Tonight, JESNA, the Jewish Education Project, and UJA-Federation of New York sponsored the Jewish Futures Conference in New York City. The conference aimed to provide "a space to imagine, learn and engage in purposeful and courageous conversation about the future of Jewish community and education and how it can thrive in today's and tomorrow's world." (List of speakers here, and @askdeb's liveblog of the opening conference session here.)
Along with the 450 or so people in the room, the conference reached many Jewish Tweeters as well, resulting in a "virtual conference" of sorts as people outside the room watched the live stream and monitored the tweets tagged with #jewishfutures as they scrolled by.
I had to go to sleep during the dinner break (I'm in Israel, 7 hours ahead of NY, which literally places me in the Jewish future), but I wanted to write a quick blog post about one of the more interesting exercises/challenges given by a speaker during the program. Rabbi Laura Baum, of OurJewishCommunity.org, involved people inside and outside the room by asking us (the entirety of the us) to challenge ourselves to identify which Jewish community idols we should smash. Here is a not-entirely-complete - but nonetheless fascinating - list of the words shouted out on Twitter as being in dire need of smashage. (Links to Twitter handles to come when I have time)...
Status – bag the top 50 lists - @shaplev
Will I get in trouble for saying God, Torah, Israel? - @paulgolin
Unity - @nftyisrael
Synagogue school - @geek4grammar
Dual curriculum, denominations, comfort zone - @rabbirebecca
Classrooms – the physical space - @hopenyc
Dues - @momwig
Ownership, clergy, bnei mitzvah, education, shuls, lay leadership, denominations, business, consumerism, technology - @deborahfishman
Dues, rabbis, free, frontal, fear, exclusions, membership, boards, status - @ilanagarber
Denominations - @afine
Is it too controversial to answer Orthodox Rabbis? - @rsaidlower
History, classrooms, committees, conformity, supplementary - @irajwise
Hebrew school, the unknown, exclusivity, empty holiday rituals, membership - @lilylozovsky
The notion that failure is not an option - @david_wolkin
Free - @tamarsnyder
Hebrew school, denomination, bar mitzvahs/7th grade grads, rabbis, otherness, bricks-and-mortar - @BI_Next
Denominations - @morahjulie
Hebrew - @multitaskr
Membership bar mitzvah dues programs overindulged free entitlement consumerism status overpriced tradition conservative - @ercomisar
Hebrew school - @nyccantor
Free, money, naming, ageism, bnai mitzvah - @jlearn20
Territorialism - @aimeeweiss
Services, congregations, bricks and mortar - @detfederation
getting rid of b'nei mitzvah ceremonies frees up supplemental education to meaning not performance - @jewishgps
JDate - (overheard at event and reported by) @pelie_org
Buildings, religious school, membership dues, Sat am worship - @jchicksrock
Affiliation - @denasw
Alienation from Jewish heritage - @reuw
Innovation - @saulkaiserman (overheard at his table)
mash the idol of youth=innovation. Here's to a boomer or a greatest-generationer winning #jewishfutures next year. - @Liz_fisher
While this is pretty unscientific data, it provides instant community biofeedback, takes the pulse of "the people" on which sacred cows might be holding back contemporary Judaism from maximizing its potential (or "the people"'s perception of what potential is). For instance, on that list is a rabbi saying that rabbis should be smashed, a Federation identifying bricks-and-mortar as an idol, and a pluralistic youth organization advocating for the decentralization of the concept of unity. Deeper analysis of the Tweeters and their words may reveal additional levels of this discussion (eliminating Hebrew, really?) and undoubtedly, echoes of this will continue online over the next day or so. How do we integrate all of these objections?
Of course, although this is only an exercise, designed to get us thinking outside the box by imagining a world where the biggest pains in our communal side get thornectomized, also identifies the excuses we use for not being able to move ahead with our own personal visions and projects. The question is how we use this generated list - do we ignore these challenges, succumb to them, blame them for our lack of progress, or choose to negotiate, to identify small changes we can make or bridges we can build between our visions of a Jewish future.
You've read the list now. Maybe you've even watched the livestream. So? What do you think?