Sunday, November 13, 2005

Profile of an "Unaffiliated" Jew

This article appeared in the Spring 2005 issue of Jewish Education News, published by CAJE.


Profile of an "Unaffiliated" Jew
by [BZ]

When Jewish organizations talk about “unaffiliated Jews” in their 20s and 30s, who do not belong to synagogues, they often equate this lack of affiliation with being secular, Jewishly uneducated, and finding Judaism to be irrelevant. Indeed, the Jewish population surveys may show a high correlation between these traits, so this stereotype may be well-founded. However, the ensuing discussions generally hold the underlying assumption that if these people had more Jewish education and a stronger Jewish identity, they would become “affiliated” with the organized Jewish community. It is my hope that this article will challenge that assumption.

I am 25 and live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, a center of Jewish activity. I study Talmud with a friend one night a week in my living room. On Shabbat I don’t do any work or spend money. Typically, I will go to Friday and Saturday services at one of the new independent minyanim that meet once or twice a month, or pray with a group of people in someone’s apartment, then share a Shabbat meal in that apartment. I spend every Rosh Hashanah and Pesach with my family in Chicago. My Jewish values are a driving force behind my career as a teacher, my political activism, my lifestyle choices that reduce environmental impact, and my ethical decision-making process. Oh, and I don’t belong to a synagogue, nor do most of the young adults crowded into those apartments on Friday nights.

My two most important formative Jewish influences during childhood were my actively Jewish immediate and extended family, and my many summers at the Reform movement’s Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI) camp. OSRUI does a phenomenal job providing Jewish education and conveying excitement about Judaism to children and adolescents, but the organized system of which it is a part provides nowhere for graduates to go afterwards. The Jewish programming at OSRUI is developmentally appropriate at each age, so we progressed from 9-year-old Judaism to 10-year-old Judaism to 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, … and back to 9-year-old Judaism. At that point we were camp counselors, so we were responsible around the clock for creating experiences for others, rather than having our own experiences. Of course, being a counselor was itself a valuable experience, and a camp focused on a particular age range cannot be expected to provide for people of every age. But the general expectation was that Jewish education and development ended at age 17. After that, we were on our own, even though we were far from being independent adults.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to continue my Jewish education in college, both through academic courses (outside my major of physics) and through involvement in the pluralistic and intellectual community of Harvard Hillel. As graduation approached, I would fret about how this vibrant Jewish community would be ending soon, and there would be nothing for me in the Jewish world. People from my educated Reform background had three options after college: 1) Go to rabbinical school or become some other sort of Jewish professional. This was the option that the movement strongly encouraged. Any time I evinced any sort of Jewish interest, the response would be “Have you thought about becoming a rabbi?”. 2) Be uninvolved with anything Jewish for a decade or so, until it is time to send the children to Hebrew school, then return to the Jewish community as a parent. This is, of course, the most common. 3) Become Orthodox. This was always out of the question for me, but I have seen so many successful products of the Reform and Conservative movements go this route, not because they embraced the principles of Orthodoxy (at least initially), but because it was the only way they could find the active Jewish community that they wanted.

We could not simply join a synagogue in our 20s, because there is no place in most of these communities for educated lay adults. Though many synagogues have “adult education” programs, they tend to be remedial, targeted to people who are new to Jewish learning. Once a person’s Jewish education has reached a certain point (and that point is far from being a scholar), his/her only established role is to transmit it to others, whether as a camp counselor, a rabbi, or a parent. The system does not know what to do with young Jews who work in the secular world and do not have families, and consequently tries to nudge them toward one of the roles that are better understood. Perhaps this is why so much of the organized Jewish community’s programming for 20somethings strives to get us either to consider a Jewish career or to meet each other, marry, and presumably have Jewish children and send them to Hebrew school.

I believe that both of these emphases send dangerous messages. The emphasis on marriage and children tells us that we are only valuable as a means to an end, and not as individual human beings with dignity. The emphasis on becoming a Jewish professional furthers the perception that the way to live a fully Jewish life is to do it full-time, and thus those of us with secular professions are expected to be less Jewish and to depend on the professionals to make Judaism happen for us. To the extent that this recruiting is successful, it widens the gap between the educated professionals and the less-educated laity because it removes the most educated laypeople from the pool.

