08 November 2019
I believe that whatever the Jewish future may look like, it is going to be shaped by those with a passion for Jewish community. It is no coincidence that some of the most impactful contributions to Jewish life have come from people who are inspired to learn about Judaism and Jewish tradition and help others do the same.
At Federation, we want to help build a community that is welcoming and accessible to all. There should be no prerequisites for engaging in Jewish life. We want people who have no or relatively little Jewish experience or connection to feel comfortable walking into our communal tent and exploring what Jewish life has to offer.
We also want to ensure that no matter where someone is on their journey, they feel invited and supported to take their next step. We want them to feel empowered to deepen their ties and to use their skills and creativity to transform Jewish community. We want those who find joy in Jewish life to use their knowledge to shake things up.
Take, for instance, Aliza Kline’s OneTable, a thoroughly modern nonprofit that encourages millennials to build a meaningful Shabbat practice. Aliza’s efforts reflect a deep knowledge of Jewish tradition as well as an understanding of the needs and desires of the next generation of young Jews. Her connection to Jewish ritual ultimately helped her transform it. The same goes for her 21st century mikveh (Jewish ritual bath) initiative, Mayyim Hayyim. The community center helps everyone who is interested learn about and experience a mikveh practice, thereby giving new life and understanding to a tradition that has often been out of reach.
Or consider that, to write her eloquent and heartfelt book, Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life—in Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There), author and former White House speechwriter Sarah Hurwitz sent herself on a journey of intense Jewish study. She wanted to show us that the ethical and spiritual teachings we need today are there for the taking, so long as we look, study, and explore.
In Chapter 3 of Pirkei Avot, we are told, “Know from where you come, and where you are going.” To build the future we all imagine, we must be ready to think differently and to evolve, revive, and reinvent Jewish life. We should embrace innovation and new ideas with open arms.
But I also know that sometimes to build upward, we must first build a strong foundation. My prediction is that the most revolutionary ideas will be those that stem from and connect us back to Jewish teachings. Indeed, the deeper our base of knowledge and connection to Jewish wisdom, the stronger and more innovative our future will be.