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Who Are We Today?

A survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute in February and March 2012 found the following breakdown of the American Jewish community: 35% Reform, 26% Conservative, 8% Orthodox, 1% Reconstructionist, and 29% who said they were “just Jewish.” Regarding the latter category, the survey findings were in line with other surveys — that younger Americans of all faiths are likely to be less religiously affiliated than their elders.

The survey found that 59% of American Jews said religion is at least somewhat important in their lives, with women at 66% and men at 50%. Younger Jews are twice as likely as older Jews to say they do not believe in God (27% to 13%), with only 35% of American Jews belonging to a synagogue. Read more »

“How Judaism Became a Religion”

Over the years Jews have had many different views about God. In the Torah, God is a family God to Abraham and his descendants. He is portrayed as a warlike, jealous, punishing and angry God. He destroyed the world with the Great Flood, with the exception of Noah’s ark. He punished the Egyptians with plagues and then hardened Pharoah’s heart so more plagues would be necessary. In the desert, he told the Israelites to wipe out the Amalekites and all they owned, and then punished Moses for an indiscretion and didn’t let him enter the Promised Land.

In later Biblical books, God was constantly punishing the Jews for idol worship and destroyed the First and Second Temples for reasons that are not clear. Then He let the Romans disperse the Jews to the Diaspora for almost 2,000 years. This culminated in the Holocaust, which Orthodox Jews blame on many Jews leading secular lives. Read more »

Would Israel Be Safe?

Recently a Florida politician, Evelyn Garcia, a Palm Beach County representative to the Democratic National Committee and a candidate for state representative, came under fire from both parties for a series of emails that some called anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.

In the private emails, which were sent more than a year ago but surfaced recently, Garcia accused Israel of “crimes against humanity” and of running “mass concentration prison camps.”

In one email, Garcia wrote, “The continued Israeli occupation of Palestine is ugly on moral, ethical, religious and legal grounds. Palestinians had nothing to do with the Holocaust and it is time that this guilt trip was taken off their backs.” Read more »

New Hebrew School Model Unveiled

The Jewish Journey Project (JJP), a collaborative effort of seven Manhattan congregations, a JCC, the 14th Street Y, and various other organizations, is planning to launch a new Jewish education model this fall. With $1.5 million in startup funds, JJP plans to enroll at least 150 students in a revolutionary part-time Hebrew school. If successful, it could shake up the synagogue business model, in which the synagogue sets the standards and claims it knows what’s best for the students. Students in grades 3-7 will be able to select their own courses or activities through one of six participating synagogues or the JCC.  Read more »

The Bar and Bat Mitzvah Experience Needs to Change

Did you chant a Haftorah at your Bar or Bat Mitzvah?

Do you remember what it was about?

Have you chanted any others since then?

Rabbi Joy Levitt, executive director of the JCC in Manhattan, believes that the heavy emphasis on teaching youngsters to chant a Haftorah on their special days is a sign of “wasted training and the wrong message” for Bar and Bat Mitzvah youngsters. Read more »

Bat Mitzvah History Shows How Judaism Can Change

This year marks the 90th anniversary of the first-ever Bat Mitzvah. Judith Kaplan, daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan (founder of the Reconstructionist Movement), was invited to read from a chumash (a printed book of the Torah) – not a Torah scroll – on a Saturday morning on 86th Street in Manhattan.  Read more »

Welcoming Interfaith Families

Two studies reported in The Jewish Week (September 28, 2012) by Edmund Case, CEO of Interfaith Family, indicate that 50% of non-Orthodox marriages in New York City are interfaith marriages. Of those, 31% are raised Jewish, 11% are raised “Jewish and something else”, and 13% have parents who are undecided.

In surveying interfaith families about what attracts them to Jewish participation, one study found that explicit expressions of welcome matter “a lot.” Feeling welcome and valued and being included are very important in attracting and keeping interfaith families.

On the other hand, feeling that there are barriers to inclusion, and identifying children of a Jewish father as not Jewish, are turn-offs. Read more »