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Monday, March 14, 2011

Trends in Reform Judaism, pt. 2

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See also entry from December 5, 2010

Tonight the rabbi gave a lecture on "Reform Judaism - Past, Present and Future."  I had to leave early to make it to the book club meeting, so I missed the "future" part (very frustrating), but I was again left scratching my head over the rabbi's vision of current practice. 

Specificially, he stated that (all) Jews under the age of 50 are "hungering for tradition."  This is not my personal experience, and is not the way I would characterize the vast majority of people I'm acquainted with.  In fact, the only person that describes accurately is my sister-in-law, who attended the same rabbinical training that he did. 

I would say that my "hunger" is for meaning, and for connection to a community, but that is not at all the same thing as "tradition."  My impression of my peers with similar-age children, as well as my contemporaries with older children or no children, and even a few younger people in their teens, who participate in synagogue life is that their goals are basically the same as mine - to belong to a community and engage in Jewish practice.  I can't think of a single one who has expressed a desire for greater tradition or observance than is already being provided.  (I'm not saying that there aren't young Jews in America who are "hungering for tradition," I just don't know any who belong to my Reform synagogue.*) 

It's hard not to feel that his perception reinforces his own agenda, rather than reflecting the real desires of the congregants (maybe it's just his assertion that reinforces his agenda, and his actual perception is moot).  Of course, I don't know all the members (under 50 years old), and certainly can't claim to know what is in anyone's heart of hearts.  But I'm quite sure that his sweeping generalization does not accurately capture the diversity of preferences in our Reform community.

*You could, of course, argue that they don't belong to our synagogue because of the dirth of "tradition," but they can have those experiences at Conservative and Orthodox temples - Syracuse has both.  If our temple concentrates on providing "tradition" for those people, where does that leave those of us who are actually Reform Jews who want to engage in Reform Jewish practice?  It leaves us with nothing, at least in this community.

It's probably worth noting that I was the only person attending this lecture who falls into this "under 50" category.  It would be interesting to hear the response to his assertion in a crowd comprised of that demographic.



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