You may have heard about the recently released “disastrous” Pew study* of Jewish life. I’ve been on several conference calls where you could hear the wringing of hands. Why is the professional liberal Jewish world panicking?
It’s a wide-ranging study covering many topics but here are a few of the numbers that are causing the upset: the intermarriage rate itself (among liberal Jews) is so high (as high as 70%) and as a result, significantly less children will be raised as Jews and this only continues. 2/3 of Jews do NOT belong to a synagogue, the primary Jewish institution that has held the Jewish center since ancient times.
So of course, the question is (and as I learned in my seminary history classes has been a constant historical question) are we going to survive? In truth, the numbers presented do not look hopeful no matter how much you massage the data.
However, the study begins with these words “American Jews overwhelmingly say they are proud to be Jewish and have a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people.”
Belonging. I know about belonging. And here’s what I know for sure:
- At the most profound, deepest level of our existence, people want to be loved, validated, appreciated, included AND to be part of something that they can feel welcomed into and BELONG.
- a LOT of people (of all ages) want to be engaged in meaningful conversations about things that matter
- EVERYONE thrives in an environment (especially small groups) that are accepting, safe, trust-filled, and where each individual is appreciated and SEEN for their uniqueness. These kinds of groups or organizations bring out the best in people and it is to THOSE kind of groups to which people want to belong.
- There is no choice except to accept people where they are. Because that is where they are. It is. Let’s move on. And let’s agree to stop making people feel bad about how much Hebrew they know, or prayers, or yiddish expressions, or whether or not they went to jewish camp, or if their parents lit Shabbat candles….etc etc etc. There is so much shame in the Jewish community about what people believe that “everyone else knows” and “they don’t” that much of my work involves healing those wounds.
- Love should be the source of all education: loving people enough to help them know that where they ARE is good enough and to not be ashamed of their particular level of Jewish knowledge or practice.
- Education needs to be about transformation – to igniting the spark of divinity in each soul – not about how much someone knows, or feeding in information.
- Judaism contains within it jewels of wisdom that if made accessible, people would find meaning, belonging, connection and dare I say, a feeling of “coming home.” SO much of Jewish wisdom has been hidden (a whole other story) yet it is overflowing with richness, replete with meaning – a lifetime of study wouldn’t begin to uncover it all. People need guides and translators so they can begin to unearth the treasure in their own backyard. Most Jews don’t even know that that treasure exists or have the tools to begin digging. Let us help each other.
- Judaism needs to become so vibrant, so exciting, so accepting a proposition that people WANT to come join us. This is how we grow. Not by guilt or shame or fear. All that does is push people the other way.
SO thank you Pew study for telling us like it is. Now let’s make Judaism fresh and real and open the gates, loving Judaism AND Jews, wherever they are.
I want to talk to you if you are interested in having the conversation about how to uncover what is here for us – how to be transformed by Jewish wisdom and mindfulness practices that help us wake up in our lives every single day. Because Judaism has that – Let’s sit down together.
*for the original study: http://www.pewforum.org/files/2013/10/jewish-american-full-report-for-web.pdf