Making Judaism Joyful


Peter Beinart, the New Bad Boy of the American Jewish establishment for his essay on how the younger generation is becoming disenfranchised from Israel, acknowledged in an interview with The Jewish Week the other day that he was, in fact, describing part of a larger concern — namely a decreasing attachment to Judaism in general.

“That’s a fair charge,” said the former editor of The New Republic, who describes himself as a liberal Zionist, and belongs with his family to an Orthodox synagogue in Washington, D.C.

His piece in the New York Review of Books, entitled “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” focused on the growing gap between young liberals in this country and the undemocratic impulses they see in Israeli society. But those same young people also tend to feel less attachment to the rituals and traditions of Jewish life than their parents and grandparents, eschewing synagogue and communal affiliation.

Many walked away from active participation after their bar or bat mitzvah, leaving behind their textbooks and/or recordings that helped them memorize their Haftorah.

But while it may seem otherwise at times, bar and bat mitzvah services don’t have to be boring, either for the child or the congregation. And Associate Editor Julie Wiener’s feature this week, “A New Act For The Old Bar Mitzvah,” highlights some of the innovations — in this case by the avant-garde troupe, Storahtelling — in making the service educational, creative and enjoyable for all concerned.

As Wiener points out, such activities are not for everyone, but for those marginally involved families looking for meaning and inspiration from the rite of passage, personalized participation may be the answer.

There will always be a need for balance between tradition and reform in Jewish life, but it is good to know that there are alternatives to the status quo. And maybe such projects will prompt traditionalist rabbis to re-think their synagogue services and find ways to make them more meaningful for steady worshippers as well as guests.

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