Mazal Tov Cocktail Redux

A while ago I announced a call for submissions to a project called Mazal Tov Cocktail. The vision was to create an encyclopedia of Jewish radical culture, which would feature articles about figures, movements and events in Jewish history — from Avraham Avienu’s iconoclasm to Anarchists Against The Wall — and to relate these items back to concepts in Tanakh and Talmud. The goal was to help Jews who identify solely with the social action component of Jewish culture to identify more strongly with our religious tradition and thus to feel empowered by it rather than aliented from it.
Unfortunately, my call yielded limited results. The overwhelming majority of submissions I received were anti-Zionist screeds, albeit well written ones, from fascinating activists like Abe Greenhouse, who notoriously pied Natan Sharansky at Rutgers a few years ago. Sadly, I could not find people willing to write pieces on figures like Emma Goldman, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Barbara Meyerhoff, and so forth.
While I’m still interested in doing the project and am now establishing contacts with other entities who have the resources to make it happen, in the interim I’ve decided to take the “Mazal Tov Cocktail” brand I was graciously granted by Jenn Bleyer, and apply it to another Jewschool project.
Recently I devised a mission statement for Jewschool — a call to arms as such:

Judaism has always been revolutionary. It seems though that every few decades the tradition becomes ensnared in a rigidity and conservativism which defies its radical roots. Jewschool is an open revolt. Offering the latest and greatest from the bleeding edge of Jewish cultural and communal life, Jewschool’s more than just a weblog. It is an ever-expanding network of websites, projects, and events which promote critical thought and provide engagement opportunities for disenfranchised Jews alienated — and bored to death — by the Jewish mainstream.
Jewschool dares to be what others can not: It pries Judaism from the lifeless fingers of the Jewish establishment and serves it up to the public with the insistance, “This belongs to you.”

I intend to have Jewschool live up to this exceptionally confident statement by announcing the launch of our latest project and a new call for submissions which, I believe, our readership may be more inclined to contribute to.
Jewschool’s ultimate goal is to help empower individuals and communities to have vibrant and meaningful Jewish experiences without being dependent on established denominations and institutions which impose alienating agendas on their constituents. As I wrote in my letter to the editors of Tikkun after they ran an interview with me in which, I felt, remarks I’d made about Heeb, Reboot, JDub, Storahtelling, and the like, were misrepresented:

My reservation, which is directed not towards those projects nor the individuals involved with them, but rather the philanthropies which fund them and their perspective towards those projects, is limited to the sustainability of “trendy Judaism.” Basing one’s Jewish identity upon an ironic t-shirt or a Matisyahu record will only go so far. Once you’ve brought disaffected individuals through the door, it is still merely an entry into the repressive and alienating Jewish world which drove those individuals away to begin with. I believe that real change is necessary, and that change can not be subsituted with the “popping” of Judaism. Popularity is fleeting. The new Jewish cultural renaissance was no longer popular the day Time Out New York pronounced its existence in their “New Super Jews” issue. Rather, Judaism in-and-of-itself needs an institutional overhaul and I believe that the philanthropies are ignoring this issue because they themsleves are a part of the institutions which need overhauling. Slowly, but surely, they too will reach this conclusion, or otherwise (to paraphrase the singer Fiona Apple) they’ll be found laying dead in their own hands.