For years, these three options were the only choices after college, until my generation (echoing the havurot of the 1970s, often unknowingly) chose a fourth option: If the organized liberal Jewish community wasn’t going to create a Jewish niche for us, we would create it for ourselves. After a year in Jerusalem working in the high-tech industry and coming up with creative answers to the incessant question, “Where are you learning?” (Answer: “On the bus to work”), I moved to New York and discovered a number of fledgling independent minyanim with a core population in their 20s and 30s. These minyanim, which have sprouted up in a number of large cities, are independent of the major movements, have no rabbis or staff, no “membership,” and no buildings. They meet in rented church basements, in apartments, in parks, on rooftops, and even in synagogues. (Some synagogues have welcomed the independent minyanim into their buildings, while others have responded with a flat no.) They are led entirely by volunteers.

In fall 2002, I had a conversation with a friend from OSRUI who was also living in New York, and we envisioned our ideal Shabbat service. We decided to jump on the bandwagon and start another independent minyan. (Each minyan meets only once or twice a month, so there was no issue of competing with the others; as long as we coordinated the dates, we were merely adding another star to the constellation.) We publicized the first service (held in the playroom of an apartment building) by word of mouth and email, and 67 people showed up. Since then, Kol Zimrah, as it was later named, has met one or two Friday nights a month, and has grown to over 400 people on our email list.

In creating Kol Zimrah, we combined the elements we liked best from the various communities that we have encountered. Our services adhere to the traditional structure of the liturgy, and are heavily musical, with acoustic guitar, percussion, and exuberant harmony. The music is a melange of Debbie Friedman, Shlomo Carlebach, traditional nusach, and tunes we wrote last week. The service is led by a different volunteer each time, and the leader sits among the rest of the worshippers. There is no official siddur; everyone is encouraged to bring his/her own. Services are often followed by a potluck Shabbat dinner and then more singing. Initially, we expected that Kol Zimrah would appeal to a very narrow segment of the Jewish population, since some people would not want a service that is entirely in Hebrew, while others would not be comfortable with musical instruments on Shabbat. Instead, Kol Zimrah has become a more diverse community than we could have imagined, with people from all backgrounds. This is apparent simply by looking at what people are wearing at services: someone in a suit will be next to someone in jeans, next to someone in a colorful hippie garment.

Though most Kol Zimrah regulars are in their 20s and 30s, we have also attracted a wider demographic, including high school students and older adults. Many see that Kol Zimrah participants are relatively homogeneous in age and conclude that we choose these independent communities over “multigenerational” synagogues because we are interested in socializing with our own age group. This is not the reason. We are attracted to the independent minyanim because we want to be active participants in our Jewish life rather than passive consumers. Why, then, have these minyanim particularly attracted single adults in their 20s and 30s? First of all, we are particularly alienated from synagogues because they are structured around the family (my family lives 800 miles away); the independent minyanim are structured such that unattached individuals can feel like full members of the community. Second, we are a transient group, living somewhere for a few years and moving on. Synagogues tend to have a more settled membership and an attachment to the way things have always been. People ask me “If you know what kind of Jewish community you want, why don’t you join a synagogue and change it instead of starting your own thing?” I respond “That will take at least 20 years, and I can’t wait that long.”

Thus, the question arises, if a multigenerational Jewish community were inclusive of educated laypeople, respectful of individuals with or without families, and open to experimentation, would it be a place for 20-and-30-something Jews like me? Yes. I have found this community one week a year through the National Havurah Committee (NHC), which has been holding an annual Summer Institute since 1979. Several hundred people, from babies to senior citizens and everyone in between, converge on a college campus for a week of Jewish learning, prayer, singing, and community. The NHC is based on the idea that every teacher is a student and every student is a teacher. Any participant can sign up to teach a workshop on any topic; I taught two at my first Institute. People of my parents’ generation address me as an equal, rather than with “I have a daughter your age.” Scholars at the top of their fields participate as civilians and go by their first names.

