Why Raise Jewish Kids & Grandkids

 Judaism’s Need To State Its Value Proposition
© James A. Stein — 2015

We need to develop personal, values-based answers to the threshold questions: Why be Jewish? Why is it important to “be” Jewish, and to “do” Jewish? Why is it important to raise Jewish kids and grandkids?
We need to articulate a concise, compelling and comprehensive value proposition about preserving and building a Judaism for the 21st century. The value proposition needs to be affirmative and positive. So, let’s discuss what’s worth preserving – be it the religion, the culture, the food, the history, the spirituality, the social justice ethic, etc.
We need to answer the question of how being Jewish will add value to a person’s life. What are we trying to accomplish with religious practice, observance and spiritual practice? How will being Jewish help a person answer life’s questions, issues and challenges? Until recently, we have simply taken this for granted.
Stated another way, what will be lost, abandoned and forgotten if we don’t promote strong, positive, values-based messages regarding the importance of Jewish knowledge, wisdom, values and spirituality to the next generations?
What does it mean to be Jewish or a member of any tribe in the 21st century? The Tribe
If we can’t come up with cogent answers to these questions, how can we expect our children and grandchildren to “buy-in” to our concerns and create their own Jewish journeys?
So, based upon your values, let’s start by answering the following questions:
1. Why is it important for you to “be” Jewish and “do” Jewish?

2. Complete the following sentences: “You should be Jewish because _____.” And “I want you to raise Jewish kids because _____.”

3. Develop Your Own Top 10 List of Reasons to be and do Jewish.

Please share you list with me. Let’s start a dialog.


Appointment to Jewish Outreach Institute / Big Tent Judaism Board of Directors

For Further Information
Contact: Alex Zaprudsky
Communications Associate
Tel.: (212) 760-1440

JOI Welcomes Community Leader
to National Board of Directors
Jim Stein Joins Board to Help Welcome Less-Engaged into the Twin City Jewish Community

• Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute welcomes Mr. Jim Stein to its National Board of Directors.
• Stein is a retired attorney living in Saint Paul, Minn., and has held multiple leadership roles in the Jewish community.
• Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute is an independent, national, trans-denominational organization reaching out to unengaged and intermarried Jewish families, and helping the organized Jewish community better welcome them in.

JUNE 12, 2014—Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute is delighted to announce that Jim Stein has joined its board of directors. Stein will work closely with Executive Director Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky and the rest of the board of directors to promote Big Tent Judaism, help guide its development, oversee its management, and ensure that it has the resources, professional leadership, and policies needed to fulfill its mission.

Stein is a retired attorney living in Saint Paul, Minn., with his wife. During his 32 years as an attorney, he held multiple leadership roles in his local Jewish community, as well as positions on the national level. Stein served as the president of his local Jewish Federation for three years, participated in the first group of a two-year intensive study and leadership development class, and held the office of executive director for a national Jewish disaster response organization. Throughout his life, Stein has been an avid student of Jewish religion, ethics, and values—and a firm believer that Judaism remains relevant today. He is the author of the recently published book, Renaissance: A Strategic Plan for Transforming Judaism, and he made an appearance at the recent Jewish Book Council Network conference in New York.

“We are very excited to have Jim as a member of the board,” said Michael Rappaport, President of Big Tent Judaism’s board of directors. “He is a creative, energetic individual committed to realizing the potential of our organization, and he shares our belief that the future of the North American Jewish Community will be determined by the warmth, wisdom, and caring with which we welcome and engage intermarried families and unaffiliated Jews into our midst.”

Rabbi Kerry Olitzky said Stein’s presence on the board is a great benefit. “Jim brings to the position a diverse background in leadership, both as an advocate for her community and for the Jewish community at large. We are confident in his ability to articulate JOI’s mission and we look forward to his continuing participation in the future of our organization.”

For more information about Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute, or to schedule an interview with Mr. Stein, please contact Alex Zaprudsky at AZaprudsky@JOI.org or (212) 760-1440.

Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute—is an independent, national, trans-denominational organization reaching out to unengaged and intermarried Jewish families, and helping the organized Jewish community better welcome them in. JOI conducts research, runs programs, and serves as a national training institution and network for outreach professionals, guiding and supporting innovative outreach in communities throughout North America.

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Donald Sterling — A Teachable Jewish Values Moment

As reported by the Jewish Daily Forward, LA Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, was born Donald Tokowitz. “He was born to Jewish immigrants in Chicago who had, in fact, fled Eastern Europe to get away from the kind of attitudes their son — if it is confirmed that it is him — was caught on tape adamantly defending as part of a ‘culture.'”

So how do we as Jews react to the incredibly insensitive racist remarks uttered by a wealthy man of Jewish extraction? What do our enduring Jewish values teach us regarding how to respond to this situation?