What disaffected, liberal Jewish person wants to be part of a Judaism that says get back in the kitchen or the closet, or which, for the sake of Israel, buddies up with Christian Evangelicals who think the same if not worse? According to these philanthropies’ own figures, none. Yet little is being done to reinvigorate Judaism itself — by making it open and asserting its spectrum — as so much as to take it as is, along with all its baggage, and make it “hip” by hiring Orwellian mind-control experts like Frank Luntz to redirect its messaging.
Mazal Tov Cocktail is the alternative.
As many of you are likely aware, The Jewish Catalog was an instrumental force in enabling Jewish autonomy and fostering the chavurah movement which arose in the United States in the 1970s. While it was followed up with The Second Jewish Catalog some years later, time has rendered much of the two books’ content quaint and outdated. And while there have been other creative projects since, like Ma’yan’s Ritual Well and even my own Open Source Haggadah, such sites run with a hierarchical, top-down editorial structure, as opposed to a from-the-ground-up, non-hierarchical, grassroots, open publishing system. Thus I propose the creation of a new Jewish Catalog for the modern era — a wiki-based anarchist’s cookbook for autonomous Jewish practice, which can develop and grow along with the communities and individuals contributing to it.
Just as was the approach taken with Crimethinc’s immaculate Recipes For Disaster, my hope is to have you, our readers, contribute articles (which will eventually be freely open to contribution and editing by the site’s users) on subjects like organizing Shabbat dinners, leading services, reading trope, setting up chevruta studies, practical kashrut, Jewish meditation, using halakha as a mindful practice, and so forth.
Many of our readers are Jewish educators, communal leaders, Hillel directors — individuals who are exceptionally experienced with and well-informed on these subjects; moreso than on the more radical concepts I sought submissions for to the previous incarnation of Mazal Tov Cocktail. For this project, I am certain more than a handful of you are capable of participating, and so I welcome you, and even plead with you to get involved.
Institutional Judaism is a dinosaur. It is non-responsive to the needs and aspirations of today’s Jewish individuals and communities, and is much more focused on sustaining itself — by getting individuals to pay synagogue dues and donate to the Federation system — than on breathing life into Jewish practice and culture. In order to take Judaism away from these entities and become ourselves empowered to be the Jews we wish to be — as opposed to the Jews we’re told to be — and to create the Judaism we want for ourselves — as opposed to the Judaism we’re forcefed — it’s incumbent upon those committed to this vision to take personal responsibility towards making it happen.
Judaism belongs to each of us. It belongs to you in particular. Show us what you’re doing with it. Click here to send us your submissions to Mazal Tov Cocktail (or to figure out what they should be). The Jewish future depends on you.

27 thoughts on “Mazal Tov Cocktail Redux

  1. Jenn Bleyer’s “Mazel Tov Cocktail” was a work of genius. The beauty of the old punk rock ‘zine is that the fringe types got tell their life stories in their own words. Your interview section keeps that spirit alive. Far more interesting than cranky blog editorializing and forced attempts at community building.

  2. Hey.
    Take a look at “Uncovering the un-movement,” by Richard Greenberg and Debra Nussbaum Cohen, in the Fall 2005 issue of B’nai B’rith Magazine. [Just got it in today’s mail at work; it’s not yet on the web, and who knows if this article will be among those PDF’d – but if it is, you’ll find it here http://bnaibrith.org/pubs/bnai… ].
    The article covers some of the cultural/religious/poli tical/social phenomenon represented by some of the folks associatred with / described in jewschool.com … and it’s worth taking a read, especially as it is being read – or at least is sitting on the tables – of a whole lotta mainstream members of B’nai B’rith and other subscribers to / recipients of B’nai B’rith Magazine [e.g., quite a few Jewish community cernters’ and Jewish congregations’ libraries …]

  3. I don’t really know where to start… This is a great, inspiring, refreshing vision for Judaism and Jewish life. I’ve kinda wondered whether synagogues (and, to a lesser degree, other institutions) have noticed the near-total absence of people ages 18 – 30 — the ones without kids, that is.
    I’ve only noticed this recently because I only got really interested in Judaism about a year ago. So I was “disaffected,” too, but in a different sense, since I was raised secular-ly. Here’s what I’m wondering: There might be some benefit to focusing on the un-average Jewish young person — the one who didn’t grow up in an upper-middle-class enclave, who wasn’t inundated with Hebrew school and jaded, tawdry Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. I’m thinking, for example, of Jews in the former U.S.S.R., 80% of whom now intermarry and other non-American/non-wealth y Jews who never really learned the over-intellectualized, self-indulgent apathy toward religion and ritual.
    Anyway, what I’m saying is, I think this project needs lots of voices to work, and that includes minority voices. It includes converts, racial minorities, the working-class and poor, the formerly-secular, and everyone who has controversial but genuinely passionate views on religion (as opposed to just being snarky and “edgy”).
    That’s my $0.02. In any case, I love your vision statement, regardless of how it actually plays out. I believe there are enough concerned, overachieving dreamers out there that institutions will eventually feel the impact.

