Boy, I’m feeling cranky today. Is it the news, or just the weather?
Yes, indeed, we are all to stand in awe of another Bronfman project to lead the Jewish world into the Future. According to JTA, “three dozen Jewish intellectuals are put in a swank ski resort for 48 hours and let loose on the question ‘Why be Jewish?'”
From July 29-31 the Samuel Bronfman Foundation ran a conference hosted by the foundation’s managing director, Adam Bronfman, son of philanthropist Edgar Bronfman, that “included French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion President David Ellenson, writer Anita Diamant and other rabbis, professors, artists, philanthropists and communal professionals.”
But even JTA itself noticed, “These rarefied, all-expenses-paid gatherings beg the question: ‘So what?’ What does it matter if a bunch of smart Jews sit around talking? Some in Park City wondered the same thing. ‘The take-away is there’s no take-away,’ said former Under Secretary of Defense Dov Zakheim of Washington. Some participants questioned the top-down premise. ‘There’s a presumption that we get to answer the question “Why be Jewish” on behalf of the “amcha,” ‘ or Jewish people, said Idit Klein, executive director of Keshet, an advocacy group for gay inclusion.”
In other words, even the grand old daddies (well, not Keshet, exactly) of institutional life are beginning to wonder, along with the rest of us, why there are all these conferences in which “important people” chosen by other “important people” sit around yakking about what the rest of us ought to do. I suppose it’s news that, at least in this case,
If some participants grumbled about the conference’s lack of tangible goals, organizers insisted that was the point.
“We’re not looking for ‘an answer,’ ” explained the foundation’s executive director, Dana Raucher. “We’ve gathered a rather eclectic mix of people, each of whom has something to offer. Each of these people has influence somewhere. Each of them will hopefully have been enriched by this and will take the conversation home with them.”
In other words, they didn’t come out of the conference with another program that doesn’t change anything, or more instructions that have nothing to do with actually living a Jewish life that we’re all to fall in behind with cash in hand. Perhaps that’s an improvement. Although I do have to draw breath at such pronouncements as, “In fact, as more than one conference attendee pointed out, the Talmud, the seminal text of rabbinic Judaism, emerged out of just such open-ended conversations among Jewish leaders.” Wow. I think our old friends the Greeks might have referred to this as hubris.
I think, though that the most important comment in the article is this:
Arthur Gross-Schaefer, a professor of business law and ethics at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, said the American Jewish community “needs a new myth” that can appeal to the younger, largely unaffiliated generation. That’s something this group, and others like it, can realistically tackle, he said.
It seems to me that this nicely sums up the attitude that hasn’t shifted amongst the cohort that is failing to engage those whom they ostensibly wish to engage. In other words, there’s you young people out there, not doing what we want you to do; we need to make up a nice story for you (yes, I’m aware of the Gillman idea of myth, eh.), so that you’ll fall in line with our priorities. Instead of actually talking to the young, affiliated, engaged people in their teens, twenties, thirties and forties – and even older folks who have helped build these alternative organzations, groups, minyans and institutions- who have built an entirely different way of relating to Judaism, just as vibrant (actually, IMO, more vibrant, and also healthier and more Jewish) as the old Holocaust, peoplehood, anti-semitism emphasis of the last thirty-five years.
There’s no shortage of young Jews engaging as “more observant” than their elders, of independant minyanim, trichitzas, potlucks for eating habits across the spectrum, social justice Judaism as an outgrowth of halachah, and organizations that are helping build these new foundations out of what are really, the old bricks that we had forgotten about for oh, so long while we were busy becoming American: how about JFSJ, JUFJ, JFREJ – well, you all know the drill, we talk about them all the time here.
Bronfmans: we’re waiting on you.