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November 11, 2011
 

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HERITAGE FLOF(I ,JEWISH NEWS, NOVEMBER i'll ":: By Elie Kaunfer DENVER (JTA)--I want to challenge one of the mainstay assumptions of organized Jewish life: Jewish continuity is the end goal, and everything is in service of that goal. It's been 20 years since the release of the 1990 National Jewish Population Study, which found an unprecedented rate of intermarriage. It launched 1,000 ships of Jewish identity efforts in the service of ensur- ing Jewish continuity. Indeed in our current language, everything is in service of Jewish identity. Birthright strengthens Jewish identity. Day schools strengthen Jew- ish identity. Summer camps strengthen Jewish identity. Our theory: Strengthen Jewish identity and Judaism will continue. But here's the problem with that theory: In our zeal to ensure the Jewish future, we forgot to articulate why it mat- ters for Judaism to continue. Abraham Joshua Heschel already recognized this in 1965, when he addressed the 34th General Assembly in Montreal. He said, "The sig- By Mark Lebow I amoften asked aboutwhat motivates me to volunteer so much time and energy towards Magen David Adom. After all, there are many wor- thy causes in Israel that work hard to improve the lives of ordinary Israelis. Neverthe- less, for more than 70 years, our supporters have put in countless hours ensuring that MDA is the best-equipped and best-trained emergency re- sponse organization because Israel deserves nothing less. I am proud to be part of that tradition. In fact, just recently I had the honor of accompany- ing my friehd Mayor Michael Bloomberg to Jerusalem where we dedicated the new Return Torah to itsplace bf glory nificance of Judaism does not lie in its being conducive to the mere survival of a particular people, but rather in its being a source of spiritual wealth, a source of meaning relevant to all peoples." ("Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity") Jews were not placed on this earth to survive. Jews were placed on this ea.rth to embody and to model the quest for %piritual wealth" and"meaning." Jews, like all people, are searching for meaning, sub- stance and connection. The more we are inundated with emails, status updates and tweets, the more we want to go deeper. Our souls are calling out for engagement; our hearts are crying out to be opened. Judaism, at its core, is a response to that yearning, an answer to that call. What are we "continuing" with our calls for "continuity"? Why does Judaism need a future? Because Judaism offers a sys- tem, a covenantal language, a heritage and tradition that responds to the human need for meaning, substance and connection. It is our system, MDA Jerusalem Station in memory of the Mayor's father, William H. Bloomberg. A good explanation of why MDA receives the attention of generous Americans like Mayor Bloomberg is a conversation I had recently with Yael, a paramedic at our Jerusalem Station. Like too many other Israelis, Yael's family has fallen victim to a vicious terror attack. Yael's reaction to this horrific event has been to bravely dedicate her life to caring for others. Despite the fact that she could perhaps find similar ful- fillment in a more comfortable profession, Yael now spends eight-hour shifts training and waiting on-call in case our language, our heritage; it is relevant, and that is the reason that we need a Jewish future. We Jews have a word for the pathway to meaning, substance and connection. It is called Torah. I don't just mean the Torah scroll that sits alone in the ark, or even just the words of the five books of Moses. I mean the sum total of Jewish sources and texts--the wisdom stored up in our textual heritage. So often we sideline Torah in the culture of the organized Jewish community. It takes the form of a pithy quote at the top of a website; an icon on our iPad; a glazed d'var Torah at the beginning of a board meeting. It's what we pay lip service to before we re- ally get down to business. But real Torah is so much deeper. Torah has the power to draw us into the conversation, and to push us to think more deeply about ourselves and our struggles. Torah gives us a language for clarifying our own life's mission, and an entryway to express our deepest values. My Dad and I study Torah every week over the phone, and have done so for the past 15 years. "When I discuss a text with my son," he said, "I always ask questions to which I do not know the answer. What comes out of these dialogues is a set of novel and exciting ideas which never occurred to me. But my son and I do more than connect with the texts and their moral gems;we also connect