  4. at a loss as how to contribute right now but am cautiously optimistic about your mission and vision. I walked out of synagogue the High Holy Days after my Bat Mitzvah and haven’t been back since despite a growing urge to connect with being Jewish. I just am really uncomfortable with institutionalized American Judaism….

  5. If Judaism is whatever people want it to be, then it is formless, shapeless – and therefore not joinable, not a community. So the question of drawing the unaffiliated becomes moot.
    More than that: it becomes pointless.
    We’ve been this route – the now-empty synagogues were once full of firebrands forging their own funky Jewlicious fusion. It didn’t work. There wasn’t enough unifying – and unique – substance to justify belonging anymore.
    A poster remarks that only people with kids join shuls. He’s right: those people have acheived – or are struggling to work out – a definition of self and community that involves long-term trust and commitment.
    That’s what religions do – they provide an unchanging (or very very very slowly changing) scale of moral values that give people a solid foundation for (family and communal) life.
    We’ve already cycled though ethnic Jewishness and “Yiddish culture”, through reducing Judaism to general principles, through identification/substitu tion of Judaism with modern political ideologies – none of it gives sufficient justification for the effort of affiliating.
    Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.

  6. Oh, and we all know that there is ONE denomination whose shuls are full, and growing… it’s the denomination least open to your funky deconstructive program…
    Judaism already is what it is.

  7. Ben-David,
    There’s a difference between “reducing Judaism to general principles” and genuinely questioning whether the way it’s currently being practiced is actually serving God. Wouldn’t the fact that so many intelligent, concerned, and spiritual people are disillusioned by it be a signal that it’s not?
    Your comment that “Judaism already is what it is” seems irrelevant considering the facts on the ground. Judaism has changed and evolved since its beginning; hell, it began with a man rejecting the religion of his father. I agree that religions give people a solid set of moral values, which is why it’s frustrating when the religion’s current incarnation obscures those values instead of strengthening them.
    And let me ask you this: if you believe your “one denomination whose shuls are full” is THE true Judaism, how will you ever find out if you’re wrong? At least the Catholic church can occasionally admit to the damage caused by a specific piece of dogma. What’s Judaism’s equivalent of checks-and-balances? What is the price we pay for refusing to believe our religion — our limited knowledge of God — can be wrong?
    “Aware of the suffering caused by allegiance to dogma and creed, I vow never to make idols of ideas or to mistake any ‘ism’ for the ‘Is’… All religions are false insofar as they claim to be true. All religions are true insofar as they recognize and admit to being false.”
    –Rami Shapiro, in Minyan

  8. excellently done, mob. i want people to know that i’m working on an dvd right now that is education oriented. i tend to agree with so many of you that think practice, practice, practice is the key, rather than pandering. i bring more people around by teaching them how to light candles than selling them tee shirts. (anyone wanna buy a tee shirt?)
    i’ll be proud for my project to be excerpted in mazal tov or anywhere else that’s up to this sort of work. rah rah rah.

  9. Much like Ben-David said, the disenfranchisment of Jewish people today has been caused by the very thing that Mobius proposes as a cure. This “make-me-happy” distortion of Judaism and Torah leaves a person with anything but a meaningful and vibrant Jewish experience and at worse an empty shell of membership fees and board meetings. A real and meaningful Jewish experience can only come through submiting/nulifying oneself to a greater truth, one that is beyond what the individual (or community) wants. Unfortunatly, the masses of secular Jewish youth have been too influenced by their already failing reform/conservative movments that they still think the goal of Juaism is a greater expresion of me.

