There is no doubt that the contemporary Jewish world is undergoing major shifts. The Judaism of our youth, from synagogue life to rituals to demographics, is in the midst of radical transition. Another example of this was found in a major article in the Jewish Telegraph Agency in mid-April that announced that “U.K’s Liberal and Reform movements merge as Progressive Judaism”. These two non-Orthodox movements in the United Kingdom are coming together and adopting, as part of the union, the position of Patrilineal descent. This belief, a part of the Reform Movement in the United Sates since the 1980s, holds that the child of a Jewish man and a non-Jewish woman will be considered as a Jew if raised publicly as a Jew.
These shifts in Jewish life are readily observable here. There has been a gradual move in many localities for congregations, once thriving, but now seeking to combine due to changing demographics and affiliation attitudes. There was even a recent report that despite a rise in the number of Jewish children, there is now a decline in the number of those children enrolled in supplemental congregational schools. Even in Jewish education there are growing alternatives and options. All of this is being played out in the face of a rise in interest of things Jewish and a rise, especially among older adults, in the search for meaningful Jewish experiences and education. Yes, the pandemic added to this, as a universe of quality educational experiences became available, all from the comfort of your living room. However, all of these changes are significant in that they signal a seismic shift in what the Jewish world of the United States may look like in this century. Also, we are seeing, since the dawn of 2023, a rush of books on these changes and the implications of these shifts on our communal future. Look for a Seekers of Meaning podcast coming soon with one of these authors.
Many of these changes have been enhanced and supported by Boomers. We seem to want more meaningful experiences and a greater understanding of an adult Judaism that speaks to the changes that we are encountering in our own lives. I suggest that the recent rise in interest and programs around death and end of life issues is a result of Boomers now facing mortality and, as has been typical of much of the generation, wishing to take control or have a personal impact even in this area of life. This desire for an “adult spirituality” is coming at the same time as the very structures of our community are changing. We have yet to harness the power of social media and electronics. We see the fraying of classic Jewish institutions, such as movements. Indeed, a conference is being called for the end of May to assess how we can “Re-Charge Reform Judaism”. (Information on this meeting is hers on jewishsacredaging.com. Scroll down to view the link and if you wish, go to the search bar and type in Rabbi Ammi Hirsch to listen to his Seekers of Meaning podcast which aired earlier this month)
What can all this mean? Is this restructuring a sign of decline or, as I believe, a sign of rebirth. We are creating a new American Progressive Judaism. With any seismic change, there is upset as previous norms are shattered. The changes in the last decades around worship, inclusivity, spirituality and more have paved the way for many of these changes. Our demographic shifts have created new opportunities for new types of communities. All of this, I suggest to you, is in keeping with what Judaism has always done. This is an exciting time to be involved as a member of our community. Look around and you will see many of these changes emerging. Do not be afraid to be part of them. We have always evolved for the communities that tried to stand still are no longer with us. Our constant challenge remains what is the best of us that we need to preserve as we create a new Jewish tomorrow.
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.
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