So we come this weekend to the festival of “Shavuot”, probably the least observed of our Big 5 festivals. Rosh Hoshonnah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Pesach–all fairly well know and, in their own way, observed. But Shavuot, well, not so much. Historically this is the festival that celebrates the first harvest (planted at Passover season). Over time, and as we became less of an agrarian people, the historical act of the Sinai revelation was attached to this festival. For those of us (the majority of Jews) who reject the Divine revelation at Sinai, we came to celebrate this festival as one in which we honor the concept of Torah and the on-going ability of our people to see, even in ancient texts, new and vital interpretations and meaning. I think you can see that one of the reasons the Reform movement created the ritual of Confirmation for teens and placed it at this festival, is to link the completion of a phase of religious education with the continuing need of a Jew to study Torah. Sadly, too few of our people see this ceremony as a passageway, rather, on many ways like a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, it is seen as an ending.
This is very sad. For one of the things I have learned in my 40+ years as a rabbi and in my work in aging is that Judaism is really not for young people. I know, I know, that is heresy for many. We do a nice job in creating lovely religious schools and teaching stories and celebrations and, in many congregations, the focus of the enterprise is on youth. All of that is good. But, the power and beauty, the sensitivity and insight of emotion and feeling that we need from a tradition is ONLY made real as we age. And, as the Jewish community is slowly finding out, this generation of Jewish boomers is demanding this serious relationship with Jewish life and thought. That is why we are seeing boomers leaving traditional congregations. It is not money. It is relevance to their life. We do not need “bubbe micas” when confronting the myriad of life challenges, we need serious answers based on a historical faith that itself has survived by learning to adapt.
This retreat from serious engagement with adults is growing. Denominations now seem almost totally focused on youth. Major Jewish organziations, if they exist, struggle to find their own foothold in a rapidly changing Jewish landscape.
Yet, 25% of the current Jewish Community is over 65. Just as Torah lives by re-evaluation and re-interpretation, so must our community seek to re-engage and re-vision how it will choose to embrace, celebrate and honor this most precious cohort.
Have a great holiday.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.