For Simchat Torah, Jeff and I went to visit a yishuv (settlement or village) called Shorashim (“roots”), which was founded a generation ago by idealistic Americans wanting to create a Masorti, or traditional (non-orthodox), community.
We had a couple of people say to us, “Didn’t you know there’s a Masorti shul in Haifa?” Yes, we did, but that’s beside the point. We wanted to experience the entire lifestyle of a yishuv based on liberal but religious Judaism. Besides, we have a friend who says Shorashim is the best place in Israel, maybe the whole world.
Were we disappointed? No, not at all. It was phenomenal. We felt very much at home and very happy. But there were a few surprises.
The original founders are in their 50’s and 60’s (even 70’s?), and the yishuv is undergoing some growing pains. The new Israeli-born members with young children are secular, and while they have been brought round to the idea of a shul that allows men and women to sit together and isn’t particular about mitzvot, their outlook is still not oriented toward religion (there are exceptions of course).
That being said we had a fabulous time and energy at shul was high for the dancing. There were quite a few teens and kids, although we’re told there were more ten years ago.
But where is the young generation of Masortim? Why are mostly secular Jews moving into Shorashim? There are some “returning children” of the original founders who chose to live on the yishuv…I don’t know how many.
According to the Masorti movement website, the movement is growing, and 2/3 of its members are native-born Israelis or immigrants from places other than America. That brings me hope. I don’t know any further details about demographics.
Now let’s put Shorashim aside, but I’m not changing topics–only the country under discussion–when I bring up this Pew survey of American Jewry that just came out. It’s made headline news in a number of sources. People are shocked–shocked! that everyone is moving to the left (more Reform, more secular, more I-have-no-religion), except for the Orthodox. There’s more detail, of course, and the full write-up is pretty interesting.
To me it was no surprise, and that was what I observed in Cleveland and Cincinnati: the liberal religious movements are ageing and shrinking; secularism is doing well; Orthodoxy has better retention rates among its youth than it did a generation ago.
The phenomenon is not limited to Judaism. Non-Jewish millennials are becoming more secular in parallel to their Jewish counterparts. Religion just doesn’t speak to them. It is becoming–I hesitate to say it, because there are many aspects of it that speak to me; otherwise I wouldn’t be religious, and I am–out of date.
Just as an example, although I think the problem runs deeper than this, is the attitude toward the state of Israel. The liturgy of pining for Zion has not changed a whit, even right here in Israel. The only difference is that the word “rebuilt” has been added to the phrase, “Next year in Jerusalem,” to refer to the Temple being rebuilt. There is literally not a single other change that I can think of other than the prayer for the State of Israel. The standard Yom Haatzmaut ceremony here is a mish-mash of existing liturgy thrown together; nothing new was written. There is precious little religious creativity. Reform Judaism (more than Conservative, I think) was extremely creative but I think went down a dead end because it ended up watered-down.
Don’t look at me; I don’t have any religious creativity either. During my JTS days I took a class with Neil Gillman, who is by the way very religiously creative (check out his work Sacred Fragments–religion for people who know that they could choose to see the world another way but choose to see it religiously). For an assignment we had to write a ritual. (There were other choices, but this one seemed like less work.) I flopped miserably. I think I got a C and the option of rewriting the assignment. Didn’t think I could do a better job, so I let it be.
It’s easy to find reasons for alarm, but I don’t think the demand for liberal religion is going to completely go away (and I hope it’s not just a failure of my imagination). There will always be people who want to be religious and not Orthodox, even in Israel where “cultural Judaism” has more hope of surviving than in America.
For the sake of simplicity, I’ve glossed over the differences between Conservative and Reform, as well as the high retention rate of Orthodoxy among millennials, but I very much want to write about those things. I think a big factor is the waning influence of egalitarianism as a driving force. Stay tuned, and I hope it won’t be as long of a wait this time. Rafi is back at gan and I have a lot more time to myself.