Passionate Opinion: The primary goal of Jewish learning today is to reawaken the Jewish habit of mind of building connections
- between Jew and Jew
- between Jew and non-Jewish family members
- between Jew and non-Jewish friends and neighbors, sharing in Jewish experiences
- between bits (and bytes) of Jewish knowledge and wisdom
- between bits (and bytes) of Jewish knowledge and wisdom and the knowledge and wisdom of our friends and neighbors and their cultural and spiritual heritages
Between Jew & Jew and between Jew and non-Jewish family members
Over the course of time, Jews have lost the ability to communicate in a shared language. In the most literal way, Hebrew, the only universally shared language among Jews, is no longer one in which all Jews are able to converse. But in a figurative way also, the "diaspora" and Jewish history have made it difficult to communicate across time, distance, cultures and beliefs.
What do we want to reawaken? In the Talmudic era, rabbis and scholars "spoke" to one another. If we were to read the Talmud, we'd make the mistake of believing that the participants in discussions were sitting across from one another. In fact, they often lived hundreds of years apart and hundreds of miles apart. Yet, I remember my teacher, Rabbi Zelig Starr, of blessed memory, speaking about how he conversed with these rabbis of Babylonia and Israel from his classroom in Skokie, IL, across nearly a 2000 year time difference.
I once drew a network map of a Talmudic conversation. It was unlike any contemporary social network map, because it transcended time and location. Very futuristic, yet it mapped a conversation of nearly 2000 years ago.
The goal today is to bring all Jews and their families into the big Jewish conversation. Today's technologies allow for some previously unimagined communications to occur in real time. But we can also link to conversations and wisdom, much of it accessible in English as well as Hebrew, for the first time ever. And available through technology as well as the printed word.
Between Jewish and Non-Jew
Recent studies of the young generation show that its members want to "do Jewish in non-Jewish spaces". They want their friends, both Jewish and non-Jewish, to be able to join in Jewish celebrations and conversations. My students cannot remember a time when Jews felt uncomfortable wearing kippot in public (and in Temple!), or one in which people would Americanize their Jewish sounding names. They take pride in their Jewishness and want to share it in society alongside everyone else's heritage. Events like Sukkah City, in which Jews and non-Jewish friends and family walked together an explored Sukkah architecture, were custom-made for this generation of Jews. And one of the most innovative approaches to Jewish youth, Jewish Student Union, boasts that as many of half of the participants in some programs are non-Jews, often accompanying Jewish friends. Our goal today must be to enable this generation to make their Jewish connectedness happen on its terms.
In the next installment, we'll look at the knowledge and wisdom components of Jewish connectedness.