The NHC may represent the “alternative” Jewish community, with many of its participants involved in independent communities like the ones I have found in New York. However, multigenerational communities that include people in their 20s and 30s need not be restricted to that world. I recently participated in the first Limmud NY, an American adaptation of the popular Limmud conference in Britain.Limmud NY was organized by just one full-time staff member and a team of over 70 volunteers of all ages, including me and a number of my Kol Zimrah peers. I felt that this was a true collaboration between the “mainstream” and “alternative” Jewish communities.

The NHC Summer Institute and Limmud NY work as well as they do because they only happen once a year. It is easier for people who usually inhabit separate communities to come together into a shared space when it is only for a limited time. Is it possible to build real multigenerational Jewish communities (where people in their 20s and 30s feel equally enfranchised) during the rest of the year? This question remains to be answered.

If the organized Jewish community wants to become truly multigenerational in that way, it must ask some hard questions. It must ask not merely how to market the status quo, but how to change the status quo. It must ask where educated and interested laypeople will fit into the big picture. While it may be easier to focus on the majority of unaffiliated young Jews who are uneducated or uninterested and to write off educated interested unaffiliated Jews as a negligible minority, this approach is shortsighted. Once these Jewishly uneducated people become educated, the community needs to have a plan to deal with its own success, and find a niche (other than Jewish professional careers) where they will fit. This will require a large-scale transformation of the Jewish community. I look forward to that transformed community.

35 comments:

  1. People from my educated Reform background had three options after college....

    Sad story. Fortunately, you seem to have found a way out of the mud by associating with the "alternative minyonim" on the UWS.

    Why was Reb school out of the question?

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  2. That wasn't the career I wanted. I'm happy as a physics teacher. And it's a bad situation when being a fully actualized Jew is synonymous with being a Jewish professional.

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  3. And why was "becoming" Orthodox (or professing to be so) out of the question?

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  4. That would have conflicted with other principles that I hold.

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  5. I'd rather not discuss it at length here, since it may start an argument. This post is the primary online location for this article, and I want the article to reach a wide audience. Maybe in another post.

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  6. BTW, a fair amount of the text in the second half of your article comes out entirely unreadable in my browser. (It comes out in a font that is so small that it just appears as little black smudges, entirely unreadable to the eye.)

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  7. BTW, check out the new "haskama" at the top of my blog!

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  8. Thanks for pointing this out! I think i've fixed the problem now.

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  9. VIVA!!!!!

    btw, and I'm sure you know this, but the davvening style you describe sounds very much like what I have come to know and love in the Renewal movement. Have you been to Elat Chayyim?

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  10. I haven't been there, but I've heard about it. Have you been to the NHC?

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  11. Tried to post a link, but Blogger blew up on me, so I'll have to settle for a comment that I linked to your awesome article, with a tie-in to our recent Jewish population study and those who identified themselves as "Just Jewish" - which may speak to the point you make in your article (did I mention it was great?).

    Thanks for writing it!

    Sheyna
    Destined to Choose: A Rabbi David Cohen Novel
    http://booksandbeliefs.blogspot.com

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  12. I totally hear what you are saying, but I think you're writing off the synogogues too quickly.

    Granted, what you're talking about is a big reason why I left the Reform movement for Conservative congregations after college--every Reform synogouge I ran into had no role for educated single people. But in urban areas on both the East and West coasts I've found Conservative syngogues with populations of Jewishly educated, observant people in our 20s and 30s, active in synogogue leadership and building Jewish communities.

    How to find these synogogues?
    1) They're located in areas with a lot of young educated adults, not in the suburbs.
    2) They have lay-led services, or at the very least, lay-led alternative minyans (i.e. an educated, active, congregation)
    3) They have some kind of "young adult membership" or "young adults group" without the word "Single" in it--somebody there has a clue that your marital status is not the biggest part of who you are as a Jew...

    Really. Synoguges exist that don't have the problems you point out. At least Conservative ones...

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  13. Thanks so much for your post. I don't have much to add, but I've been trying to articulate some of those same opinions for years, so I'm glad to hear them so well put. My situation is different in that I have more of an Orthodox background and I don't live in NY (so my shul options are even more limited). I completely agree that there seems to be a terrible lack of options for liberal knowledgeable Jews. Given how much the Jewish community wants to create educated Jews, it does not yet seem to know what to do with them.

