Culture, Identity, Politics, Religion


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.

11 thoughts on “*YAwn*

  1. Amen. But what do you expect, when even the gatherings they fund to bring young people together at no cost seem to be about the same thing? Its not about how they can help us do what we already know engages our peers.
    For them, its about what we can do to help them achieve their agenda that we just! dont! seem! to swallow! I mean gosh, what is wrong with us for not going and joining AIPAC this very second?
    You’d think that with folks like Sharna and Roger on staff, they would get it, that bubble up works better than trickle down.
    Would any of the ROI-niks care to chime in?

  2. omg someone else beat me to the “begs the question” rant! this is my pet peeve. did none of these people belong to the debate club? jeez.

  3. Uh huh. That’s what we all need. Some new “myths”. Maybe while we’re at it they could throw in some fashionable academic jargon too. That always helps liven up conversations (and, of course, the soul).

  4. few things.
    1. we don’t need more “myths.” we could use some facts. Or maybe they could use some facts.
    2. Adam, Roger and Sharna work for the “other” bronfmans (Andrea and Charles, not Edgar and Samuel).
    3. oy vey.

  5. I don’t know if we need facts, but what we do need are truths, which are IMO not the same thing as myths or stories. It seems to me that there is far too much obsessing over some sort of thing that everyone is supposed to believe to make us breed more with one another (not that that’s a bad thing, it’s just not the point; if there are to be Jews, our purpose is not so that there will be Jews; there are Jews to fulfill a purpose of being holy, to reach that end, it is useful if there are Jews to be and to do. If all we’re doing is surviving so that there will be more Jews, we’ve massively missed the point) But IMO, that’s just not how it works. The mission is embedded in the actions and the community, meaning and stories come afterwards (in the sense of to do is to understand, not in the sense of the community is the be-all and end-all source of holiness). MOreover, meaning is not something that someone else can give you anyway, nor is truth: all those things are obliged to come from the agent who engages them and lives them.

  6. Yup.
    thanks for the props, Adam. I suppose they are reading the studies, but I’m always puzzled by the ways that my work is taken up by people whose hearts, I believe are in the right place, but whose heads, well…. aren’t.
    As far as KRG’s comments about stories/myths/truths/facts. I agree, and appreciate the correction. truth is in sadly short supply nowadays, and while I’m not sure I understand/agree with your last comment. I’m certain that truth isn’t going to trickle-down from above. If its going to trickle down from anywhere, the source is going to be higher than Park City. But, i suppose (following Lacan, whom I don’t generally follow) the trouble with truth is that its structured like fiction.

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