Simchat Torah 5778: As We Turn The Torah to Jewish Transitions

All over the Jewish world we will be observing the ritual of ending Deuteronomy and immediately beginning Genesis. Another Torah cycle has begun and with it another opportunity to see in the text that which we could not see in years last. We are changing and so is our approach to the words. I am always struck by this ritual. There is no need to invent a new text, just a need to see it through different eyes, for, as we are reminded during the High Holidays, we are changed. The themes of change and creation permeate this festival. The times we live in reflect also, a great period of transition within our own community. Often, during conversations in Jewish Sacred Aging workshops, we have referred to the fact that Boomers have been a huge force in creating what many are now calling a “new American Judaism”. Recently there have been several books that have begun to look at this transition (see for example “The New American Judaism” by Rabbi Arthur Blecher). This new Judaism is not exportable, it is unique to the USA and is reflective of the dramatic shift in identity, affiliation and generational differences. It speaks to the acceptance of inter-faith marriages, co-habitation, greater autonomy and shifting beliefs and practices regarding established institutions (i.e. the synagogue, Federation, Israel). In fact, I think you can make the argument that between the Boomers and the Millenial generation, this “age of transition” is itself becoming the norm. With this change has come the changing views of the place and honor of clergy, the rise of entrepreneurial and fee for service Judaism. And, if you think I will caution that this spells the end of Judaism, you will be wrong. I think, as we end and begin the Torah, we need to celebrate the fact that we are living in this great period of creativity. Yes, the Judaism that is being created may not look like our father’s or grandmother’s. But, a careful study of Jewish history will show that this theme of adaptation has been a key to our survival.
Are there concerns? Sure. Just recently the Forward published a study by Steve Cohen and others that looked at the demographic challenges to non Orthodox Judaism (Forward. September 13, 2017 “Does Orthodox Explosion Signal Doom for Conservative and Reform?”) and a recent eJewishPhilanthropy column by Steven Windmueller looked at the ways modern Jews are changing the way they communicate. (“The Jewish Marketplace: Introducing the New American Jew”. Gloom and doom, or transition and change? It will be up to us to determine our own future. As we turn again to Genesis, I hope we all can be supported by the reality that all things do change and adapt, including religion. We are in the midst of such an age of transition. Many of you are part of that movement. It has the potential to be exciting and creative; and the choice, as always, is in OUR hands.
Rabbi Richard F Address

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