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11/09/2010 11:41:53 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

Since the Holy Days, I’ve been ruminating over the fact that the overwhelming majority of American Jews are profoundly alienated from their tradition. Sonoma County epitomizes this trend with a 12% affiliation rate. 12%! And, of those 12% who do associate themselves with the organized Jewish community, at most, 20% are regular attendees at religious services. Any way you look at it, the truth is, most Jews simply do not relate to Judaism in any of it’s organized forms especially when it comes to the religious aspect of Jewish identity.

About a year into Rabbinical School, I was on a fishing trip with the Dean of the seminary (his other religion is fly fishing as well), and he told me that, “if I was not prepared to accept the fact that what is the center of my life will be at the periphery of most of the people I serve, I should find another life’s work”. I have no regrets and have rarely looked back from my decision to leave business for the rabbinate, but I must confess not really understanding the degree of disconnect most Jews feel from Jewish Tradition.

Recently I sat in on part of a family education class for Stars, our religious school. The 3rd grade was learning about “God” and it was my charge to explore with their parents, what God meant to them, knowing that for many parents, this is a challenging subject. It was a relatively small group and the discussion was real. 5 out of the 6 parents in the discussion were openly agnostic and their ambivalence toward belief in a deity was equally reflected in their connection or lack there of to Jewish ritual, especially worship. The community was compelling, sermons could be worthwhile, a sense of connection to our shared heritage meant something, the music was nice, but worship as a religious act was a marginal experience and the liturgy itself, alienating in a number of ways.

Of course, this is not new news to me. So why am I awake about it now? I am not sure, but I think part of my new interest in where people really are vis a vis our Tradition has to do with the lifecycle of the congregation. It was easy to focus on other things when we were building the community in every way. Now that much of our dream is a reality, I am beginning to look deeper into who we are and who we can become and I want more! I love Shomrei Torah. She is my life’s work (so far) in many ways and I am having trouble accepting the fact that so many Shomrei Torans find Jewish ritual in general and avodah/worship specifically, meaningless.

Is there a way to bridge the gap? Is it education, outreach, Facebook? I don’t want to pander or act with hubris thinking, ‘I know what people need even if they don’t!’ I also am not ready to just give up on the value that our community, the majority our community, could have a Holy Day experience more than one time a year.

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