I get so stressed when I read the wedding announcements in the Sunday paper, with the Rachels and Bens being married by Unitarian ministers to the Johns and Christines. Oy. Our Jewish future is in peril because we are too damn open-minded.
I love being Jewish and I love my Jewish people, but for years we have bent over backward trying to make Judaism fit every taste. Our openness is working against us. We need some non-negotiables, so here’s my version of a Ten Commandments.
1. Jewish grandchildren
You want them, right? Then raise your children to be Jewish. Children do not decide religion; parents do. No matter who you marry, decide ahead of time that the kids will be brought up as Jews. Wishy-washy will get your children joining a church or just not considering themselves Jewish. If the thought of being invited to your grandchild’s baptism troubles you, do something about it now.
2. Belief in God is not required
Enough with Jews opting out of Judaism because they “don’t believe in God.” You do not need to believe in God — whatever that even means — to be a good Jew. Meaningful Judaism can be about values, tradition, culture, and community.
3. Send them to school
I didn’t like religious school. You didn’t like religious school. But some creative people are thinking about making them better, more creative ways to Jewishly educate our children. We should send our kids to religious school. I know it will conflict with soccer, fencing, or other activities, but in the end the values, history, and character that our children learn from becoming members of the Jewish community will mean much more than being on yet another traveling softball team.
4. Get to Israel
It is your responsibility to take your family to Israel, not Birthright’s. A family who goes on a safari in Africa but still hasn’t brought the children to Israel should be embarrassed. Israel is not scary. What is scary is the thought of the Middle East without Israel. The Jewish community shouldn’t have to pay for what Jewish parents should be doing themselves.
5. Join a synagogue
Judaism is a communal religion; it is very difficult to do solo. If you actually become involved in a synagogue, you might be surprised to find how much you can affect your own Jewish community. If you are not a member of a synagogue but march in twice a year expecting to enjoy it, you will always feel like a disappointed outsider.
6. End boring synagogue services
I have attended and practically slept through too many bar/bat mitzva services wondering not why we are losing so many Jews but why we aren’t losing more. C’mon rabbis! We are counting on you. Would you choose to pray at your synagogue if you weren’t the rabbi? If not, then change it up. Be creative, be humorous, be spiritual. Did you hear about the Easter services in Corpus Christi where they gave away cars, bikes, and televisions to people just for coming to services? I bet you rolled your eyes. I did, too — until I watched the service on YouTube.
7. Give to Jewish causes
There are millions of non-Jews giving to the United Way, cancer research, and Princeton University. While a basic Jewish value is to improve the world, it would be nice if Jews could improve the Jewish world, too. We need to make sure that much of our philanthropy is directed to Jewish causes. We are the only ones who will support our own. Speaking of which:
8. Bar/bat mitzva projects
In what may be the only positive change that has taken place in the bar/bat mitzva world in the past 20 years, many children, in lieu of gifts, are asking guests to donate to their chosen community service project. What a menschy thing to do. But don’t forget, while mitzva projects are good, raising money for the Red Cross is not exactly taking care of our own. At least half of the project/gift money should be for Jewish/Israel organizations.
9. Jewish camp
Jewish camp may be the savior of the Jewish people. I am not talking about camp with a lot of Jewish kids, but Jewish sleepaway camp where they teach Jewish values in a hip way. Jewish camp will light the spark inside your children that will make them love and identify with their cool Judaism in ways that we just can’t seem to teach at home.
Friday night is family Shabbat — period. It doesn’t matter if you cook a chicken or order in a pizza. But light the candles, make a blessing over wine and hallah, bless your children. If you don’t have hallah, make a blessing over a pretzel. Stay home and make this a family night. Will your teenagers sometimes hate you for making them miss dances, football games, and sleepovers? Yes. Deal with it. (In our home, we have a negotiated rule: Our daughters can miss three Shabbats per school year).We all have heard the statistics on how family dinner makes for healthier families. Many of our non-Jewish friends are envious that we have a built-in family night in our religion.
That’s it, folks. You probably have an issue with one commandment or another. Of course you do: you’re Jewish. So write your own column. But remember: We are a people in crisis and we should act like it. Check the wedding announcements if you don’t believe me.