  10. ask avraham avienu about judaism and he’d stare at you with blank eyes. “judaism? what the hell is that?”
    Religious behavior must not be allowed to compromise our natural moral sensitivities. If indeed it does, then it is clearly misguided. We know that our behavior is derived from pure and spiritual motive when our innate sense of what is right becomes the more exalted as a consequence of its religious inspiration. If the opposite occurs and the moral quality of the individual and public response is diminished by our religious observance, then we are certainly mistaken in our path and our supposed purity is of no value.
    — Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, “Orot HaKodesh”

  11. i can’t account for reform or conservative judaism. i didn’t grow up reform or conservative. i grew up orthodox. and orthodoxy is why i stopped being observant. how many orthodox people do you know who are just going through the motions? whose orthodox practice is robotic and meaningless and devoid of spirituality — but they do it because they have a dogmatic fear looming over their head that god will punish them if they stop being orthodox, or, that they’d lose their community, their family, their comfort. most orthodox people are in that place. at least, most born and raised orthodox. it’s the b.t.’s who are the gung-ho diehard “fulfilled” ones. and as anyone who grew up frum will tell you — they’re all nuts. orthodoxy may have a higher retention rate than conservativism or reform judaism, but it’s only by dogmatic shackles. it has nothing to do with spiritual fulfillment. ask misnagdim about spirituality, they’ll laugh at your flaky ass and throw a gemara in your face. ask a hasid and they’ll babble without ever saying anything substantiative. a truly spiritual, holy, enlightened jew is a rare find. and i’ve never met a single one who has identified themselves as orthodox.

  12. Wait, it’s the “orthodox” “establishment” which this is all railing against?
    I thought it was the Congress organizations which had the “lifeless fingers” from which Judaism had to be “pried”, the “dinosaur” which is “non-responsive” and from which Judaism has to be “taken away” so that they can stop “forcefe[e]d[ing]” us Judaism. Congress executives are rarely orthodox.
    Suggestion: spend less time railing against how everyone else is evil, and more time sticking to what you would like to do that’s good. It’s off-setting, it’s hatin’, it’s sort of untrue (force-fed? I mean what does that mean: Jewish stormtroopers bursting into the houses of unaffiliated Jews and dragged them to syngagoue), and it sounds almost identical to the stereotypes of arrogant, closed-off, powerful, unfeeling, and shadowy Jewish conspiracies that are, well, what antisemitism is all about.
    So, please, just get on with it and drop the histrionic tantrums about how those other folks are wrong, wrong, wtong. Try doing what you think is right, and stick to that. If people like it they’ll sign up even without getting hit over the head with how all the other people are baaaaad. Heck, they may even get all emotional and call it “leading by example”.

  13. In Avot, we read of a tripartite “keteric” national structure: Keter Torah; Keter Kehuna; Keter Malkhut — a leadership model dividing power between law, priesthood, and kingdom. There is plenty of room in the traditional rabbinic structure (our “government-in-exile,” as it were) for the existence of a dynamic mix from frum to secular. What are we talking about when we discuss “spirituality,”anyway?

  14. Dan, take a class on Rational Mysticism with Shaiya Rothberg or a halakha class with Richie Lewis at the Conservative Yeshiva. The hidden tzadikim of our times! And not Orthodox!

  15. The fact that you’ve never met one doesn’t mean too much Mobius. The fact that you’re searching for one is much more important. Maybe you are the One, maybe there are others if you look real well.
    Fact is though, Hashem doesn’t expect the regular people to be much more than just that, regular. If everyone was a tzadik, there would be no tzadikim. If everyone was a leader, there would be no leaders.
    In this scenario Mobius, I would agree that your anarchistic theory would be much more possible and somewhat realistic.
    That is not the world we were put in.
    “The Poor and the Rich will not cease in the time of the Moshiach”
    The perfection of the world is giving and taking, masa u’matan, on every level. Even in the perfection of society, when Moshiach comes and we all follow the Torah, gentiles alike, there will be various societal degrees in all measures of human scale.
    Hashem asks us to follow his Torah, to be simple with him (Tamim t’hieh), to fight against our yetzer. He doesn’t ask or expect this without a basic internal struggle, in fact this opens the door for greater progress in spiritual growth.
    But, he doesn’t love us any less or more according to our level. But does raise a person in society according to his potential and actual progress and societal position.
    Rich, Poor. Smart, Average. Ect., Ect…
    My point,
    It is normal to have imperfect people in the ‘frum’ community and for ‘frum’ society as a whole of base in aspects. If just being shomer mitzvot and torah made a person perfect, and just by the divine providence of being born in a frum family makes one perfect, then these people would have brought Moshiach by now.
    They have tests too, they have work to do, however much that is.
    But one can in no way lessen their stature, or take any credit from them for having kept Torah for whatever reason they did.
    “Afilu sh’lo lishma, shmitoch ze, ba l’kayema L’shma”
    *my qoutes may not be grammatically correct for i cannot look up the sources this second, mochel Oti

