Igniting the Spark in Souls of Jews Around Us

“The percentage of ‘Jews of no religion’ has grown with each successive generation, peaking with the millennials (those born after 1980), of whom 32 percent say they have no religion”. This finding is only part of the grim portrait of the American Jewish population described in the survey of the Pew Research Center. Even though no one who is even marginally involved in the life of Jewish communities should have been surprised, many were. Thousands of articles have been written and even more sermons delivered lamenting this disheartening situation and warning about the ominous future of the Jewish people. The messages were mostly true and appropriate, but the time for analyzing numbers and explaining social/religious trends has passed. The long history of our people, fraught with devastations and almost a complete annihilation, taught us that survival never comes from talking about things but from actions. 
Rabbi Chaim Halberstam of Sanz (19th Century) used to tell the following story: 

“When I was young, an ardent love of God burning inside me, I thought I could reform the world. Realizing that this was too ambitious, I resolved to change the citizens of my town. But the town was large and varied and resistant to change.   

Soon I realized that I’d better just concentrate on improving the Jews of my city. But the Jews were happy with the way they were, so when I failed in that I turned to correcting the conduct of my family. But by then my children were grown and had their own views, so I gave up on that too. Now I am getting old and finally realized I must begin by changing myself.” 

After several years of reflections, we, at Temple Beth Am, started the process of changing ourselves. We are not ready to change the entire American Jewish population yet, but we want to do all that we can do to stop and ultimately to reverse the trends depicted in the Pew Survey in our own community. Our focus next year will be on B’nei Mitzvah for those who never had it, and on developing and implementing appropriate programs and support for interfaith families.   

B’nei Mitzvah for High School Students and for Adults: 
There are hundreds of Jewish teens in our community who, for different reasons, never became a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. It is true that one doesn’t have to have this ritual to be a Jew, but there is no doubt that “officially” becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah significantly strengthens one’s Jewish identity and increases his/her chances to raise their children Jewish. Therefore, we will offer next (Jewish) year a program that allows all the interested Jewish teens in our community to prepare for and celebrate this important life cycle event. In addition, we will offer a similar program for adults who would like to study for and become a Bar/Bat Mitzvah.  

Interfaith Families: 
Before 1970 only 17 percent of Jews married outside of the faith. The percentage today is 71. While we have always warmly welcomed interfaith families, we learned that our approach was too passive. We need to recognize the unique challenges interfaith families encounter and offer support and special programs to them.   

You will hear more about this in the following weeks. If you want to help in any way or have ideas that can help us shape those programs or highlight particular needs – please contact me. We need to work together to ignite the spark in the souls of the Jews around us.   

I wish you all a happy summer, 
Rabbi Alon Levkovitz