Edgar M. Bronfman recently had an op ed piece that was posted on JTA. Never a fan of synagogues, he has created his own prayer experiences for the High Holidays to which he has invited friends and fellow travelers. He praises the emerging signs of Jewish culture and religious life and encourages people to support them even during these austere times.
“The fact that young Jews are not affiliating in the“traditional” way indicates there is something wrong with our institutions,not that there is something wrong with our youth. We have to let go of the old ways of defining what it means to be an “involved Jew” and begin to look to the kind of involvement that today’s Jews are seeking.”
Well, that does seem to be an issue, but Judaism is not a service industry. It is a vehicle for service. Even these exciting new projects attract mostly engaged Jews who are disaffected from existing institutions. The synagogue may be going the way of the newspaper, (as Clay Shirky would have us believe) but just as journalism is a necessary component for a democracy and therefore will not die, Torah is the central and essential component of Judaism and any innovation that does not somehow reflect its values will not be sustained. Historically, this seems to be an accurate statement. Make no mistake, for these purposes Torah is not narrowly defined, but encompasses many pathways. These pathways share one thing though, and that is commitment.
The more these innovations come from substance and meaning, and not from a consumer’s perspective, the more successful they will be.