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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Generation gap

The president's editorial in the bulletin struck an interesting tone this month, and I must admit that I found it a rather odd message to give to parents. She basically suggested that they force their kids to participate in temple activities.  

One of the most formative Jewish experiences I had was at a meeting at Hillel at Temple University. Of course I didn't grow up in a temple youth group and didn't go to Jewish summer camp, etc, etc. (I pursued Judaism as an adult, mainly through attending worship services, and feminist seders, with Jewish friends.)  So I'm sitting in this meeting and everyone there, almost to a person, is expressing their alienation with the synagogue experience of their youth, where everyone was more concerned with what other congregants were wearing, rather than what kind of spiritual experience they were having.

Fast forward a couple of decades. Now I belong to a synagogue, even sit on the board, and the leadership is complaining because my generation (represented by those alienated Hillel students) is not raising their children the same (misguided!) way that they were raised.

My question for the leadership is this: wouldn't it be better to put your efforts into making temple activities appealing to the children in our community, so that no forcing would be necessary? Wouldn't it be better to tell parents that we are working very hard to ensure that their kids will have a different experience than the one you had as a child, because we want the temple to be a place where the children in our community feel welcome, accepted, and engaged? That Judaism is worthwhile because it's deep and beautiful and meaningful for all ages, not that it's something you must suffer through now, in the hope that you will later come to appreciate its value.

While there have been many changes in American Judaism in the last few decades, clearly there is still a major disconnect between the goals and perceptions of the current leadership and the goals and perceptions of the (younger) congregants.  That gap is where much of my dissatisfaction resides, and my own frustration with the experience of board, where the decisions and influence still reside in a small clique of people (but that's another entry entirely).

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