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  14. Very interesting and thought-out piece. May I just make a remark or two?

    It occurs to me that there is a huge gulf between the silver-haired gents who made their money in the blank-canvas years after WWII, when grit got you a lot, and the young men of today, in the best-seats-mostly-taken world we have now, where grit is by no means enough. You must have a name brand degree, family connections, and looks.

    BTW, when an old guy says, I have a daughter your age, he does not mean, sonny boy, I am twice your age and therefore know twice as much as you, kid. The poor guy just means, You impress me, and I would like you to be a member of my family and would be willing to entrust you with my darling, and her children, my precious grandchildren. Sounds better, doesn't it?

    May I ask if you play guitar and use electricity on Shabbat because 1) you don't think G-d really minds, as is claimed, or,2) you don't much care if He does mind, or 3)you don't think He is up there, anyway?

    Are you against rabbis, or have you just not found any who inspire you? Or are willing to volunteer?

    I completely support your idea that an actively Jewish learner and prayer does not have to be a rabbi! That's for everybody!

    However, I am not sure Judaism can be completely "do-it-yourself", like putting up a cabin by the woods, with a book on carpentry, time, energy and a few simple tools.

    I beg your pardon, but it sounds a little as if you are describing the failure of Conservative Judaism, and your solutions do not sound really viable for the very, very long term.

    To me, Orthodoxy sets up a minute-by-minute life style where G-d is always there, interested in your next snack (say a prayer before biting into it) and trumping all the nonsense of life, being above it, and giving structure and hope.

    To me, with that, you then don't need to play musical instruments on Shabbat. Just holler and sing. Our voices are enough, without instruments and recorded music. Plenty happy and plenty loud.

    Tiptoeing around restrictions actually gives focus, and meaning!

    Your enthusiasm is great.

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  15. Anonymous writes:
    BTW, when an old guy says, I have a daughter your age, he does not mean, sonny boy, I am twice your age and therefore know twice as much as you, kid. The poor guy just means, You impress me, and I would like you to be a member of my family and would be willing to entrust you with my darling, and her children, my precious grandchildren. Sounds better, doesn't it?

    I get that. But it's still objectifying. They're not trying to relate to me as an individual human.

    May I ask if you play guitar and use electricity on Shabbat because 1) you don't think G-d really minds, as is claimed

    This one.

    Are you against rabbis, or have you just not found any who inspire you? Or are willing to volunteer?

    I'm not against them, but I'm against the community model where non-rabbis are disempowered and passive and rabbis are expected to "be Jewish" on behalf of the community.

    I beg your pardon, but it sounds a little as if you are describing the failure of Conservative Judaism,

    My background (and "the synagogue I don't go to") is in the Reform movement, but yes, these critiques also apply to the Conservative movement.

    and your solutions do not sound really viable for the very, very long term.

    Which solutions? A community made up of (or at least welcoming to) educated laypeople of all ages? What's wrong with that? As you seem to suggest, it works well in the Orthodox world. I'd like to see it happen in the non-Orthodox world too.

    To me, Orthodoxy sets up a minute-by-minute life style where G-d is always there, interested in your next snack (say a prayer before biting into it) and trumping all the nonsense of life, being above it, and giving structure and hope.

    This is not unique to Orthodoxy.

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  16. Dear BZ:

    Just wanted to remark that when an old gent thinks you should meet his daughter, that is indeed valuing you as a specific, individual, human. He knows very well he could be looking at you for thirty years. He has certainly sized you up as an individual!

    I am extremely impressed with your rejection of the rabbi figure as "Designated Community Jew, who lets off all the others from living a Jewish life". That is horrible.

    In my very humble opinion, you are essentially an Orthodox Jew, right now. A little out of compliance, but Orthodox.

    What did you think of my analysis of the huge divid between the silver-haired gents and the young men? It must be awful. People have to focus on this!

    The implication is, "you young chaps just don't have the guts of my generation". But the truth is, conditions are very different now. This is NOT your father's economy. But the expectations are the same!