with each other." Torah has the power to push us to ask bold questions and to transform our relationships. So who is Torah for? Is the search for meaning and content reserved for a few motivated Jews? Is it stuck up in the heavens where no one can reach it? Or across the sea where no one can find it? (Deut. 20:12-13) There is a radical teach- ing in Jewish tradition in Midrash Tehilim 65:6 about the moment of revelation at Mount Sinai that addresses that question: "When God spoke the word [on Sinai], God's voice split into seven voices. Those seven voices split into the 70 languages of the world So that everyone couM understand." Why we built it she is needed for a medical emergency. "In the old MDA'station, paramedics trained in condi- tions that did not adequately meet the needs of emergency personnel," Yael told me re- cently. "The building, which was built in 1963 when Jeru- salernwas a small divided city, was not properly insulated and their electrical and techno- logical infrastructures were nowhere near the standards of similar emergency medical facilities around the world. When we were called out for an emergency, we would have to run outside through the elements to ambulances that were parked outdoors," she continued. "And in the Middle East this would often mean that essential equip- ment was too hot to operate immediately and needed to be first cooled down before it could be properly used." Thanks to Mayor Bloom- berg and the generous work of:the American Friends of Magen David Adorn, those days are over. Today, Yael and the rest of the MDA staff and volunteers are training in a state-of-the art facility. When an emergency arises, the MDA dispatch system uses the most up-to-date technology to en- sure that the correct type of rescue vehicle is sent to the incident where it is needed. Yael and her colleagues now deploy in an orderly fashion to a covered ambulance bay and are quickly on their way What's incredible about this Midrash? It means that Torah has something to say to everyone. Not just kids. Not just day school graduates. Not just synagogue goers. Not just rabbis. Not even just Jews! We often assume that Torah is for the elite or only reserved for those with a strong Jewish education. But Torah never understood itself that way. This Midrash recognizes that it is a basic human need to yearn for meaning and substance, and that yearn- ing doesn't exclude anyone. Our real birthright, our real morasha, is Torah. Our task is twofold. First, we have to abandon the old paradigm of Jewish continu- ity as an end in itself instead. Continuity must be in the ervice of Torah; survival must be in service of the deep search for meaning and substance. When we are able to articulate why Judaism matters, why it is critical for us to have a future, then continuity will be the obvious result. In the 21st century, Jews are not inspired to survive just to survive. But we can be inspired to engage in the deepest questions of to assist the residents of the Jerusalem region. No less importantly, while they wait for the emergency calls that come all too often, Yael and the MDA staff can now rest in a lounge and on-call room instead of on metal chairs. As most medical profession- als'now realize, the quality of care that a patient receives in the first few minutes of a medical incident is directly related to their chance of mak- ing a full recovery. No other first-response organization in Israel can meet this challange as well as MDA. This is why so many of us will continue to volunteer our time and donate our funds to ensure that MDA retains its qualitative edge with the most modern fleet .... PAGE 5A : ' meaning and existence and do that through the wisdom of our heritage. Second, we have to make Torah accessible to all. We have to stop imagining Torah as only for the clergy and the elite. We have to stop telling ourselves I do social justice, other people do Torah. We would never limit the quest for pursuit of social justice, or charity, or service, to a few elite. Why do that with Torah? We suffer and Torah suffers when we short-sell its relevance. We often have trouble articulating why Judaism matters, and we start casting about for the "next big idea." Torah always has been the big idea. Let's bring it back to its place of glory, and in so doing, remind ourselves why we care so much about our Jewish future. Rabbi Elie Kaunfer is the executive director of Mechon Hadar, an egalitarian yeshiva and independent minyan organization. He adaptbd this op-ed from a speech he delivered Nov. 6 to the Jewish Federations of North America's General Assembly. of life-saving vehicles, new stations and the most up-to- date technological systems and equipment. There are many