Dear fellow Jews,
I get so stressed every Sunday morning when I read the wedding announcements in the newspaper, with the Rachel Cohens and Ben Steins being married by Unitarian ministers to John Christiansons and Christine Browns. Oy. Our Jewish future is leaving 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. It’s clear our openness is working against us. We need some non-negotiables, new commandments. Here’s my version of the new 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. Hebrew school
I didn’t like it. You didn’t like it. Our kids don’t either. Some creative people are thinking about better, creative ways to Jewishly educate our children. Until they find it, we should send our kids to Hebrew school. I know it will conflict with soccer, fencing or other overprogrammed 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. If I have to talk to another wealthy Jewish parent about how much her daughter enjoyed Birthright, I am going to vomit. A family who goes on a safari in Africa, takes ski trips to Vail and jaunts to Rome but still hasn’t brought the children to Israel should be embarrassed. Please don’t get huffy about this. I know all of the Birthright arguments and I don’t care. By the way, Israel is not scary. What is scary is the thought of the Middle East without Israel. It is shameful that because of Birthright, the Jewish community now has to pay the bill for doing what Jewish parents should be doing themselves.
5. End boring synagogue
I have attended and practically slept through so many bar/bat mitzvah 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, and many of you are badly failing us. 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. It was fun, invigorating, inspiring! I stopped rolling my eyes.
6. Give philanthropy 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. See commandment No. 9.
7. 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 overnight 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.
8. Join a synagogue
I can hear the complaints already, but this one is important. 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.
9. Bar/bat mitzvah projects
Mitzvah projects, where the celebrant performs a community service project, may be the only positive change that has taken place in the bar/bat mitzvah world in the past 20 years. Many children, in lieu of gifts, are asking guests to donate to their chosen mitzvah project. What a menschy thing to do. But don’t forget, while mitzvah projects are good, Jewish/Israel Mitzvah projects are great. This is a Jewish child celebrating a Jewish lifecycle event; raising money for the Red Cross is not exactly taking care of their own. At least half of the project/gift money should be for Jewish/Israel organizations.
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 challah, bless your children. If you don’t have challah, make a blessing over a pretzel. Stay home and make this a family night. Will your teenagers sometimes hate you for ruining their lives as you make them miss Friday-night dances, football games and sleepovers? Yes. Deal with it. 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.
Take advantage. (In our home, we have a negotiated rule: Our daughters can miss three Shabbats per school year).
Honorable mention: Day school
My husband and I do not send our children to day school, but many people swear by it, so give it a go.
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.
(Archie Gottesman, of Summit, N.J., is an owner/executive vice president of Manhattan Mini Storage and Edison Park Fast companies. She is a recent graduate of the Wexner Heritage Program and a board member of the Foundation for Jewish Camping. She can be reached at email@example.com)