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February 9, 2018

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PAGE 4A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 9, 2018 By Deborah Waxman Acriticalpathforwardisshiftingfromafocus especially the non-Orthodox, are moving away our commitment to Jewish life that is deeply on"being" Jewish--important but insufficient from being a community of descent (that is, rooted and boldly relevant. (To be clear, we have PHILADELPHIA (JTA)--"I don't know any for providing substance and structure--to a defined by biology) to a community of consent, renamed the central organization ofthe Recon- Jews who go to temple." focus on "doing" Jewish. Jews todayhave countless opportunities to seek structionist movement, but not the movement Thelineisfromaremarkablypoignantscene In the 1930s, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the meaninganddefinetheiridentities.Anyonewho as a whole.) We remain anchored in the sweep in the 2004 film"Garden State," in which Zach founding thinker of Reconstructionism, fa- identifies as Jewish today chooses to be Jewish, of Jewishtexts, observance, liturgy, history and Braff's character explains to his love interest, mously introduced the metaphor of Judaism regardless of their parentage or background, culture. At the same time, we are continually played by Natalie Portman, a few things that as a "civilization." It was, in part, a response There are two imperatives that emerge from reconstructingJudaismbytraining rabbis to be most non-Orthodox American Jews know to the ongoing debate about whether Jews thisunprecedentedreality.First, Jewishorgani- entrepreneurs and changemakers, cultivating about large suburban synagogues, constituteda nation, a religion or a culture. The zations must convince anyonewho encounters Jewish experiences in existing congregations "The Jews I know," Braff continues, "they civilizational concept resonated most deeply them that being Jewish is a means to being and new venues. They are deploying digital go on one day, on Yom Kippur, the day of in scholarly circles, and among educators and deeplyhuman, notsimplyanendinandofitself, networks to tackle the pressing challenges of repentance. Did you know that most temples ideological Reconstructionists. The point of being Jewish is that we are here on Jewish life, investing in startup projects, and are built with moveable walls so that on the It was the related idea of peoplehood articu- earth to live lives of meaning and connection taking our values and approach to the public one day of the year, when everyone comes to lated by Kaplan and his disciples in the 1940s to each other, Jews and non-Jews alike, squarethroughpodcastingandothermediums. repent, they can actually make the room big that seemed to speak to the North American To do this, we need to shift our preoc- With our new identity, we are shifting the enough to hold everyone?" Jewish imagination. Peoplehood--the sense cupations away from being Jewish, which is emphasis from Reconstructionist, away of be- The Pew Research Center's 2013 Portrait of being part of a diverse people spanning significantly a conversation about boundaries ing, to Reconstructing, withits focus ondoing. of Jewish Americans, which was issued the geography, history and practice--dovetailed and authority, andwhich leads us to infighting TheReconstructionistmovementpridesitself same week that I was appointed leader of the neatly with how North American Jews came to and name-calling, on being the research and development arm of Reconstructionist movement, was seen by see themselves as a group in the postwar years. Instead, we need to focus our energy to- North American Judaism. We've introduced many in the American Jewish community as The conceptprovidedaparticularlyJewishway ward doing Jewish. countless innovations in North American evidence that the sky was failing, for precisely of combining religion, culture and ethnicity Reconstructionist Judaism has always held Jewish life and show no signs of slowing down. the reasons articulated by Braff's character, into one identity, an expansive view of what it means to be and But we know we are not alone. Actors within ManyAmericanJewsproudlyidentifiedasJews Many people have idealized the postwar to do Jewish. Doing Jewish may mean observ- the other non-Orthodox denominations--as but did not meaningfully take part in most period as the "golden years" of American Jew- ing Jewish law, attending synagogue or shar- well as those outside of any denominational expressions of organized Jewish life, except ish life. In the 1950s and 1960s, Jews moved to ing a Shabbat meal. Doing Jewish may mean structure--are opening doorways to new for once or twice a year on holidays, the suburbs, leaving behind the dense urban studying texts or history, learning Hebrew or Jewish experiences and widening the tent of Today, I am reminded of that evocative scene neighborhoods of the immigrant generations Yiddish. Doing Jewish may mean immersing participation in Jewish life. All of our efforts as the organization I lead adopts a new name where theyexpressed theiridentities through a oneself in social action and political engage- are welcomed and needed. and doubles down on its mission to empower richethnictapestryofJewishreligious, cultural mentorpreparingecologicallyconsciousmeals For the sake of our children and the Jewish North American Jews with a very different and organizational life. In the