So, I am going to start with a quasi thoughtful post, but don’t always expect this. Sometimes I just might want to talk about how my five-year-old son sings Hineih Mah Tov while he uses the bathroom.
Many Jews have heard cultural Zionist Ahad Ha’am’s famous quote: “More than Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” While this seems to be historically true, an article in Forward by Jane Eisner points to the fact that a 2018 poll by Pew Research Center has found that a majority of young Jews claim to have absolutely no religion at all. Some of these individuals, although non-religious, are often extremely proud to be Jews. The question has become–Who will keep Shabbat in the future?
I am going to take a confident leap and assume that I can be considered a “young Jew,” as I come in at age 33, and have a Kindergartner and another little one on the way. As Americans in general become more and more disconnected from “organized religion” (Eisner cites 22.8% as unaffiliated with religion in general), the already small number of Jews are in danger of losing the vitality of connection.
Let’s be clear. I get it. There are a lot of things going on in the modern world, and most of them take place on a small handheld device that makes bell-ringing noises at us when we don’t pay attention to it. It’s easy to write off the spiritual world when the digital universe is so easily accessible. But as I read about and experience dwindling numbers of Shabbat service-goers on Friday nights, I cannot help but think that young Jews might need to consider connecting in a profound way.
Our temple’s rabbi first introduced me to the idea of a temple or synagogue as three things. Younger and more religiously ignorant me would have been so happy to hear this. There exists the idea of the beit tefilah, or the house of prayer. This is probably what most people think of when they reflect upon religion in general. The beit tefilah encompasses the songs we sing and the beautiful prayerful poems that are recited at a service. Many young moderns might view this as archaic and uselessly ritualistic. Unless you have truly experienced a beautiful service, I would certainly beg to differ.
Secondly, a schul can be a beit midrash, or a house of study. Even the most unaffiliated of Jews can surely find a wonderful class of interest, or even tiptoe into a Torah study session. In an age when us “young Jews” pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans to study the music of The Beatles and Introduction to Buddhism (guilty!), the value of a general education is surely something that us greener folks can appreciate.
Finally, the synagogue is also a beit knesset, or house of gathering. The schul can be a place where Jews can come together to simply be…together. We can celebrate, nosh, kvell and kvetch. We can embrace life and mourn loss. The importance of human connection cannot be overstated. Face-to-face interaction is certainly a dying form of communication, but as we Jews know, what is seemingly lost can certainly be brought back to life.
To sum it up, the temple or synagogue can be a lot of things to a lot of different people. I hope that we younger Jews can find a way to utilize our schuls and keep them relevant (and actually open) as we move forward. Try out a Shabbat service on a Friday night. Maybe pick up a Hebrew for beginners book (This one helped me tremendously: Joshua Recommends This!)
Essentially, it seems that we need to keep Shabbat in some form or fashion in order to ensure that the future is secure. The next generation of children singing Hineih Mah Tov while going number 2 certainly depends on it.