organiza- tions in Israel that work for the betterment of its people. The renovation of the Jerusalem Station, however, is a project that has already start:ed to save lives throughout the region and is making an im- mediate impact on the city's citizens and surrounding communities. This passion for care is what motivates MDA volunteers, and what inspires donors throughout the United States. Mark Lebow is the national chairman of the American Friends of the Magen David Adorn. Population boom? Why7 billion isn't enough By Simcha Weinstein little bundle of joy (or two milestone, we've been hear- The United Stat'es is recently was voted "New titled "The Case for Having NEW YORK (JTA)--I may be a rabbi who lives and works in the heart of New York City--in fact, I was just voted one of Gotham's "hippest"--but believe it or not, I occasionally catch a glimpse of an endangered species, I'm talking, of course, about young married cou- ples. They seem to hiber- nate all year, coming to the synagogue only on the High Holidays. That's OK. I'm still thrilled to meet them. This year, I got an in- teresting reaction after I said something that pretty much guarantees I won't see these couples again for another year: "So ... isn't it time?" The wife blushed. The husband cringed. One of them blurted out their well-rehearsed response: "Rabbi, we'd love to have kids: Someday. But right now, we're not ready." That scenario plays itself out all over the world every day. An entire generation of Jewish grandmothers- in-waiting is praying im- patiently for their own or three) to kvell over. But their daughters and sons aren't cooperating. Accord- ing to a 2002 study by the Jewish Agency, "the num- ber of Jews in the world is declining at an average of 50,000 per year." And it's not just a Jew- ish problem. Throughout the Western world, men and women in their prime reproductive years are do- ing everything but repro- ducing. If you've been following the new s of late, you may be questioning my wisdom or sanity. It was reported that on the night of Oct. 30, the Philippines welcomed the world's 7 billionth person, Danica May Camacho. In fact, despite being offi- cially awarded the title by the United Nations, other countries also are claiming that they have a newborn who is the seventh billion person on the planet. Still, the United Nations even had flown in the world's six bil- lionth person, Lorrize Mae Guevarra (now 12 years old) to be there to wish a mazel tov. As the result of this ing a lot this week about the "population boom." However, if you crunch the numbers, a slightly differ- ent picture emerges: that "population boom" is more like a"health boom." Medi- cal advances are improving longevity, wh{ch is what is really driving up the world's population numbers. In. reality, the problem isn't overpopulation but sub-replacement fertility and aging populations that ultimately will lead to mas- sive population declines. In places like Japan and West- ern Europe, low fertility has increased the incidence of voluntary childlessness, which in turn will have a far-reaching impact on economic and social policy. Nations such as Greece already are struggling to support their graying citizens--a message that few in that country seem willing to hear. China's extreme sub- replacement fertility rate is creating a hitherto un- known family structure: children with no siblings. That is, family trees with no branches. clinging to a healthy re- plenishment rate just above 2.1 children, but only due to high immigration rates, which are now petering off, given the economic downturn. As a rabbi, I can't help but recall that the Bible's first instruction to humankind, in Genesis 1:28, is "Be fruit- ful and multiply. Fill the land and subdue it." Note that the emphasis is not just on having a family but a large one. Some might ask, why was it necessary to command people to do something that not only guarantees the con- tinued survival of the hu- man race, but which comes so naturally? I'm beginning to think that the long-ago command "to be fruitful and multiply" actually was meant for us modern people thousands of years in the future--a kind of message in a (baby) bottle that would wash ashore in our post- modern, post-parenting era. Whether or not we will heed that message remains to be seen. Rabbi Sirncha Weinstein is a best-selling author who York's Hippest Rabbi" by PBS-Ch. 13. His forthcom- ing book on demography is Children: Why parenthood makes you (and your world) healthy, wealthy and wise." Dry Bones THE FABLM.OU5 NEW5 NOT THAT I00AEL 6 51TTIIUG - ON... ZSO BILLION BAR00EL5 01: O/L-/.OCKEO 00/ALE DEPOSIT00 NEW5 IS THAT AN L00AELI 00CIENTI00. CLAI00A TO HAVE THE F/IB00O00 A WAY T0 i- i l DryBonesBIog.com