The Boxing Rabbi recently returned from the annual gathering of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. It was an unusually good convention, filled with excellent speakers (hey the VP for Facebook spoke to us! and Sergei Brin’s wife!) and stimulating conversation as well as meaningful worship. As always, I am very impressed by my colleagues. But one thing was missing. All during the conference, we were told that the challenge is to “market” a relevant and compelling Judaism to people who are presumed to be unaware of the beauty of our tradition or are indifferent\apathetic\involved in other activities. We were taught how to use facebook, social media, new and exciting programs in order to involve our members as lifelong adherents to our congregations. Nothing wrong with any of that. However, as I thought about it, this was a Judaism of low expectations. We are starting from the premise that today’s Jews are consumers who need to be enticed to try our product and it is entirely upon us to offer a product or service or experience that keeps them “hooked”. The Boxing Rabbi is tempted to send a left hook crashing into that idea. Passover is approaching-in the book of Exodus each adult Israelite is instructed that they are personally responsible to remember the Exodus and to tell the story to the next generation. Judaism has always required a lot of its adherents. The onus is on us-“the Jew in the pew” to observe the tradition and pass it to the next generation. From the very beginning, we are a people of high expectations for ourselves. But outside of Orthodoxy, I do not hear the notion of high expectations for individual Jews. Instead, I hear that our people are basically consumers who need to be attracted to a product and then constantly stimulated to maintain their affiliation. Yes-we need to use all the cool tools at our disposal, but I fear we give up the idea of holding our people to the highest expectations at our peril.
At the end of the day, after our great programs are done and our awesome multimedia worship services are concluded and our incredibly meaningful and captivating assemblies are concluded-when do we hold our Jews personally responsible for their Judaism and for Jewish continuity? Or, like Russell Crowe in Gladiator do we simply shout at the departing, yet happy crowd-“Are you not entertained!?”