    So, many middle aged parents literally won't LET their children marry, because the groom has to replicate the father, and he can't, not in today's economy.

    My attitude is, so what. This has happened many times before. My attitude is: lower expectations, do your own manicure and your own hair-color, don't eat out all the time, or go on groovy vacations, and put your resources into children. That's what counts. and that is more fun, anyway.

    Home schooling, with strong Jewish content, could be thought about. Who has 20 grand a year? Home schooling is not a panacea but that's how a lot of our ancestors acquired information. If you can pass the exams, who cares how you were taught?

    The fancy generation just has to get its priorities straight! That is everybody over 45. They don't want their daughters barefoot and pregnant. They want them in fancy jobs. Then they whine when the season of idealism, openness, energy and fertility slips away...

    What is wrong with struggle?

    THEY struggled, didn't they? And it is permissive religion that has fostered this! IMHO

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  17. Mar Gavriel, THANK YOU FROM SEATTLE!

    You are absolutely correct! I am so tired of trying to find community in my own schul. I've tried all the Reform Temples, the conservatives and even a large portion of small and Large Orthodox schuls in my area.

    Your three points are so true. A single educated person is left to small talk and uncomfortable conversation Oneg after Oneg. I'm very outgoing, single and do not fit in. I have just about decided to give up. I told a friend today I was done with Judaism. I can't afford to be Jewish financially or socially anymore. I don't fit into the world of "family".

    I ended up adopting a little boy,(my nephew) and then decided to go back just as you stated... for my son, but after so many years, I'm tired of striving. Tired. I'm an unmarried woman who chose to adopt a son (he needed ahome) and my community doesn't embrace him, teach him. We don't fit in. It's a lonely place for myself and my son. I think it is great you have found people to worship with. I am so hungry for that here. I'm tired of this current game. After my son's Bar Mitzvah this fall, I'm done! We will be in NY August 16. We would love to join you one Sat. Thanks for your post. I have MANY friends here who feel the same way!
    Libbey

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  18. Hi Libbey-
    Will you be in NY on the Shabbat of August 18-19? You and your son are invited to Kol Zimrah in Brooklyn on Friday night and/or Hadar in Manhattan on Saturday morning.

    Also, want to come to New Hampshire August 7-13 (or just for the weekend of Aug 11-13)?

    See you soon!

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  19. Hi,
    My name is Sarah, I'm 16 and my "Jewish Journey" has already been shaped by the independent minyanim in New York, though I've never participated, and I currently live in Saint Paul, MN. I grew up in the reform movement, became a meitav fellow, just returned from a semester on EIE and my 2nd summer at Kutz- and have been consistently discontent with the worship and community opportunities offered by the reform movement.
    In Israel, I went to Shira Chadasha, and saw a jewschool.com bumper sticker on the way out. One quiet day on the kibbutz I checked out the website, including the links to the minyanim in NY. The fact that I may finally have found a group of people who really get where I'm coming from and what I'm searching for has been an important factor in my college search process and a kind of security as I continue to struggle for change within the movement.
    Thank you.

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  20. Hi Sarah-
    Thanks for your comments! Lots of folks at Kol Zimrah and the other minyanim out there would love to chat about Jewish communities college and beyond, so drop us a line if you have questions. Good luck with the college search.

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  21. Hi,
    my name is Rebecca and I'm 17 (and also a seinor) and I really wish I lived in NY instead of Chicago. You see I am a very active Nftyite and I just returned from my third summer at Kutz. Being back in Chicago and being asked to partake in my families membership at Temple Sholom of Chicago. I can not stand services at that place and I've looked around at other places and haven't found anything I can remotely stand. Do you know of any indpendent minyanim in chicago?

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  22. Here are a number of independent (and non-independent) minyanim in Chicago. Though I'm originally from Chicago (I was in NFTY CAR), I haven't been to any of them, so I can't vouch for them. But if none of them are to your liking, start your own! :)

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  23. ah where abouts? as I said I'm a city dweller. Did you by any chance meet/know Dan Rabinovitz or or a Maris Grossman at OSRUI?
    Also I'm not sure how well starting one will work.I have no idea where it Would happen and all parties I can think of who would be interested live like 30 miles away in like BG Hoffman DeerField HP and other random suburbs. I geuss I'd better put my nose to the grindstone and start working on creating this minyan,

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  24. I'm from Homewood, and I definitely know them -- I went to high school with Dan.

