Two Conversations about the Jewish Community

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There seem to be two conversations going on in the Jewish community today. They seem juxtaposed to one another, but because they exist in almost parallel universes, the likelihood of considering them together seems kind of remote. However, if we are to think seriously about the Jewish community of the future, we have to do so. What are these two conversations?

The first: who or what is a Jew? This is the conversation around the parameters for being Jewish or, at least, for being part of the Jewish community.The second: how do we engage people who are currently not affiliated with the organized Jewish community? Today, this is focused primarily on the so-called “twenty-somethings.” Sometimes it is about the millenials. And at times, it is even about the boomers. But there is a bit of irony in the fact that we are having these two conversations concurrently. How can we be worried about who is in and who is out and, at the same time, voice concerns about engagement?

It would seem to me that the issues of engagement would be less difficult if we were not so preoccupied with who is in and who is out. Just a thought.


  1. Actually, it’s not surprising at all that these two conversations are taking place simultaneously. First, there are two dominant trends right now - a pull toward assimilation and a pull toward tradition. As people assimilate, the conversation will turn to how to engage them. But as the pull toward tradition continues, there will also be an ongoing conversation about what are the boundaries of the Jewish community. This is not a bad thing - every community needs to have some porousness, but every community has boundaries of some sort, or it cannot be a community.

    Second, it doesn’t work to just focus on “the issues of engagement” without any discussion about the boundaries of our community. No responsible business would try to draw customers without knowing who its target audience is. It cannot be that Jewish outreach is the sole exception on the planet to the need to define the audience you wish to engage, define who you are and exactly what you want to draw people into, and have goals for what you would like to accomplish beyond something like “we want to engage everyone who is interested.” That just won’t work.

    Comment by Harold — March 15, 2011 @ 9:16 am

  2. Harold: An excellent point and so eloquently stated.

    Comment by Magen David — April 7, 2011 @ 1:31 pm

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