The Autumn issue of CONTACT visits people across the world preserving memory, reinvigorating tradition, and opening doors to more vibrant connections to Jewish life.
The allure of technology in education can be hypnotic. Like magic, it promises to lift us into a world of transformative wonder, unbound by the constraints of the rational and the workaday
For decades, Israel engagement in North America hewed to a narrow narrative line. If not overtly political, the methods of engagement frequently had politics just beneath the surface. Engagement meant understanding Israel’s importance to the world Jewish community as well as its right to exist — both in a general sense and in relation to the events of the day. This often turned engagement into a reactive enterprise — how the community could shore up support for this policy or for that war, and how Israel’s actions could best be presented and explained.
In recent years, the American Jewish community has focused much of its engagement efforts on capturing under-engaged young people. Self-perceptions of decline coupled with diagnoses of disinterest have led to fears that the “next generation”— and with it, the Jewish future itself — was in jeopardy. The result has been a major investment in outreach and identity-building endeavors aimed at youth.
The current chapter of the American Jewish story is unique: Never before in Jewish history has a society been so receptive to Jewish culture, ideas and people. Here Jews experience not only tolerance, but celebration. This has engendered a central paradox of the Jewish engagement industry: the effort to entrance American Jews about Jewish experiences might seem superfluous in an era in which America itself affirms Jewish culture and values.
In the Jewish community, the concept of leadership often conjures thoughts of professional development, management training, or the relationship between lay leaders and professionals. What is often lost is the larger question of what constitutes genuine leadership, and what attributes the Jewish community needs in its leaders.
There is arguably no venue of Jewish education that has received greater condemnation and scorn than afternoon schools. To hear many community leaders tell it, Hebrew schools are both cause and symptom of seemingly ubiquitous declines in levels of Jewish affiliation.
Recent decades have witnessed a proliferation of programs designed to intensify Diaspora Jewish life. Although each has met with varying degrees of success, it has become clear that one of the most significant determinants of a program’s effectiveness is the retreat component.
Inherent in the relationship between any community and the arts is a tension over representation. Creative artists seek to express things anew, whereas community leaders often have a vested interest in visions and celebrations of the status quo. In such an atmosphere, conflict is inevitable.
For nearly 2000 years, the synagogue has been one of the most emblematic and recognizable institutions in Jewish life. At various times, it has served not only as a sanctuary of prayer, but as a focus of community administration and social life. But in the past two centuries, the synagogue has lost much of its resonance for non-observant Jews, particularly among young people.
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