    The NHC-HAVURAH list might be a useful resource to talk to other people who have started indepdendent Jewish communities.

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  25. He's my TYG advisor. Wow the Jewish world keep's getting smaller I love Jewish geography

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  26. In response to Rebecca's question, I highly recommend the Rose Crown minyan at Anshei Emet in Chicago. The minyan (based on my experience of the past couple of months) is lay-led, reasonably musical, remarkably well-educated jewishly, and extraordinarily warm and welcoming, with lots of people in their 20s and 30s. And if your family's affiliation is with Temple Shalom, we're right around the corner on Grace between Pine Grove and Broadway.

    (I don't know much about the USY group at Anshei Shalom, but it might also offer some of the community you're looking for.)

    The Saturday-morning minyan starts at 9:30, and there's a potluck dairy picnic in Lincoln Park afterwards the first Shabbat of the month (including tomorrow) should you be interested in joining us!

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  27. Wow, I am well past 40 and you have articulated so many things I thought but never knew what to do about. I have been frustrated by synagogue adult education programs that only care about the people who need a basic education. It just seems that once a person knows how to say the Shabbat blessings the rabbis are not interested in teaching us anymore. I live in the Midwest; wish we had the options you have in New York city. The summer programs sound like a start; where are they?

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  28. The summer programs sound like a start; where are they?

    The NHC Summer Institute is in New Hampshire, August 6-12, 2007, and there's more information at the NHC website. Hope to see you there! :)

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  29. Thanks for your article. Being not very plugged in, I didn’t come across it until it was pointed out by a member of my Reconstructionist Havurah in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

    Now, being 60 something, I find myself Jewishly uneducated, but interested in Judaism historically, intellectually, and philosophically. I am not, however, sufficiently committed to that interest to invest the effort to learn Hebrew to the level required for scholarship.

    Within our Havurah, our members range from those who I would call “orthodox with a modern mind to those who are even more Jewishly uneducated and secular than myself. Our commitment to non-hierarchical organization and wholehearted acceptance of all family unions, (including those with non at all) has made the Havurah my extended family of choice.

    Unlike you, I was unprepared to be any kind of meaningful participant in Jewish life on an ad hoc basis. During my ‘unaffiliated years’, my Jewish practice was reduced to lighting Chanukah candles and attending Purim parties. A fellow member of my Havurah, who commented on your article in our Havurah discussion, seems to be speaking for me in my current need to belong. I hope he will forgive my unattributed paraphrase.

    “One reason minyanim for educated young Jews emerge outside of existing congregations is that those minyanim serve, [as you have noted] the needs of the transient, who realistically neither want nor need the family and life-cycle services congregations provide. Established congregations also allow for a less immersive experience for members with limited Jewish educations. Immersive, participatory prayer services that can be enjoyed by the Jewishly educated on a “drop-in” basis can be very alienating to those of us whose lack of Jewish knowledge makes us strangers to that kind of participation."

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  30. Thanks for your article. Being not very plugged in, I didn’t come across it until it was pointed out by a member of my Reconstructionist Havurah in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Now, being 60 something, I find myself Jewishly uneducated, but interested in Judaism historically, intellectually, and philosophically. I am not, however, sufficiently committed to that interest to invest the effort to learn Hebrew to the level required for scholarship.
    Within our Havurah, our members range from those who I would call “orthodox with a modern mind to those who are even more Jewishly uneducated and secular than myself. Our commitment to non-hierarchical organization and wholehearted acceptance of all family unions, (including those with non at all) has made the Havurah my extended family of choice.
    Unlike you, I was unprepared to be any kind of meaningful participant in Jewish life on an ad hoc basis. During my ‘unaffiliated years’, my Jewish practice was reduced to lighting Chanukah candles and attending Purim parties. A fellow member of my Havurah, who commented on your article in our Havurah discussion, seems to be speaking for me in my current need to belong. I hope he will forgive my unattributed paraphrase.
    “One reason minyanim for educated young Jews emerge outside of existing congregations is that those minyanim serve, [as you have noted] the needs of the transient, who realistically neither want nor need the family and life-cycle services congregations provide. Established congregations also allow for a less immersive experience for members with limited Jewish educations. Immersive, participatory prayer services that can be enjoyed by the Jewishly educated on a “drop-in” basis can be very alienating to those of us whose lack of Jewish knowledge makes us strangers to that kind of participation.

