In case you've been hiding under a chair for the past few days, the PEW report about the status of the American Jewish community was released last week. The report, titled "A Portrait of Jewish Americans" (not, as one might note, "American Jews," which is what they would have probably written even 20 years ago) was not wildly encouraging for anyone who would like to see Jewish identity thrive in America.
Almost every American Jewish family that I know of has the same story. The grandparents/great-grandparents came to America in the late 1800s/early 1900s as committed, religious Jews. Their children, who attended American public schools, maintained their identity as Jews, with varied amounts of religious observance thrown in. They strove, however, to attain the American dream of education, professions, good work and economic stability and that became their goal.
The following generation built on that foundation. More education, better jobs and moves out to farther-flung communities in which families were physically and psychologically removed from the core Jewish community.
Well, the years have gone by and, to no one's great surprise today's generation of American Jews (Jewish Americans -- potato, potatto) is less connected to their heritage than ever. All the programs, stop-gap measures and money that's been thrown at the situation hasn't made much difference. Six out of ten people surveyed believe that being Jewish is mainly a matter of culture or ancestry. With that kind of belief, why in the world would they search out a Jewish partner and raise their own children as Jews? It's like being an American Indian (with all due respect to Native Americans)...it defines where you come from, not where you're going.
Over the last several months I've been collecting Linked-In friends to connect them with the online Jewish education program that I work with. I can assure you that there are literally tens of thousands of Jewish professionals, lay leaders and teachers out there. All of whom make their living by, in one way or another, transmitting Judaism. So what's happened?
I want to start my own program. Guess what -- it won't cost the Jewish community a dime. It's called "Two by Two" in honor of this week's Torah portion, Parshat Noach.
Noach couldn't save all of mankind from the flood, or even all of the animal kingdom, so he (at God's command) brought two of every kind of animal on the ark. From those pairs the world was renewed and repopulated.
So let's all aim towards "Two by Two." Each one of us who knows something about Judaism and wants to share that passion can do one thing every week to strengthen the next person. No matter how little you know, you probably know more than someone else. (and if you don't, its your responsibility to find a partner and explore together).
If you "do" Shabbat, invite a friend to share it -- someone who otherwise may not have access to a Shabbat meal.
If you read something meaningful that expresses Judaism, pass it on.
If you hear about a good class or project (yes, there are some great projects out there) take a friend, or at least share the information.
If you're not satisfied with your local Jewish congregation or Hebrew school, get involved. Submit your own ideas. Form a "chevre" -- a group -- that will advocate for the type of Jewish interaction that you want to see in your community. If you can't do it, find others.
Don't judge. Don't assume that your way is the best way....it's a lot better to let someone go on their own way than to turn them off completely from Judaism by your insistence that God wants us all to do things in a certain way. God will probably be a lot more impressed by your openness and outreach than your adherence to a certain style of Judaism.
Keep your friends and family members in mind when you hear about a program or opportunity that might be of interest to them -- a subsidized trip to Israel, an online Hebrew School program, an article. You never know when a penny will drop.
Each one of us has the ability to make a difference in the life of an individual. Let's do this, two by two.