled by the fact that not a single program was offered in personal spiritual development.
There is a growing national concensus that we need to link social change with inner transformation, yet not a single class or workshop was offered discussing the link between inner and outer change and how to nourish your soul as you go about feeding other people’s bodies. Judaism is as rich in tikkun hanefesh (repairing the soul) as it is in tikkun haolam (repairing the world), yet you wouldn’t know this from the programming at the GA.
But I an outsider to the Federation world, so maybe this is too “new agey.” But where was the chance to study Torah? I understand that the GA is a business conference, but I would think that people who are putting so much money into Jewish education would want to learn a bit at their global convention. Some of the money that was spent bringing in major speakers on politics and Israel could have been used to bring in at least one “A List” scholar. Or, if they wanted to go on the cheap— me!
Yes, there was a 12-Step meeting each morning, and davvenen (prayer) at the appropriate times each day, but most of the delegates were sober and secular, and probably skipped both the meetings and the davvenen. (Please don’t write complaining about the sober allusion. I know AA people are sober; I’m just addicted to alliteration.) I would have liked to see a workshop for delegates interested in learning Jewish contemplative practices such as meditation and chanting, and how to integrate these into their life of service.
I am not blaming anyone for this. It may be that such programming has been tried in the past and was found wanting. It may be that Jewish professionals focused on tikkun haolam are just not interested in tikkun hanefesh. I don’t know, but I worry about a Jewry that is all about the externals of politics and social action. We will survive, but will we thrive? And does a Jewry that is Judaism-free even matter?