suburbs, they according to eco-kashrut principles. Each future, all of us must find ways to be relevant. understanding of Jewish life. The new name, built and joined large houses of worship. They person will find their path, their community Let'smakesurethatinthecoming-of-agesto- Reconstructing Judaism, is, on a practical belonged--to the synagogue, to the Jewish and, hopefully, their sense of purpose, ries of the future, Jewish protagonists recount level, awelcome change from the cumbersome people--but as the yearswent by, they engaged This conceptual shift from being to doing avery different kind of Jewish childhood, one in ReconstructionistRabbinicalCollegeandJew- less and less. Indeed, according to Pew, 94 must prompt a change not only across the which Judaism was not a once-a-year commit- ish Reconstructionist Communities,whichwe percent of those they surveyed said they were breadth of North American Jewish life, but also ment but a year-round source of sustenance. created after our seminary and congregational proud to be Jewish, but only one-third say they within the Reconstructionist movement itself. Let's make sure our children can tell their union merged in 2012. belong to a synagogue, and only one in five Rabbi Ira Eisenstein, Kaplan's son-in-law and non-Jewish friends, family members and life Far more important, Reconstructing Juda- belongs to other kinds of Jewish organizations, protege, and one of my predecessors, explained partners how Jewish organizations opened ism reflects a subtle but profound evolution The decline of ethnicity and the increasingly the Reconstructionist commitment to people- pathways to engagement. in Reconstructionist thinking about how and unclear sense of Jewish peoplehood represent hood by saying that belonging to the Jewish Let's create lasting memories of spirited why to be Jewish in the 21st century, a challenge of our times, in addition to op- people preceded believing (that is, dogma or prayer, inspired social action, intimate meals With our name change, we are saying to portunities. As the Pew study confirmed, Jews doctrine) or behaving. Speaking in a moment and sustaining communities. Braff's fictional characters--and to so many today are less obligated to join, less moved by defined by ethnicity, Eisenstein insisted that Or, better yet, let us empower the next gen- real people like them--that we have the tre- the traumas of the past and less likely to think the diverse experiences of the Jewish people eration to create experiences and expressions mendous opportunity to reconstruct Jewish ofthemselvesaspartofanethnicgroup defined took precedence over strict halachic--ritual we have not yet imagined. life to create the Jewish community of today by food, culture and common values--with a and legal -- expressions. In our post-ethnic Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D is president and tomorrow, so that we inspire people and smattering of religion, moment, we are reclaiming all affirmative of Reconstructing Judaism. help them find meaning. This is ongoing We are moving from the ethnic moment expressions of Jewish behavior as generative The views and opinions expressed in this work and, hopefully, as much about joy and in North American Jewish life--powerfully andfull ofpromise, article are those of the author and do not nec connection as it is about repentance, struggle articulatedbythe concept ofpeoplehood--into By adopting the name Reconstructing Ju- essarily reflect the views of JTA or its parent and soul-searching, a post-ethnic moment. North American Jews, daism, the organization I lead is crystallizing company, 70 Faces Media. By Andrew Silow-Carroll senator from Illinois could be photographed with a wildly anti-Semitic black nationalist, (JTA)--"Nothing matters." You hear that andothermembersoftheCongressionalBlack a lot these days. Caucus would suppress the photo so as not to You hear it when The Wall Street Journal sink his presidential chances. reports that the president's personal lawyer That photograph, of Barack Obama and paid a porn actress $130,000, at the height of Louis Farrakhan, surfaced last week when the the presidential campaign, so she would stay photographer who took the shot released it to silent about an alleged affair she'd had with Politico. Many agree that had the photo seen Donald Trump. Or when the president uses the light of day before the 2008 election, there a vulgarity to refer to African countries. Or would have been no President Obama. It may when the president is credibly reported to have have cemented later accusations that he had demanded the firing of the man investigating consorted with radicals, including his own obstruction of justice claims concerning the pastor, who was a Farrakhan apologist and a president'sfiringofanotherman investigating racist in his own right. Although Obama the obstruction of justice claims, candidate was eloquent in distancing himself That was the premise of a "Saturday Night both from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Far- Live" skit last week in which Jessica Chastain rakhan, apicture is worth, as the saying goes, hosted a putative game show called "What thousands of beautifully crafted words. Even Matters Anymore?" When a contestant Of course, there is plenty we don't know suggests that Trump's Africa comment must about the circumstances of the photo. A1- matter, an exasperated Chastain responds:"Ac- though reportedly taken at a Congressional tually, it does not