12 September 2011

Is there a difference between empowerment and DIY Judaism?

I want to, with 3 cautions, recommend an article by Jay Michaelson in the Jewish Daily Forward ("Don't Call the Rabbi, Make Your Own Rituals" - 9/8/11).  Reform Judaism is based on the idea of informed choice - so the more that you are empowered and educated in your own Judaism the better.   I am proud that we are studying the lifecycle throughout the congregation for this trimester, and the evidence of understanding for our Sunday program students will be to create a lifecycle ritual together as a class.

The first caution is - PLEASE call the Rabbi.  Ask any couple or family with whom I have created a lifecycle ritual.  We work together to create appropriate and meaningful Jewish rituals.  The first thing that I assign is homework - so that we are all on the same page and using the same terminology.  Then we talk about what they would want or need and I make suggestions, based on my experience. I also have certain requirements for my participation - based on my own religious standards and practice.

The second caution is - about most Rabbis the author knows "dreading heading off to another lifecyle event".  I don't think I know him, but, as you hopefully have heard me say on many occasions, that is why I am in this job.  Not that I am happy to have to officiate at funerals, but I appreciate that death is part of our lifecycle and am fulfilled by my part in being able to be there for a family whom I know and can help.  One of my greatest joys this year is that I was able to officiate at the wedding of child of the congregation at whose Bar Mitzvah and Confirmation, I also officiated.  This spring, I look forward to officiating when one of the first children whom I welcomed (with her family) in the covenant with B'rit Bat will become Bat Mitzvah.

Final caution - and most important - the downside of Do-It-Yourself Judaism, as opposed to empowered Judaism is the possible loss of community.  There are parts of Judaism that you can do by yourself - struggle with the Divine, engage in self-reflection, seek challenge to make the world a better place, even pray.  However, there are many parts that can only be done in community - whether it is the family community where you make Shabbat or create a seder, or the congregational community which celebrates with you and, ideally, serves to comfort you in sorrow.  Even if we don't literally count the minyan in Reform Judaism, we still acknowledge the value of meeting regularly as a community to pray together.

 - and, an invitation - Study with us so you, too, can empower your own Judaism.  If you want to study on your own - great.  I am happy to recommend resources and to meet with you, if you want, to discuss them.  But, Pirke Avot tells us to, in study, to find ourselves a chaver - a friend, or comrade to study with us.  Judaism has  always said that the byplay and interaction as two study together is not only better for the learners, but also brings in the Divine Presence.  Shameless plug - we also have plenty of opportunities for you to study with others in our Eitz Chayim program.

DIY?  OK.  But doing it with your community has its benefits too.