A Jewish wish list for 2014
In no special order, here are 10 wishes for our community for the coming year:
1. A sukkah for every Jew. Seriously, is there any Jewish holiday cooler than Sukkot? And yet, most non-Orthodox Jews don’t build a sukkah to commemorate the desert journey of our ancestors. In recent years, this has started to change, as more and more Jews are partaking in this odd but powerful ritual. I hope the trend continues. There’s nothing like having a meal in a ramshackle hut to keep your life in perspective.
2. Friday Nights Live. Why does “Friday Night Live” happen only once a month and in only one synagogue (Sinai Temple)? As I see it, Friday Night Live should be an attitude, not just an event. Jewish communities of all denominations ought to approach the entrance of Shabbat as a renewal of life. Services should come alive with fresh melodies; communities and families should reach out and invite guests to their Shabbat tables. Just think: For one night a week, you get to turn off your smartphones and reconnect with everything that’s real. How do you beat that?
3. Take my rabbi, please. There are hundreds of rabbis in our community, each with a unique gift. Unfortunately, most of us never get to hear what they have to say. This is understandable: We attend the synagogues we belong to and listen to our own rabbis. Still, it’s a shame to miss out on this great diversity of thought. So, let’s pick one Shabbat a year and call it the Great Exchange — a day when every rabbi in town gets to speak in a different shul. Just the thought of an ultra-Orthodox rabbi speaking in an LGBT minyan — or an LGBT rabbi doing the reverse — is worth the price of admission.
4. Night of a million stories. Another budding ritual in the local Jewish scene is the “White Night” of Shavuot, when a growing number of Jews and assorted hipsters stay up all night to attend learning sessions. Here’s my pitch for what we ought to learn that night: the story of our people. I don’t mean biblical stories or stories of the Holocaust. I mean the extraordinary, nomadic story of Diaspora Jewry since the destruction of the Second Temple — from Persian and Sephardic stories to European and Ethiopian stories. As crazy as it sounds, our community offers hardly any education — in schools or in shuls — that honors the complicated and fascinating journeys of our ancestors. How can we instill “peoplehood” if we don’t know our own story?
5. Calling all bubbes and zaydes. We talk a lot about the role of parents in Jewish education — but what about the role of grandparents? Who’s got more timeless wisdom than they do? I’d love to see Jewish day schools devote an hour a week to having students hear the wise tales of our community’s bubbes and zaydes.
6. Six million victims, six million Torah classes. A poignant way of honoring the victims of the Shoah is to make the essence of Judaism — the Torah — thrive in their memory. I’d love to see Holocaust memorials offer Torah classes right on their premises. In addition, we ought to have every Torah class, wherever it is given, begin with these words: “This Torah class is dedicated to the memory of (fill in name) who perished in the year (fill in details).”
7. Bring back the old Limmud. Limmud L.A. has morphed into Limmud Light. Instead of a big annual gathering of L.A. Jewry, we now have smaller events throughout the year. I have to say, I miss the old days, when hundreds of us would hang out for three days and nights in a vibrant, makeshift “neighborhood” and bond like no other time of year. I loved it precisely because it was such a non-L.A. experience.
8. Do the Chai Mitzvah. We know the old story — after the bar/bat mitzvah, many families vanish from synagogue life. And yet, the most important years in a kid’s life are between the ages of 13 and 18. As I’ve written previously, synagogues ought to tailor programming specifically for those five years, working toward a new life cycle called the Chai Mitzvah — when kids really need to become adults.
9. Let’s attract more converts. Why not share our tradition with those seeking a spiritual path? There are plenty of non-Jews who might be seriously and independently interested in Judaism, regardless of marriage. We ought to make our religion more inviting to these spiritual seekers. Let’s face it: As more and more Jews assimilate into the American melting pot, we could use a little reverse assimilation — the addition of new Jews who will be infinitely grateful for the blessings of our tradition.
10. Judaism that works for you. In the era of open choice, when doing anything “religious” is far from obvious, I’d love to see more programming that shows how Judaism can improve people’s lives — in areas such as relationships, parenting, money, health or even just plain happiness.
Now there’s an aspirational theme for our community: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of Judaism.”
Happy New Year.
David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.