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A Solution to the Jewish Problem

Thursday, 15 June, 2017 - 11:27 pm

Let me begin with prayerful wishes for a complete and speedy recovery for Rep. Scalise and the three others who were wounded in yesterday’s incident. There is much talk about toning down the rhetoric, which is accused of leading crazy folks like the shooter to perpetrate these horrendous acts. While I’m all for toning down the rhetoric, and I believe words are powerful and have an impact, still those spewing the violent sentiments may or may not mean it literally, and they may or may not have had a direct impact on the people deranged enough to carry them out. However, what is very disturbing is the spiteful reaction on the part of some, who are at political odds with Rep. Scalise. Granted, the people in leadership positions rightfully came out and condemned any violence as a means of advancing political discourse. But I have been very uncomfortable with some of the gleeful and opportunistic expressions of spite on social media and elsewhere. It is not appropriate to engage in this approach. It is not becoming of anyone who wishes to be associated with the term “mensch” to act this way. Let us argue and engage in passionate political discourse for the betterment of our country and world. But one must not rejoice at the tragedy of people, with whom one may not agree, but are a legitimate part of the American way, and who are certainly not deserving of this attack. In short, this is not the way Jews or Americans should be conducting themselves. Mensch up and do the right thing!

Back to the world of ideas… Two articles were brought to my attention this week, each advancing the notion that the American Jewish establishment must do more to engage Jews and ensure Jewish continuity. So far so good. They then go on to argue that the focus needs to be on cultural Judaism but not on religious Judaism. So it should be about Israel, the Holocaust, Tikkun Olam and the like. (As if those are not fully intersected with Judaism the religion…) These are smart and successful people that are offering these opinions. The trouble is that this stuff has been tried to some degree or another and the data, after all said and done, just doesn’t support this as the long term solution to the problem of Jewish disengagement. The Pew research study of a few years ago should have already given them sufficient info to concede this point.

So what is the solution? Years ago I came across a letter that the Rebbe wrote to an individual who was developing programming for engaging Israeli youth. The Rebbe encouraged him to not suffice with cultural programming but rather to also inject a serious does of Yiddishkeit, so that the youth have a sense of something unique to them to associate with emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.  

We see this played out over and over again. Institutions such as Birthright struggle to maintain the enthusiasm of their alumni once they are further removed from the experience of the trip. However, when the trip is infused with Torah and Mitzvot and elements of religious Jewish observance, the impact is far more powerful, both in the moment and long term. Just touting the great achievements of Israel as a country and society (and there are some really great ones) is insufficient. When there is a soul connection that sparks the long term relationship.

The same is true with the other “cultural” Jewish angles that are being advanced in the articles. Each of them is significantly enhanced and made personal and unique when infused with elements of Torah and Mitzvot Judaism. This solution has withstood the test of millennia and has outlasted every other temporal alternative.

Hi-tech is great and medical and social advancements are wonderful. The beaches and cities are beautiful and the military might is powerful. But what speaks to the Neshama of a Jew is a relationship with Hashem through Torah and Mitzvot. That is the bottom line. So we can continue to throw millions of dollars at alternative solutions, and then continue to bemoan why Jews are less engaged. Or we can try the solution that works. Good old fashioned Yiddishkiet (no pun intended?). There is much more to be written on this topic but I think you get the point!

Wishing us all much success in engaging our people and Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin 

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