The prophet Isaiah said, "The heart of the people is fat and their ears are heavy and their eyes are shut."
I was thinking of that quote today when I read through a variety of emails and online articles from the surplus of consultants who are out there today in the Jewish world (and the general world as well) trying to tell all of us working in the trenches how it is that we're supposed to weather this massive economic storm.
Since the late 1980s, if not much, much earlier, we have always been top-heavy in experts who know best and short on talent and leadership willing to roll up their sleeves, take on the real work of community building and organizing, and insisting that the measure of our existence ought to be how much goodness and justice and peace we have brought into the world.
We study ourselves over and over; wring our hands over our possible Ashkenazic genetic dissolution (God forbid!); and privilege engagement in numbers over the mundane process of visiting the sick, burying the dead, comforting the mourner, rejoicing with brides and grooms.
Jewish life--and in particular Jewish life in the synagogue--has been consigned to the leprous territory known as Boredomland, only to be saved by the Consultants, who have written studies and studied studies and garner fees and salaries for telling us what to do.
But to quote Moses Hayyim Luzzatto in the Path of the Upright, "only they who break away from such bondage can see the Truth and can advise others concerning it."
Last week I took my family to see the Batsheva Dance Company at BAM. We bought the tickets, took the girls to dinner at the BAM Cafe beforehand, and navigated our interpretive way through some of Ohad Naharin's more provocative ideas. (In this case, the "heavy ears of youth" is not such a bad thing.)
To rows in front of us sat much of the professional staff of birthright next, including one its major funders, and we learned that through the generosity of birthright, 200 alumni of this amazing program were treated to a free show. I, of course, got annoyed.
I mean, I PAID for my undergraduate tuition at Wisconsin and Hebrew University, PAID for my rabbinic education at HUC, and PAID for dinner and tickets for my family to see Israel's premier dance company perform (note: this past July, in Tel Aviv, we walked through the campus of Batsheva, which prompted our kids' interest in it all.)
I paid for this all despite my mutt-like, illiterate Jewish upbringing, but (and I'm not saying this because like Warren Buffet I too hail from the Midwest) my own prudent investment has built a more powerful model than throwing money at entitled kids in order to buy their Jewish allegiance.
But the studies say it works! Even though none of these kids has gotten married, raised a family, made Jewish educational choices, and had THEIR offspring make Jewish choices. In other words, the cake is half-baked but we're jumping to conclusions because we're so blinded by the illusion of what a successful Jewish community looks like.
When I was in Israel in December, climbing up Masada, we passed 40 birthright students. I said to congregant then, "Well, there goes $120,000." I stand by that.
At BAM, I said to no one in particular, "Two hundred free tickets--that's what seven, eight, nine-thousand dollars?"
Do you know what I would do with that?
I could pay for a songleader to play Shabbat songs each Saturday for 75 young families who are actively trying to teach their tots Jewish songs, Jewish melodies and the rudiments of Jewish literacy.
I could make our Congregational Retreat affordable for the more than 175 people who will attend, a multi-generational expression of what synagogue life should strive to be.
I could build a bereavement group for mourners, hire a couple teachers to teach classes to the hungry seekers, and get people in their twenties and thirties to actually pay for their faith in Jewish community, in substantive programming, and an investment in their own future.
Luzzatto writes, "In princely estates, a garden is sometimes so laid out that a man easily loses his way in it. The purpose of such an arrangement is to afford entertainment."
Luzatto's "birthright" was Torah. That big, bad, boring book.
Purim is enough entertainment, no? Do not the times demand more from us than paying for the most fortunate generation's good fortune?
I didn't have a consultant who helped me find a teacher. I found one on my own, another through a friend, and so the chain of tradition linked up to me, and I to it.
As the greater culture deals with one of the greatest periods of dislocation and reinvention since the Great Depression, I hope that we will be able to rely upon the truly bold ideas of our tradition and not the spasms of genetic naval gazing that have us making entertainment for anyone happy to belly up to the table and cash in.
Just as Health Care, Infrastructure, and Sustainable Ecology are the key issues we'll be hearing about over and over again, I would argue that those values will be found in their most fundamental form in the Synogogue, the Infrastructure of Jewish Infrastructures, that has so far outlasted all the experts and the studies, and exist on dues and "free-will offerings" of the People.