Are you a psychic?
Earlier this year I had the opportunity to study with a fantastic group of adult learners as we explored the origins of the modern Jewish movements in a Melton course I taught at Gesher. A key insight raised by the class that keeps popping up for me is the idea that Judaism only fairly recently entered a dramatic transformation that was brought about by its interaction with the modern world. Our modern movements and demographics are still shifting and stabilizing from that encounter, and because the world is also changing quickly, the future of participation in our nation/religion/people feels less clear to many of us than it did in the past.
This is a challenge for the adults in any modern generation – how can we envision the future for our children when innovation and disruption make it impossible to envision life in five or ten years?
This was not a challenge in biblical Judaism or Rabbinic Judaism – an adult in those eras was reasonably certain that their children would be part of a civilization and culture that looked like their own, perhaps with minor changes, and so would their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Today, the only certainty is that life absolutely will not look the same as it does today. How exactly does an ancient tradition maintain itself in the face of this challenge?
We can see a few attempts and outcomes in progress around us today. Some of us try shutting out the rest of the world, refusing to engage in modern life as completely as possible. Many of us abandon the tradition, dismiss it as irrelevant, and acknowledge Jewish identity only as a relic of something that mattered to our parents and grandparents, but is not important in our own lives. Many of us engage in the middle grounds of immersing ourselves in the tradition and trying to maintain its integrity while simultaneously envision creative innovations to help navigate the modern world with an authentic Jewish lens.
If your goal is for your child to fall anywhere in that middle ground (which I believe includes all those who affiliate Reform, Reconstructionist, Modern Orthodox, Conservative, and “Just Jewish”), then you are going to need to provide your child with a Jewish education. There are plenty of great options for this: some favorites include Religious School, Jewish camping, youth groups, and Jewish Day School. That is only the beginning – a pediatric relationship with Judaism will fail most people as they enter adulthood. At that point, if they don’t have the grounding in Jewish tradition they need, they will often feel discomfort with the traditions and practices, and the likelihood that they will remain engaged is miniscule.
If you think about it, the answer is pretty clear — a vibrant Jewish future can’t possible rest on a shaky foundation. If you want to see Judaism thriving alongside and within the amazing dynamic future we are building…how will you engage in ensuring that the foundation of that future (the children we have in our homes and schools today) has what it needs to live meaningfully and creatively within Judaism?