An American Problem

The last couple of days we’ve been lamenting the unfortunate state of the “Jewish Idea” — original thoughts, concepts, visions, theologies.

Eli Stern over at Virtual Talmud correctly pointed out that novelty in the Jewish world is almost always in the programmatic realm and that these programs are usually single-minded: aimed at rectifying American Jewry’s “demographic crisis,” stemming the tide of assimilation and intermarriage.

But maybe this unfortunate trend — new programs founded upon old thinking — is a problem that extends beyond the Jewish community. Maybe it’s an American problem. Yesterday, I stumbled upon pop-Renaissance man Douglas Rushkoff’s newest book Get Back in the Box: Innovation from the Inside Out, Rushkoff’s first foray into business writing.

“American companies are obsessed with window dressing,” Rushkoff writes, “because they’re reluctant, no, afraid to look at whatever it is they really do and evaluate it from the inside out. When things are down, CEO’s look to consultants and marketers to rethink, re-brand or repackage whatever it is they are selling, when they should be getting back on the factory floor, into the stores, or out to the research labs where their product is actually made, sold, or conceived.”

Sound familiar? Think of how much thought is put into trying to make Judaism look sexy for the kids. But all this rebranding and repackaging will ultimately be for naught if the product we’re pushing is weak.

So now we have two problems. We need to create a Jewish mission that is vibrant, relevant, and inspiring. And we have to do that in a country where change is almost always cosmetic.

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