We Jews have seen a lot of trouble right? What with the pogroms, the Inquisition, the Holocaust, the seemingly never ending parade of anti-Semitism around the world. It is kind of a miracle that we are still here.
So, wouldn’t it be ironic, if, in the end, the Jewish people disappear, not because of war and hatred, but because of… well…. plain old lack of interest? Oy… imagine the Jewish guilt. Jewish wisdom done well can be vital to living a full and joyful life but sometimes our messaging is stale. It’s time for a refresh, an open mind about Judaism and it’s practice…starting with the New Ten Commandments.
I. Honor Those Who Chose to Convert to Judaism and Those Who are Willing to Let Judaism in to Their Lives and the Lives of their Children
Hug them, kiss them, and for God’s sake, make them feel welcome! This is the first because it might very well be the most important new commandment. When someone chooses Judaism, we should be thrilled!
II. Jewish Grandchildren
You want them, right? Then raise your children to be Jewish. Children do not decide religion; parents do. No matter who you marry, decide ahead of time that the kids will be brought up as Jews. Wishy-washy will get your children joining a church or just not considering themselves Jewish. If the thought of being invited to your grandchild’s baptism troubles you, do something about it now.
III. Belief In God Is Not Required
Enough with Jews opting out because they “don’t believe in God.” You don’t need to believe in God to be a good Jew. Meaningful Judaism can be about values, tradition, culture and community.
IV. Get to Israel
It is your responsibility to take your family to Israel unless you really can’t afford it. If I have to talk to another wealthy mother about how much her daughter enjoyed Birthright, I am going to vomit. A family who goes on a safari in Africa and ski trips to Vail but still hasn’t brought the children to Israel should be embarrassed. Please don’t get huffy about this. I know all of the Birthright arguments and I don’t care. Sending your children to Israel on Birthright’s dime when you don’t have to is comparable to going to the food pantry for a meal when you could afford to buy it. If you insist on Birthright, then at least give them a large donation to pay for your child’s trip. By the way, Israel is not scary. What is scary is the thought of the Middle East without Israel.
V. End Boring Synagogue
I have attended and practically slept through so many bar/bat mitzvah services wondering not why we are losing so many Jews but why we aren’t losing more. C’mon rabbis! We are counting on you, and many of you are badly failing us. Be creative, be humorous, and be spiritual. Did you hear about the evangelical church in Corpus Christi where they gave away cars, bikes and televisions to people just for coming to Easter Services? I bet you rolled your eyes. I did, too — until I watched the service on YouTube. It was fun, invigorating, inspiring! I stopped rolling my eyes.
VI. Give Philanthropy to Jewish Causes
There are millions of non-Jews giving to the United Way, cancer research and Duke University. While a basic Jewish value is to improve the world, it would be nice if Jews could improve the Jewish world, too. More than 80% of Jewish philanthropy goes to non-Jewish causes. This is embarrassing. Jews need to give to Jewish causes too! We are the ONLY ones who will support our own. By the way, we can teach this commandment early. When a child is having a bar or bat mitzvah, many children, in lieu of gifts, are asking guests to donate to their chosen mitzvah project. This is great, and while mitzvah projects are good, Jewish/Israel Mitzvah projects are far better. This is a Jewish child celebrating a Jewish lifecycle event; raising money for the Red Cross or cutting their hair for Locks for Love is not exactly taking care of their own. At least half of the project and gift money should be for Jewish and Israel organizations.
VII. Do Your Jewish With Others
Judaism is a communal religion and is difficult to do solo. If you are not a member of a synagogue but march in twice a year expecting to enjoy it, you will always feel like a disappointed outsider. If you don’t have a Jewish community, find one. Jews often have a strong connection with each other. Use it. Judaism is like most things in this world, you get back what you put in.
Friday night is family Shabbat, period. It doesn’t matter if you cook a chicken or order in a pizza. But light the candles, make a blessing over wine and challah, bless your children. If you don’t have challah, make a blessing over a pretzel. Stay home and make at least part of your Friday evening a family night. Will your teenagers sometimes hate you for ruining their lives as you make them miss Friday-night dances, football games and sleepovers? Yes. Deal with it. We all have heard the statistics on how family dinner makes for healthier families. Many of our non-Jewish friends are envious that we have a built-in family night in our religion.
IX. Jewish Education
This will not come as a shock, but I didn’t like Hebrew school. Neither did my children. But, you don’t become Jewish because of osmosis. You need to learn something about the religion. There are wonderful modern educators who are thinking about ways to better teach Judaism. Give religious education another try. Chances are, you will be pleasantly surprised.
X. Get Rid of the “Bad Jew” Label
If I had a nickel for every person who sheepishly told me they were a bad Jew. We Jews do have a terrible way of one-upping each other’s Jewish practices. Like, when someone asks: “You eat shrimp?” or “You can’t read Hebrew?” with a judgmental smirk. “Well, yeah, what if I do eat shrimp and can’t read Hebrew, but am still the best Jew around?” Who elected the kosher or Hebrew police as the gatekeepers of the religion? No one! By the way, observant Jews don’t want this responsibility anyway. They don’t mean to ostracize less observant Jews, they often don’t understand how to be more welcoming. We each need to practice our Judaism in our own way AND we need to find meaning in it.
That’s it folks. You probably have an issue with one commandment or another. Of course you do, you’re Jewish. So write your own column.. But remember: We are a people in crisis and we need to act like it. Check the wedding announcements if you don’t believe me.