JTA’s Jacob Berkman has written up a detailed article about the “youth-focused” sessions at the GA. He quotes me criticizing the slight narcissism I sensed.
“A lot of it sounded like, ‘We want a seat at the table; tell us why it is good for us,’” said Daniel Septimus, the editor of myjewishlearning.com.
He said the UJC made a positive step, but it also needs to be more critical of the youth they are trying to attract because that would be real dialogue.
“I think it is a gut check for us,” said Septimus, 29. “Was the word responsibility mentioned by any of the speakers? Was there anything about us giving? There are many ways in which this conversation highlighted our vulnerabilities.
But because these were only a few quotes from a larger conversation, I want to reassert my position and give it some context.
Traditionally, I have been in the camp that was skeptical of UJC, sensing that there was a major generational divide about values, charity, and identity.
Additionally, I was proud to see my peers and friends rocking that mega-GA stage and concurred with virtually all of their messages. Dan Sieradski’s dismissal of the “Next Big Jewish Idea” was virtually word for word what I would have said.
There’s a story about Rabbi Yitz Greenberg at the Rabbinical Council of America convention many years ago. After giving a speech (yes, that’s how long ago it was — when Rabbi Greenberg was invited to speak at the RCA), which must have alluded to his burgeoning thoughts about pluralism and the religious implications of the Holocaust, one of his burgeoning adversaries got up and said: “Rabbi Greenberg, after the Holocaust, is it better to be Orthodox, Reform, or Conservative?”
To which Rabbi Greenberg responded: “It doesn’t matter what you are, as long as you’re ashamed of it.”
The message: If you’re looking for things to criticize, start with yourself.
I completely agree that UJC was negligent the last few years in excluding younger voices from the GA. This year, when they took a step in the right — inclusive — direction, there was an interesting side-effect. It offered us the opportunity to see ourselves more clearly, to look for things to improve in ourselves, and look for things to praise about the “other” — UJC in this case.
Keshet’s Idit Klein aside, nearly every young voice I heard at the GA spoke about identity and meaning, which highlighted for me all the things they didn’t speak about and all the things UJC does — and does well.
I don’t want to come across as too harsh a critic of “the youth” or too easy on UJC, I just want to point out that the whole experience was a step in the right direction, as it enabled us to see ourselves and the UJC more clearly.