matter. Zero consequences Black Caucus event in Chicago, we don't know and everyone moves on." who else attended, and whether the room was I bring this up not to vilify Trump, but to filledwith other clergy andAfrican-American remember with wistfulness a faraway time-- power brokers, or if it was some sort of tete-a- 2005--when things still mattered. When aU.S. tete. Is Obamasmiling with Farrakhan, or was THE VIEWS EXPRESSED ON THIS PAGE ARE NOT NECESSARILY THE VIEWS OF HERITAGE MANAGEMENT. CENTRAL FLORIDA'SINDEPENDENTJEWISHVOICE ISSN 0199-0721 Winner of 46 Press Awards ITAGE HERITAGE Florida Jewish News (ISN 0199-0721) is published weekly for $37.95 per year to Florida ad- dresses ($46.95 for the rest of the U.S.) by HERITAGE Central Florida Jewish News, Inc 207 O'Brien Road, Suite 101, Fern Park, FL 32730. Periodicals postage paid at Fern Park and additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes and other correspondence to: HERITAGE, P.O. Box 300742, Fern Park, FL 32730. MAILING ADDRESS PHONE NUMBER P.O. Box 300742 (407) 834-8787 Fern Park, FL 32730 FAX (407) 831-0507 email: Editor/Publisher Jeffrey Gaeser Editor Emeritus Associate Editor News Editor Gene Stam Kirn Fischer Christine DeSouza Society Editor Office Manager Gloria Yousha Paulette Alfonso Account Executives Kim Fischer * Marci Gaeser Contributing Columnists Jim Shipley * Ira Sharkansky David Bornstein Ed Ziegler Production Department David Lehman Gil Dombrosky Joyce Gore he caught on camera smiling near Farrakhan? If you are inclined to exculpate Obama, you might ask what the Congressional Black Caucus was doing hosting Farrakhan at all. The New Yorker's Vinson Cunningham notes that "it's a sign of Farrakhan's oddly lasting hold on popular influence that he was even invited to clink drinks with the members" of the caucus. Like Wright, the obscenely flawed Farrakhan represented a constituency that politicians felt could not be ignored. Or you might be inclined to reject the photo as mere guilt by association. There is a style of gotcha journalism and opposition research that turns dumb gestures or sloppy planning into political felonies. Last week, Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa took heat when it was learned that in 2006, he gave an interview to a publi- cation that peddles in Holocaust denial, and that a year later he headlined a rally that also heard from a musician with his own interest- ing theories about the Shoah. Barletta was a small-town mayor at the time, and last week he blamed his staff for bad vetting. I'd want to know a lot more before dismissing Barletta as soft on Holocaust denial. Whether events like these do, or should, sink a politician's career depends on a number of things. Fairly or unfairly, bad things stick to politicians if they somehow reflect some- thing that the public has suspected all along. When Mitt Romney griped about a parasitic "47 percent," it matched his image as an out- of-touch one-percenter. When John Kerry flip-flopped on his support for the use of force in Iraq, it sealed an impression, pushed by his opponent, that he'd say anything to win. And when George H.W. Bush checked his watch during a debate with Bill Clinton, it provided an unfortunate--and unfair--contrast between the sturdy if unexciting Washington insider and the energetic if sometimes undisciplined challenger. Trump, it has been noted time and again, has obliterated the whole idea of the political gaffe. Starting with his "Mexican rapists" campaign launch, gaffes have become his brand. He's shown that if you flood the zone with enough gaffes, distractions and downright lies, they all but cancel each other out. Twitter users love to use the "Can you imagine if" construction to point how any one of the daily outrages associated with Trump would have sunk a normal politician. Can you imagine if it were a Democratic president attacking the FBI? Can you imagine if Hillary had won the election and there were unmistakable signs that the Russians had gamed Facebook in her favor? (It works the other way, too: Can you imagine, ask Trump's defenders, ifHillary had protected a campaign adviser accused of sexual harass- ment--oh wait, that actually happened.) Had the Farrakhan photo come out before the election, it just might have ended Obama's presidential ambitions, and there's a strong case to be made that it should have: Even if he shared none of Farrakhan's ideas, Obama would have lent the Nation of Islam leader-- and by extension his penchant for anti-Semitic scapegoating --a senatorial hechsher. It may have confirmed an impression of Obama as opportunistic, transactional and, perhaps worst of all, hypocritical. Yet had one photo done him in, America may have been denied a gifted leader who was able to embody, on the largest possible stage, a daily rebuke to Farrakhan's hateful, racially polarized version of minority empowerment. There has to be a way of thinking about our leaders that falls somewhere between overreacting to an inexpedient gaffe and ignor- ing a pattern of disqualifying behavior--the middle of a scale between, let's say, Howard Dean's "Scream" and James Traficant's "Entire Career" (look it up). One can only hope that Trump hasn't inured us to outrage, or lowered the bar to a degree that a politician's bad, boor- ish or unethical behavior just doesn't matter. Andrew Silow-Carroll is the editor in chief of JTA. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JTA or its par- ent company, 70 Faces Media.