Southern & Jewish
Southern & Jewish celebrates the stories, people, and experiences – past and present – of Jewish life in the American South. Hosted by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, posts come from educators, students, rabbis, parents, artists, and many other “visitors-to and daily-livers-of” the Southern Jewish experience. From road trips to recipes to reflections, we’ll explore a little bit of everything – well, at least all things Southern and/or Jewish. Shalom, y’all!
A couple weeks ago, I had a great conversation with some of my fellow ISJL Education Fellows about the uncertainties of pursuing a career in Jewish life in a time of such extreme change. This blog is the result of that conversation.
I am sure we have all heard a lot about how Jewish life is changing. Even before we were in a worldwide pandemic, we were living in an age of rapid change, especially in religious communities. Jewish continuity has been the question on all our minds at camp staff meetings, educators’ conventions, and in our homes because as millennials come of age, we (they? — those generational lines are blurry) are increasingly either areligious or unaffiliated, not necessarily finding connections with the traditional structured institutions of religion.
This trend is concerning to many older Jewish adults, particularly lay and clerical leaders, because in a world of technology, progress, and secularism, it feels like our traditions and communities are getting lost or becoming obsolete.
There are many reasons for this shift. Our scientific world does not value religion the way that it once did. Our interconnectedness through technology does not leave us with the longing for community we once had. Very different job markets, living costs, and student loan burdens have made us less willing or able to pay dues to religious institutions. Sometimes we do not feel respected or welcomed by these institutions in the ways we might have hoped. And now a pandemic has completely changed the ways we meet, pray, create community, and learn.
Despite all this, I just set out on a path to be a Jewish professional.
More than that, I am really hopeful for the collective Jewish future.
Well, my time in large New York-metro-area communities, aging Rust Belt communities, and, most recently, in the Deep South, has shown me the incredible resilience and powerful pull of Jewish communal spaces.
Even here in the South, in the smallest communities I’m serving, innovation is the name of the game, and everyone here could play pro. Plus, working with other young Jewish leaders has proven that we have a whole generation of creative, dedicated, and conscientious Jews who are already assuming the mantle of purveyors of Jewish traditions. In so doing, we are ensuring the longevity of our communities.
Just as early rabbinic Judaism redefined central aspects of Jewish religious practice when their world was upended, a new generation of 21st-century, COVID-era Jews are reshaping our institutions and practices. We are no less Jewish now for being Jewish differently than our parents were… or even than our six-months-ago selves were!
As with the fall of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, these rapidly changing and unprecedented times have been a chance for us to test our flexibility and creativity. These traits, along with the passion and compassion we have mustered leaves me with nothing but hope for the Jewish future. Not to mention that in a time of crisis, when feeling connected is difficult, many of us have turned to Jewish spaces for spiritual and social fulfilment.
As we live out these first weeks of 5781 on the Jewish calendar, we are reconfiguring Jewish life as we know it. We welcomed the New Year with streaming High Holidays services, we’re working with remote religious schools, and by now many of us have attended many Zoom life cycle events, from weddings to funerals to baby namings.
So, yeah. I just set out to be a Jewish professional, in what some might see as the “least Jewish” region of the country, during an age of secularization, amidst a pandemic that has shaken us to our core… but I feel hopeful. We are (finally) doing a lot of the vitally important work on diversity and inclusion that will make our congregations better. May we continue to move from strength to strength as we undertake this work.