These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

The State of Millennial Judaism

Posted on January 10, 2019 by Valerie Brown

This reflection piece was written by Valerie Brown, a participant of Power, Privilege and Responsibility: A Pardes Winter Learning Intensive

I’ve heard a lot that we should be panicked about the state of Jews in their 20s and 30s. We aren’t engaged in Jewish life the way we should be: We aren’t joining synagogues! We’re marrying non-Jews! We’re not keeping Shabbat/kashrut/insert whatever practice you think is important and central to being Jewish here!

Here’s a quick rundown of how I’ve spent my first few days at the Pardes Winter Learning Intensive:

-Studying in havrutas, pushing and being pushed to ask questions and dig deeply into text

-Contemplating the state of the Jewish diaspora: its relation to the rabbinate; experiences of Jews from countries around the world; the implications of the Jewish state

-Discussing building egalitarian Judaism

-Considering the privilege of Jewish communities, within Jewish communities, and between Jewish communities

-Evaluating our responsibility as a community to the stranger – both in a theoretical sense and playing it out in relation to the refugee crisis in Israel

-Extracting the way the Baal Shem Tov (credited as being one of the most influential leaders of Hasidim) ultimately found himself tasked with dismantling privilege

For that last one, let me set the scene: a crowded classroom, at 5pm after a full day of learning that started at 8am. Many of the students have arrived just the day before from countries around the world. It’s stuffy and a bit too warm. We’re reading a letter written from the Baal Shem Tov written sometime after 1750 to his brother-in-law. The source sheet has no English translation. And the students, mostly millennials, are listening to educator Levi Cooper with rapt attention.

Power, privilege, and responsibility are not light topics. And yet, I’ve found that all the issues we’re grappling with this week are being approached with seriousness, a sense of humor, introspective thought, and acceptance of different viewpoints.

Avraham Infeld reminded us on Sunday: “Jewish identity doesn’t happen by accident.” The individuals at Pardes are very purposefully creating Jewish identity, with spaces to explore, adopt, or reject traditional rituals and ways of thought. It might not be a solution to the plight of the millennial Jew, but I think I can say that there’s hope for us yet.