Forward Thinking

Sid Schwarz and Others Discuss What's Trending

By Jane Eisner

  • Print
  • Share Share
Sid Schwarz

Sid Schwarz’s new book has a rather ambitious title, but then, this rabbi/entrepreneur is a rather ambitious man. In “Jewish Megatrends”, he aspires to do nothing less than, as the subtitle says, chart the course of the American Jewish future. He’s not doing it alone, of course. That’s where I came in.

Schwarz asked me to moderate a panel at the JCC Manhattan with him and just some of the 14 Jewish leaders and thinkers who contributed essay to “Megatrends.” The event took place last night and what could have been an unwieldy gabfest — there were, after all, seven of us with microphones — instead turned into a coherent, stimulating discussion.

The framework was provided by Schwarz when he posits in the book that there are “tribal” Jews and “covenantal” Jews and that American Jews in their 20s, 30s and even 40s are much more the latter than the former. Theoretical attachment to the Jewish people, the state of Israel and the legacy of the Holocaust is no longer enough to get American Jews to join a synagogue and contribute to Federation.

Judaism, he argues, needs to be seen as a path “to help us live lives of sacred purpose.”

And, in what he terms a countercultural statement: “Jewish community should be the place where people and relationships count.”

Nobody, not even panelists like David Ellenson, president of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and Jonathan Woocher, chief ideas officer of JESNA — in other words, traditional leaders of traditional organization — dispute that. But if big change must come to American Jewish life, what will it look like? Who will lead it? How will it be self-sustaining?

In their essays and in their answers to my questions, the panelists offered some intriguing thoughts. Woocher believes that 20th century Jewish education must give way to 21st century reality. The goal to “ensure that individuals remain ‘good’ Jews while becoming ‘good’ Americans” must now be: “How can we help Jews draw on and use their Jewishness to live more meaningful, fulfilling, responsible lives?”

Joy Levitt, who as executive director of the JCC Manhattan runs (in my humble opinion) an extraordinarily vibrant and creative institution, believes that even though her job title has “Jewish” in its name, her mission is to serve the broader community as well. “People who are serious about service — and all of us should be — want and need the focus to be on those who need our help, not on ourselves and the strengthening of Jewish lives,” she wrote. In fact, she can give example after example of people whose Jewish lives are strengthened by serving others.

That theme also courses through Jill Jacobs’ work — she is now executive director of Truah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. “There is no question that social justice has taken off among this generation of Jews,” she wrote. “The question is whether this generation will grapple with justice issues through a Jewish lens.”

Jacobs and Nigel Savage, founder and executive director of Hazon, were the two panelists most associated with the much-prized Jewish innovation sector. Jacobs and Savage have figured out how to capture growing trends in the larger society — she in social justice, he in the food movement — and infuse their approach and mission with Jewish values and behaviors. “How should a person eat?” is both a 21st century question and a Jewish question, Savage argues. And there are so many ways that Jewish teaching and tradition can help answer the challenge.

Whether the innovators will help transform the legacy institutions, whether the legacies will be able to transform themselves, whether Jewish education and the rabbinate will evolve quickly and smartly enough to stay relevant for generations to come — well, I can’t answer those questions. But it was good to hear them debated by dedicated people who are trying to chart the future in real time.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: sid schwarz, megatrends, jewish

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • What would Maimonides say about Warby Parker's buy-one, give-one charity model?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.