26 January 2012

Arrivals and Departures

I have a few thoughts about yesterday's post, proposing that after a few years of synagogue membership and sending their kids to Hebrew Schools, families consider taking a break for a year (unless of course they can afford the extra cost) and instead take a big family trip to Israel.

In comments, on private email, and over at The Facebook, the response was enthusiastic.  In the middle of the morning I had a meeting with the new URJ President-elect Rabbi Rick Jacobs who mentioned my blogpost, with a friendly ribbing, and then, later in the day, according to my nifty little google analytics app, I could see that a lot of people linked to the piece off of the URJ website.  Interesting.   And at the end of the day, settling into my seat for the 6th grade instrumental concert at NEST, my mother-in-law asked about the responses to the idea.  A friend over in Europe sent a list of suggestions for congregants to do while there, which included both "spitting" and "shopping."


I think two things intrigued people.  One was the guilty pleasure that a synagogue rabbi would suggest that people "not pay dues" for a year and instead invest otherwise in their family's Jewish life.  Larkish as this idea may be, it's meant to provoke discussion on two fronts:  why do we pay to join a synagogue at all?  Is it to support the synagogue for its own sake?  To support its mission?  To pay its teachers?  To give to the Jewish people?  Funny to imagine for a moment a section on the membership that form that asks, "As you write a big check to our community to pay for membership, what purpose do you hope your money serves?"  I wonder what people would say?

Anyway, I had that in mind when suggesting that for one year, if families couldn't afford both membership *and* a trip to Israel, they choose the trip.  We'll still be here; and I can guarantee you that nine times out of ten, the family will come back to the community post-Israel with a renewed sense of identity, belonging and commitment to the Jewish people.  Studies show this to be true and I know it from a steady stream of anecdotal experience.

Fear not ye who worry about the bottom line:  This scheme is about proudly encouraging our Jews to invest their resources wisely!  Dividends will come.

The second intriguing things is something else entirely.  Israel, for Diaspora Jews, represents a definition of Jewishness beyond religion that is rooted in nation, language, history, calendar and land--compelling and often, sadly, not something people feel walking down the street every day here in Brooklyn.  Don't get me wrong:  the sense of community, the warmth and purpose of the shared collective on Fridays and Saturdays at CBE is compelling and powerful; but your kid ordering chips and limonana at the Emek Refaim pool?  Your cab driver waxing poetic about mother's Moroccan chicken while he drives you to the center of town to do your Shabbat shopping?  Traversing landscapes where the Pilgrims were your great-grandparents, great-aunts and uncles, not distant Puritans?  These are the inescapably satisfying and edifying dimensions of identity that no curriculum can convey over here, on these shores, no matter how talented the teachers, no matter how compelling the lesson plan.

A final thought:  Allow the mind to wander in this territory without over-thinking it.  I'm not an economist; nor am I proposing a sound, fiscally responsible communal idea.  Rather, I'm simply saying that there is more that makes us besides our synagogue affiliation; and the act of both recognizing and embracing that fact may actually strengthen the legitimacy of our relationship to the synagogue as the steady institution capable of helping us define our Jewishness throughout our lives.

Arrivals and Departures.  Departures and Arrivals.  What a blessing to embrace both, the necessary nodes of engagement for those who see their destiny as linked to a people known as Jews.  Not members of a particular synagogue.

Simple, purposeful Jews.

1 comment:

Rich said...

Andy - I studied the first post hoping to express a different thought but couldn't find the words. And then you did with this one - "the sense of community, the warmth and purpose of the shared collective on Fridays and Saturdays at CBE is compelling and powerful;." From my perspective, this sense of community at CBE should not be undersold in terms of how much it is fostering a connection and engagement. I see it with my children and witness it in many others in our community gatherings. And I think it has the same benefit for adults. So maybe another tweak? Let them family that undertakes the two week visit to Israel also have full "rights" at the synagogue? Yachad, holiday tickets... Hopefully they still contribute of course to fund raising efforts. This way they are not in "exile" for the other 50 weeks of the year. This will hurt the bottom line (profitability) no doubt, but doesn't the benefit to the top line (for individual and community) more than make up for this?