Shalom Magazine Ed 26

Page 12

The future is in our past Sandra Lilienthal, Ed.D. In the past two years, much conversation has been held in reference to the 2013 Pew Survey of U.S. Jewry. But we now have a more recent study - the Pew Research Center Survey on American Religion [1], which adds some interesting information to the discussion. Between June and September of 2014, 35,000 Americans were interviewed over the phone, of which close to 850 identified as Jews. Compared to the previous study of this kind, conducted in 2007, Jews in 2014 seem to pray, study, and go to synagogue slightly more. And while the majority of Jews feels gratitude weekly, they spend less time thinking about the meaning and purpose of life than other religious groups. Of all religious peoples who believe in the Bible, Jews are the ones who least believe that G-d wrote it. In fact, general belief in G-d also fell when comparing the responses of 2014 and 2007. While there are many more pointers studied, what seems to have impacted general media reports above are rates of Jewish support for same-sex marriage (77 percent) and the fact that most American Jews (57 percent) eat pork (90% of Muslims do not). In my eyes, this is not nearly as worrisome as the fact that, according to this research, the majority of Jews do not experience spiritual peace. The practice of Judaism, as of all religions, should ideally lead to feelings of peace, of well-being, of purpose, of spirituality. Where have we gone wrong? I know I am in danger of crossing the line of political correctness. But if we are to survive, as a religion, we need to engage in some serious thinking. This is especially true if we want non-Orthodox Judaism to survive and flourish as much as Orthodoxy.


Shalom Magazine -

This past October, a group of American Jewish leaders from different movements published a “Statement on Jewish Vitality[2],” in which they propose that if we are to survive, spiritually speaking, we need to face the problems head on, and come up with solutions. These solutions, they write, must “build Jewish social networks, convey Jewish content, [and] target peer groups of Jews at crucial stages of life.” They discuss support for day schools, summer camp, youth groups, Israel trips, and campus rabbis and educators. They advocate for film festivals, concerts, and learning programs. They speak of conversion-oriented courses, which would bring more intermarried couples into the Jewish fold. While I admire and respect the 74 signers of the statement, I find that we are missing a very important element: a push for the education of our adults. Those who grew up in the Orthodox world and went to cheder and yeshiva acquired the Jewish “language.” Whether they remain observant or not, they have the knowledge foundation needed to make their choices, to search for spiritually meaningful experiences, and to engage with their Judaism in a way that allows for spiritual growth. But what happens to those who grew up with little or no Jewish education? While supplementary school is a real blessing for those who do or did not attend day schools, how much can we realistically learn in a couple of hours a week when we are speaking of a corpus of teachings and literature that is at least 3,000 years old?! I am not at all suggesting that day school is the only option; neither am I saying that supplementary Hebrew school is not impactful. What I am saying is that for the majority of American Jews, there is a need for strong, meaningful, and relevant adult Jewish education - education that takes into consideration how adults learn, what they are looking for, and how they can truly become links on the chain of transmission of Judaism to the next generations. As I humbly accepted the Covenant Award for Excellence in Jewish Education last month, I said that adult learners understand that learning is a journey with no end, and that Judaism teaches not WHAT to think, but HOW to think Jewishly. I cited the Jewish songwriter Doug Cotler,

Winter 2015

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