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Fee For Service Judaism may hold us until we get our communal act together in a new way.
Judaism is changing, yet again. Many feel it is changing for the wrong reasons or in a bad way, but the fact of the change is palpable.
Post Holocaust Judaism in North America was built on two major foundational lines of thinking. The first was the cry “never again”, referring to the horrific destruction of Jewish life in Europe, and the second was the suburbanization of American Jewish communities. The intersection of these two points created a Judaism that was based in fear, on the grand scale of the Holocaust, and on the smaller but not less significant scale of assimilation into American culture. The role of rabbi 50 years ago was, in no small part, to constantly remind their congregations that affiliation with Jewish community and vigilance against mixing with those outside of the Jewish community would protect us from a second holocaust (small ‘h’ holocaust).
And here we are, over half a century later, and fear based Judaism is no longer holding sway in our communities. Maybe it never did hold sway.
But there are bright spots in the future. In a New York Times article about the clergy who serve the greatest number of wedding couples we find a Holocaust survivor who became a rabbi, later in her life, to serve the Jews for whom ‘fear based’ Judaism didn’t keep them attached to community. These are the Jews who have found community in the larger world and have fallen in love with people outside the Jewish community. These are the Jews who still yearn for Jewish connection and are willing to pay fee for service to get that connection. These are the Jews who, if we can get our act together, will someday find reconnection with Jewish community, but it will take some work and a leap of faith on our part. Like the rabbi in the article, who saw a hole in the Jewish community and sought to fill it, so to we have an opportunity to heal the tapestry of Jewish life in North America.
I am not saying that Judaism should be based on serving disaffected and disconnected Jews in a fee for service manner. I am saying that we need to understand that these rabbis are holding together, however loosely woven, the Jewish threads that may someday reconnect and bind with strength. Rabbis like Renee Feller who see their role as life cycle ‘plus’, plus counseling, plus Jewish teaching, plus welcoming, offer the rest of us a chance to create relevant and engaging programming for when these couples are ready to check out congregational Judaism. If they continue to step into the Judaism of the 1950’s, they are as good as lost.
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