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Alienation, Take 3

02/01/2011 11:32:13 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

This past Sunday, 30 members of Shomrei Torah gathered together over an exceptional breakfast provided by Leira and discussed their responses to my blog and the issues it raises. We split into four groups of approximately 8 people and had focused conversations based on the following questions:

  1. What about the Blog spoke to you?
  2. What draws you to Judaism – beliefs and practices?
  3. What seems like an obstacle?
  4. What does your heart long for religiously/spiritually

Each group identified the similarities and differences in the responses among its members. We then came back together to hear the main themes that had been noted.

Thirty Jews, forty opinions, right? In fact, there was a lot of commonality in folks’ responses. For almost everyone, “God,” however conceived, is a stumbling block to connecting with Judaism, especially as expressed in our services.  Likewise, many pointed to the traditional, Hebrew liturgy as an obstacle.  (Interestingly, though, a few found Hebrew less uncomfortable than English, precisely because not knowing what they’re saying allows them to avoid dealing with the issues and images they find so challenging!)  Some people reported unease with any suggestion that Jews hold a moral high ground: as one participant said, “I was raised to believe that Judaism offered a morally superior system, but that is not what I encounter in the world, either in the States or in Israel.…”  Many report that they are busy doing other things that seem more meaningful to them than what Judaism has to give.  And another commonly-expressed road block during services was simply a lack of Jewish background – “it’s hard to feel connected if you don’t know what is going on…”
On the positive side, most people present felt good about their Jewish communal ties, the sense of belonging, and specifically their involvement at Shomrei Torah.  It was clear that the Jewish emphasis on social justice was a positive touchstone.  Many spoke of their appreciation of the culture – from the music we use in our liturgy to Jewish humor and food.  Others felt enriched by hearing a good d’var torah (discussion of Torah ideas).  And, although many felt alienated from the Jewish canon (Hebrew Bible, Talmud, etc), a number of folks appreciated its use as a means to navigate a moral path through life:  Torah as a moral guide.
As I said in my blog and at the beginning of the meeting, my sole goal was to provide a forum for people to speak their minds, and for me to listen; that goal was accomplished.  As for what’s next, all I know is that I want the dialogue to continue.  If you were at the brunch event, I welcome your further reflections.  If you couldn’t join us, I hope you’ll be in touch with any thoughts or feelings you have about these issues.

Wed, August 4 2021 26 Av 5781