Kenneth Moss Tony Michels, A Fire in Their Hearts: Yiddish Socialists in New York. Harvard University Press, 2005. $27.95 Hella Winston, The Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels. Beacon Press, 2005. $23.95 The cover of Tony Michels’ A Fire in Their Hearts: Yiddish Socialists in New York dredges from the archives an arresting sketch
Andy Bachman The principle ethic of building community is forged out of my early experience as a young person seeking Torah. That ethic requires that we must be unafraid of the commitment to, in the words of our tradition, raise disciples. I was nineteen years old and “in search of myself” when I decided it
A second American Jewish revolution is now underway. If the first “revolution” launched the current Jewish federation model over 100 years ago, the second is now seeking to construct an alternative enterprise, drawn in part from the core values of American business and entertainment.
Innovators tend to be boundary crossers. In Jewish life today, we particularly need our leaders to cross boundaries. Jewish organizational life has become fragmented, localized, and competitive for scarce resources. As the Holocaust fades in impact for younger generations of Jews, and as the State of Israel decreasingly stands as the centerpiece around which Jews of all stripes rally and find commonality, American Jewish organizations have, understandably, followed individual paths. This phenomenon is further fueled by the emergence of private Jewish philanthropy as a major new entrepreneurial force in the community — usually operating outside the consensual culture of organized Jewish life. The result is a community where the parts function, increasingly, in an independent orbit; they do not communicate and build collaboratively.
The past few years have witnessed a renaissance in Jewish religious life through the formation of new spiritual communities unbound by conventional expectations about the roles and parameters of a synagogue. These new organizations, led mostly by Generation Xers (born 1965-83) and Millennials (born 1983-2000), crave spirituality but they aren’t interested in rote rules or in lightweight worship. Instead, they focus on devotional experiences that move beyond the walls of the synagogue, build community, and, perhaps most of all, create what they call an authentic connection to their traditions and to God. Deemphasizing the 20th-century themes of Holocaust memory and “Israel right or wrong,” these new leaders are formulating a community-based spirituality through a return to Judaism’s sacred pillars of Torah, prayer, and social justice.
1. What’s new about innovation in 2006?
2. How is Internet and digital technology changing Jewish life?
3. Jews have often been thought of as residing “on the margin,” a fertile place for creativity. Has that changed? How has it impacted Jewish innovative practices?