Why Remaining Being a Jew in the 21st Century?
New generations of Jews around the world are finding that Judaism does not satisfy their vital human needs, nor do they feel that being a Jew offers real added human value.
Countless of young Jews now associate Judaism not with spiritual values or moral advances; they don’t see Judaism having a unique and incomparable contribution to make to the enrichment of civilization.It is not that they are turning away out of anger or disgust as out of sheer disinterest. Nothing about Jewish life touches them enough to make it worth investing in, worthy of learning more about.
Survival strategies in the past compelled the need to find parochial ties, to share experiences with those who are like ourselves. In many cases we replaced authentic Judaism- a Judaism that says that it is not enough just to exist, to live, but that human beings must live for something- with empty ethnicity wrapped in nostalgia.
This, of course, could not replace the fact that Judaism is a way of thinking and not only a way of living.
In forgetting that the people of the Bible were Israel not because of their ethnicity but because they lived the ideals they engraved in the Torah, we have forgotten that Judaism is a vital and distinctive orientation to life and the world. In so doing we have failed-we are failing- the people that more need guidance and support: our kids.
The tribe, the ethnicity, the community, the culture must not die, but must assume a new course in order to thrive. We must survive not for the sake of surviving, but to fulfill our vocation, of realizing a great human community.
In the past religion provided links to birth and family that fostered awareness of the interconnectivity and transcendence of every human life. Being Jewish, for one, surely is feeling being part of a community.
The problem is that today there is no consensus among ourselves as to who we are, what unites us, and what we believe. (Suffice to contemplate how the government of the Jewish State, the State of Israel, faces collapse every time it tries to decide who is a Jew.)
We are now more fragmented than ever before. It is not only that different groups sustain different understandings, it is that they strive to impose their understanding as the only valid and truthful one. Beyond our apathy and indifference, a battle is taking place to determine who owns the Jews.
Many of us make today the mistake of thinking of religion simply as a set of beliefs and practices. Judaism, which was the religion of all the Jewish people, has become Orthodoxy, which is the ideological platform of only one of several trends in Jewish life.
Human civilization has entered a new epoch, and Judaism like all traditions must recalibrate itself. We can no longer preserve ourselves by mere continuation, there is need for intervention and transformation.
The question we need to answer is: do we want to identify with an image of the human being and the world formed in response to conditions and the knowledge available two thousand years ago or on an image of who the human being and the world should be, based on the experiences we have accumulated and what we know?
Religious communities are confusing relating to the past as a source of inspiration with being an excuse not to deal with the future.
Facing these and other dysfunctionalities, it is not surprising that the new generations are numb regarding Jewish religion. One-in-five Jews (22%) today now describe themselves as having no religion.
We must stop making a fetish of past suffering and focus on creating a Jewish future based on what we have done of ourselves: our worship of children and the care we give our elders. Our passion for education. Being in the front- lines of human rights. Our humor. Being a people interested in ideas, learning questioning and discovering.
As noted, there is, much in Jewish religion that is not law and observance, nostalgia and ritual commemorations. Judaism was built with a moral dimension, and through its veins runs a passion for brotherhood and righteousness.
Living in an era when allegiances are voluntary rather than inherited, more the result of consent rather than descent, do-it-yourself identities can hardly offer what 3500 years of experience have taught us.
Yes, we are creating a vacuum which is filled by extremists and by “Frankenjews.” Hardly those who will help young generations to more effectively engage with, and navigate in, the world in which we actually live.
If we believe that the Jewish people has a critical role in human history- we should feel impelled to live and work for posterity. That posterity then will look to us to find meaning in their lives the same way we looked at the generations that preceded us.