C onservative. Orthodox. Reform. Reconstructionist. Secular. Unaffiliated. When annual surveys about the state of American Jewry are conducted—or JDate profiles are filled out—many of today’s young Jews feel misrepresented by the limited choices they are offered. In today’s information age, online communities are proliferating at an astounding rate; prayer groups or social justice events are created with the click of a mouse and the pressure to associate with Judaism as our parents’ generation defined it is deteriorating. Young Jews of all backgrounds are finding alternative ways to connect to their past and at the same time create a vibrant new synthesis for the future. In this series, PresenTense Magazine aims to uncover the many shades of Jewish living today and hear from those on the ground as to how they are associating and connecting to their heritage.
Alan Sufrin is a musician based out of Chicago. He has a new album coming out this summer, which can be sampled and bought at StereoSinai.com. PT: So, in this age of labels and classifications, who are you? Alan: I would associate myself with Modern Orthodoxy. I would describe myself as an observant cultural Jew, who connects with God through music. PT: Do you feel underrepresented or misrepresented by the general Jewish public? Alan: People always refer to Orthodoxy [as a denomination] or would like to simplify things and make me identify as Orthodox, but that’s not always a fair representation since I wouldn’t identify or associate myself with many in that group. PT: When I say Judaism, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Alan: Family. In college I spent a lot of time studying other religions. There are so many rich lessons which can be taken from other beliefs, so I stopped and asked myself the inevitable question… why not be part of one of them? And then I thought of my family, and all the rich, beautiful traditions which were passed down. If all the previous generations found something special, both spiritually and culturally, who am I to come along and say it wasn’t really that important.
girlfriend Miriam Brosseau: my new venture is in Jewish music. Music combines different feelings and emotions, it includes the studying of text and the instrumental aspect which we know was done in the times of the Temple. The most rewarding part of playing is that I get to have an effect on others. PT: Does the formal Jewish community offer you the opportunities you’re looking for or do you have to go outside its walls? Alan: Growing up, it was “you have to be either A, B or C.” But our generation, we are starting a new Jewish culture, we no longer join synagogues instead we join Internet groups. Instead of prayer groups we have put on soul concerts. There’s a new Jewish alternative culture out there, which has become the new mainstream for me. This new movement of young people coming from all over and connecting in an alternative way is a very exciting development in the way Judaism is practiced. PT: Do you feel a formal Jewish education is important today? Alan: It’s helpful, and important. Everyone’s different. Even if we could educate everyone, everyone would have a different outlook. For those out there that never had a formal Jewish education but still connect in their own way is just as meaningful as someone who grew up with it.
PT: What makes you feel Jewish?
PT: With all the technological change going on, do you think it’s possible for teachers or religious leaders to relate and connect to the youth of today?
Alan: Previously, I made pop music, but now I’m starting something new with my
Alan: Everyone’s struggling with this dilemma today not just in religious circles. It
rules of engagement PresenTensemagazine.org
Photo provided by Alan Sufrin
remains a serious problem. There are countless examples of a major disconnect between the generations. The generation of old is living in a vertical, top-down world and we live in a horizontal realm where collaboration is key. The only way to move forward is to understand each other better so we can make our community more effective.
There’s a new Jewish alternative culture out there, which has become the new mainstream for me. PT: How do you think you can make Judaism more appealing for those not already associated or connected? Alan: We need to find parallels to what’s already out there. If you can create content for YouTube and MySpace you have a better chance of connecting to the technologically savvy youth of today. Now with the Internet, we can get our ideas out and circulated, it’s not as difficult as it once was back in the day to reach out to one another. Josh Whisler is a freelance writer living in Washington, DC, and is the author of The Iranian Track blog (www.iraniantrack.blogspot.com).
issue four 2008
PresenTense 4 brings Social back