Sermons I will never give #1.
Don’t worry about the disappearing Jews.
As a Rabbi, this is the season where you do some serious soul searching. You see the numbers of your Shul’s membership, wax and wane. You see the level of Jewish interest in your community rise and fall and, at times, not reach the level of participation rise to where you think it ought to be.
You discuss with colleagues about sermon ideas, and wonder if you are going too deep, and content rich, where you risk putting the crowd to sleep, or are going too shallow and not having enough faith (pun intended) in your audience that they can handle more.
You ask yourself, am I inspiring the crowds to find their best Jewish self, or am I chasing them away.
Why does it appear that day two or Rosh Hashanah has almost disappeared, a day that was sacred even with the so-called 3 day a year Jews? Why do people send kids to religious school, but then not pull them from school to attend services?
What else can we do to engage today’s Jewish generation? We have already cut so many corners, that its starting to look less and less like the original Judaism?
The Pew Research poll of a few years ago, painted a bleak picture of the outlook of non-orthodox Judaism. Are we to believe the “professional” studies and throw in the towel?
Will our Shuls and schools be shuttered in 25 years, to be turned into condos sold to the highest bidder?
It is easy to feel melancholy and hopeless about the future of Judaism if you look at it via the myopic lenses of today.
Is there hope?
Of course there is. It doesn’t absolve us of doing what we can, to convince, bribe, hoodwink those we know to get to Shul, go to Religious school or Jewish Day School, improve in their overall Jewish practices, but the fact is, it is not the worst its ever been. In fact, it may be better than its ever been.
Case and point.
Rewind a few year, like to the year 539 BCE, in the days of Ezra the leader and Nechemiah the prophet, the two leaders of the Jewish people of their time. They led the return of much of the Jewish people back to Jerusalem to rebuild the destroyed Temple.
You’d think they were operating in an environment of a spiritual revolution like in the spiritually heightened 60’s. In fact, it was a time of such extreme desertion from Judaism, intermarriage was at an all time high, assimilation at a point that the prophets needed to exhort the people to leave (in some cases even leaving their families behind ) and restart their lives in Jerusalem.
(Even more starling, according to Yeshiva University Historian Maurice Lamm, there was a time in history when there may have been as few as 10,000 identifiable Jews!)
Compared to that, today we live in near biblical times. While suburban and even big city Jewry may be struggling, there are still yeshivas and Shuls across the globe that are expanding and growing to numbers never seen before in history.
Despite the extreme desertion from mainstream of Judaism, with the help of of the prophets and Ezra’s inspiration, he instigated a revolution of return, where people left their sinful ways, and ultimately rebuilt the Temple on the basis of the Torah Law, as it was.
From there it flourished and expanded and spawned rebirth to the point that it was transformed into one of the brighter times of our Jewish people.
I always refer to this era when the going of Judaism appears to be rough. It’s been rough before and from there it has gone through good metamorphosis and back from the brink to some of the brightest times.
So, to the naysayers, be they internal or external. This is not a time for despair. It is a time for hope and renewal.
As long as there are Shuls and people in them, it is a good day. There are many Ezra and Nechemia’s out there to lead the genesis of the next rebirth of suburban Judaism. They my be the folks who show up early and sit on the front row, or they can be the people who stand in the back and schmooze.
They are there, and that itself is reason for hope and optimism.
Shana Tova and Happy New Year.
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