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  31. BZ, as a mid-50s havurahnik who trod this path a generation ago, I am most impressed with your account, and of course saddened that so little has changed in this aspect of mainstream Jewish life and alternatives over the past generation, particularly in smaller communities.
    I think you and your cadre are right to do your own thing and build institutions that work for you at this life stage, without the burden of worrying whether those institutions will be right for you and others decades down the line. Needs and circumstances change, and each generation benefits from finding its own path and giving life to its own vision.
    I also commend you for trying to think ahead a bit (in more recent posts) to the time that many of your cadre will have family responsibilities and other life changes less conducive to life on the Upper West Sides of the world. I've found that transition elusive in my own life, and had to make tradeoffs with serious costs to the Jewish life I would have preferred to lead. Finding/building a critical mass in a smaller Jewish community is no easy thing, and it is not a surprise that there are relatively few Mount Airy-type options out there to be found (and they don't necessarily include lots of philanthropists looking to subsidize your day schools and adult programs).
    Nor are the Jewish Federations and other communal institutions particularly focused on the needs you identify. Sadly.
    I wish I had more concrete and helpful suggestions to offer, but I do commend your efforts to identify the issues and stimulate constructive, forward looking discussions on potential options.

    And I do have a daughter just about your age. But she's taken.

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  32. Jews will continue to feel unaffiliated if that's the attitude: that is, one has to belong to a certain shul, etc. Per your question, meanwhile: a patrilineal Jew in Reform Judaism is considered Jewish if and only if he or she is raised Jewish, whereas matrilineal Jews get a pass per Kiddushin 68b. Meanwhile, Classical Reform (in the Pittsburg Platform) considered Christianity (a Jewish sect) and Islam (and Anti-Semitic spinoff of Judaism) "daughter religions".

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  33. (For those playing along at home, I think Nickidewbear is responding to my comment on another blog, and I'm not sure why she's responding here.)

    Per your question, meanwhile: a patrilineal Jew in Reform Judaism is considered Jewish if and only if he or she is raised Jewish, whereas matrilineal Jews get a pass per Kiddushin 68b.

    The Reform movement's position on this is consistent and gender-egalitarian: someone with two Jewish parents is considered Jewish regardless of upbringing, and someone with one Jewish parent (of either sex) is considered Jewish if and only if s/he is raised Jewish. Matrilineal Jews don't "get a pass". This means that there are people considered Jewish by the Orthodox position but not the Reform position, and vice versa.

    Meanwhile, Classical Reform (in the Pittsburg Platform) considered Christianity (a Jewish sect) and Islam (and Anti-Semitic spinoff of Judaism) "daughter religions".

    Considering it a "daughter religion" (a historical statement that I don't think the modern Reform movement would disagree with) is very different from considering it a "Jewish sect". If I have a daughter one day, I don't intend to consider her one of my limbs.

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  34. I know I'm commenting on this long after it was written, but - you're from Homewood? I'm from Homewood! Love your blog and found this post in the Greatest Hits section. Anyway, do you have any suggestions for Jewish involvement in the suburbs? I live in the suburbs of Philadelphia and I know there's a lot going on Jewishly for young adults in the city itself, but it's a schlep to get there when the trains aren't running on their rush hour schedules. I joined a Conservative synagogue with a new Rabbi who is really upbeat and I enjoy the Torah Study group they have that is led by a lay-person, but my fiance and I are very out of place most of the time as the youngest people there.
    p.s. I read Kaunfer's book about Independent Minyanim, but have never been to one myself.

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