  16. “a truly spiritual, holy, enlightened jew is a rare find. and i’ve never met a single one who has identified themselves as orthodox.”
    Completely agreeing with the rest of what you said, but are you sure about that last part? I disagree. I’ve met all sorts of enlightened holy people from different communities. Not as many as I’d have liked, but enough to know theu’re out there in all sorts of places.

  17. It seems to me that there’s room for all these organizations and movements under the guide and community of Judaism. Indeed, it seems neccesary as everyone has different needs.
    Rather than prying Judaism from the “institutions” — which do succesfully serve those very people we’re railing against — this should be seen as a chance to create a complimentary community — one that addresses our needs.
    So that question is: What do you want?
    Also, a quick plug… a new shul is growing in Los Angeles — Ikkar. http://www.ikar-la.org/

  18. Don’t forget “lifeless” institutions, Elihu. And how they’re shoving all this down the throats of unaffiliated Jews (who knew?).
    All kidding aside, I like the hatred-free vibe. What are some NYC congregations similar to Ikkar?

  19. mobius: “a truly spiritual, holy, enlightened jew is a rare find. and i’ve never met a single one who has identified themselves as orthodox.”
    i agree with alan scott that these people definitely exist, and i’ve met at least a couple of them. maybe you’re right, though, that they don’t identify as “orthodox.” i think, in a lot of ways, religion today (and not just judaism) is becoming post-denominational. it’s harder and harder not to see that there are good, bad, holy and horrible people in every denomination or movement. i guess the real test of a given religious group is how well it moves most of its members toward an increased sense of responsibility, humility, kindness, social awareness, etc. If people use halakha as an end in itself, instead of a path to holiness, then that’s messed up. And if they only use religion insofar as it’s convenient and regularly delivers ecstatic spiritual experiences, then that’s messed up, too.
    I know Mazal Tov Cocktail is supposed to be about radical culture, but when everyone seems to be going to extremes, the most radical thing could be moderation — a willingness to criticize ourselves first and to remain skeptical of anyone who claims they have The Answer.

  20. it’s the b.t.’s who are the gung-ho diehard “fulfilled” ones. and as anyone who grew up frum will tell you — they’re all nuts.
    What is this supposed to mean mobius?
    Honestly mobius, for such a progressive peace loving guy, you seem to be full of spite and hate. seemingly for anyone who doesnt agree with your open-minded, peace loving stances. problem is though, i dont think you even know where you stand.

  21. Give mobius all the support he needss. He will single-handedly accelerate the ascendancy of orthodoxy.

  22. actually formermuslim,
    I offered mr. mobius support which he so politely denied claiming that our views are opposing.
    I don’t see such a solid definition going on over here where anyone’s support should be denied, no less someone who truly wanted to help.
    now i question the effictiveness of my potential support, and i think it would be money down the tube.
    A solid definition of stance and goals is needed for any successful project.
    “b’tachbulot t’aaseh milchamah”
    Mishle, Shlomo Ha’Melech

  23. I, too, wanted to join myself to something larger than myself, a feeling itcame all over me when I was studying for my Bar Mitzvah My Rabbi suggested I emigrate to Israel and join the IDF.
    I will say one thing, though, Judaism is the most exclusive religion ever made. Some day there will be only two Jews left, G-d forbid, and each of them will be the only real Jew alive.
    The best answer I have heard to the question “Who is a Jew” is:
    Whoever is willing to say he is.

  24. And those 2 Jews will probably have 3 synagogues between them…
    Sounds like an interesting project, although as an atheistic Jewish anarchist I’m not sure if my writings would have a place in it…good luck!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.