The Pew Study has hit and everyone’s reeling. What does it mean? Who’s to blame? And what’s next? Canadian Jewish leaders ask: How are we the same? How are we different from our American brothers and sisters? And the commonly asked question here: Is it only a matter of time before the trends cross the border?
It does not surprise me that for Jewish Americans, both multicultural comfort and Jewish pride are at an all-time high. It does not surprise me that whom one chooses to marry is barely tied to one’s pride in self-identifying as a Jew. It does not surprise me that “having a good sense of humour” ranks significantly higher than “observing Jewish law” when American Jews reflect on what it means to be Jewish. It does surprise (and horrify) me that above all other ways of Jewish expression, when it comes to identifying the “essential part of what being Jewish means to them,” American Jews most commonly site “remembering the Holocaust.” Where’s the joy in that?
It does not surprise me that the great majority says being Jewish is primarily about culture and ancestry. It does not surprise me that so many say they do not believe in God. I wonder, though, what is it that they don’t believe in. Our medieval Jewish philosophers distinguish between “believing in” and “believing that.” How might you complete a sentence that starts: “I have faith in….”? How might you complete a sentence that starts: “I have faith that…”?
Measuring Our Success
Our own congregational survey conducted just a few months ago by Measuring Success indicates that half of the Temple members who responded to the survey feel that Holy Blossom has “helped in my spiritual and intellectual growth.” And fifty-eight per cent say that Holy Blossom “helped me deepen my connection with God.” This cup is only about half full. But if a synagogue community does not help Jews with these pursuits of the spirit, who will?
Rabbi-Professor Larry Hoffman of Hebrew Union College recently shared with me his forthcoming article, “Beyond Romanticism: Having Something Spiritual to Say.” In it, he challenges rabbis and synagogues to find the vocabulary to articulate the spiritual life liberal North American Jews yearn to speak. We know words are powerful. In Jewish life, words have always been our most powerful tools. Of course, sophisticated, well-educated, well-assimilated Jews have spiritual needs just like everyone else. But it seems we have not yet developed the language to pursue them in our time. The concept of “Multiple Intelligences” has made its way into popular consciousness. But it isn’t yet popular among liberal Jews to pay much attention to their “Religious/Spiritual/Existential Intelligence.” Hoffman challenges us to provide a forum for matters of the spirit. Such an effort needs to be both serious and joyful. And it seems, the stakes are high.
Have a Little Faith
My husband the Lit Prof recommends the book by young Israeli hot-shot, Shani Boianjiu. I recommend the title: “The People of Forever are Not Afraid.” The good fortune and good opportunities granted us in this particular time and place are not the worst things that ever came the way of the Jewish People. With good leadership, clarity of purpose, and whole-hearted effort, “I believe,” and “I have faith that” we can create Jewish life which is compelling and meaningful for the coming generations.
For some of the highlights of the Pew Study, click here.