As I assert in my new book, “Renaissance: A Strategic Plan for Transforming Judaism,” available from Amazon, (http://www.amazon.com/Renaissance-Strategic-Plan-Transforming-Judaism/dp/1493627228/ref=sr_1_14?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1398959189&sr=1-14&keywords=jim+stein), if Judaism is to remain relevant and meaningful in the Twenty-First Century, we need to view actions in the real world through the prism of fundamental Jewish Values. People today are looking for more than a dry discussion of values. They need a context for their meaning and application in the real world. They want their religious leaders and organizations be rooted, resolute and connected. Above all, they want their leaders to conceptualize Jewish values by helping people apply them in a real and concrete fashion to the challenges and crises they are confronting in their daily lives. This is especially true in a spiritual context. If a synagogue cannot meaningfully respond to congregants’ seeking of truth, meaning and exploration along their spiritual journeys, then that synagogue has failed the litmus test of relevancy and needs to be re-imagined. Judaism must therefore espouse beliefs and practices that provide very real meaning and very real solutions for very real people in the context of their crowded and frenetic lives.

So what about Donald Sterling? What does our tradition, teaching and values tell us regarding his inappropriate beliefs and behavior?

As stated by Chancellor Arnold Eisen of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Judaism teaches us how to make sense of our time on earth and to make sure that our time is not wasted. It helps to provide meaning to our lives. Jews are God’s partners in creation. Its basic truth claims are: There is right and wrong; We must constantly affirm life; We need to choose between right and wrong and choose to enhance, acknowledge and be grateful for life; Justice, kindness and relationship are Judaism’s overriding and enduring values.

In Leviticus 19:18, the text reads: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am the Lord.” This profound statement has been adopted and interpreted numerous times by Jews and non-Jews alike. For Donald Sterling to demean African Americans diminishes life and runs afoul of one of Judaism’s most enduring teachings.

Use this terrible incident as a way of teaching our children and ourselves how age-old Jewish values are relevant and important guides for how we should live our lives and how we need to treat and respect others.

Admitting the Obvious

One of the lessons from the recent PBS series “God in America” is that we are a nation where our personal freedom has enabled us to create individualized versions of the particular religion with which we choose to affiliate.

This phenomenon is also true with Judaism. Today, Jews frequently describe their relationship with Judaism and their spiritual beliefs as an amalgam of numerous Jewish religious streams and indeed of other religions as well. Moreover, young Jews consciously avoid established labels when they describe their Jewish belief system. As Rabbi Irwin Kula says, we live in a society where all of the labels have been washed off and where we don’t know who we are.

These trends reflect the reality that the traditional lines of demarcation that defined what it meant to be a particular “kind” of Jew have, for most Jews, have been totally eliminated or at least blurred beyond recognition. The Judaism of today, like other religions in America, has clearly moved into a non-denominational environment. This is a realm in which traditional labels, descriptions and boundaries have been largely abandoned or have at least been ignored.

The trouble is that the established and previously widely accepted streams of Judaism don’t seem to fully appreciate the current undefined environment that has become their new reality. Or, if they do understand what’s happening, they don’t have any realistic or meaningful responses to the situation.

So, one important question is, in a time of blurred definitions, what does it mean to be “Jewish? ” How do we create a common language that can be applied to the ambiguous situation in which we currently find ourselves? When everyone is free to define and create their own personalized version of Jewish identity and practice, how do we create an environment where the common threads that run throughout all versions of Judaism can be highlighted and indeed celebrated.

I would contend that the best way to address our current situation is to adopt a comprehensive “get back to basics” approach where fundamental Jewish values are stressed and where people are encouraged to ask ‘why’ we pray the way we do and observe specific rituals the way we do. With this knowledge, power and entitlement, they will be better able to create the kind of Jewish belief system that is both meaningful for them and that nonetheless focuses on universal and fundamental age-old Jewish values. In this way, we can maintain our individuality and personal freedom while at the same time being mindful of the common bonds, beliefs and values that will continue to unite us as a people.

What do you think?

Failing to Ask the Important Questions

I find it interesting and incredibly surprising that Jewish clergy and educators never ask themselves several fundamental threshold questions: Who are our “customers?” Where are they coming from? What is their Jewish background and level of Jewish education? What are they looking for? And what do they need? What are they interested in? What triggers or motivations have drawn them to Judaism in general and to their specific synagogue in particular? Failing to ask these important questions inevitably leads to the creation of “products” and delivery of messages that frequently miss the point by failing to address these issues. Thus, there’s a substantial disconnect between the clergy and their congregants. It’s not surprising that these leaders are utterly “tone deaf” and clueless. We therefore shouldn’t be surprised that much of what happens in the synagogue and in Jewish education literally falls on deaf ears and fails to make a meaningful connection with the very audience that is the intended recipient of these messages. So, once again, we fail to ask the right (or any) questions. Another of the many missed opportunities. We shouldn’t be surprised that most Jews are utterly turned off to “organized” Jewish worship. Instead, they are both bored and come away with the impression that “organized” Judaism doesn’t address their fundamental needs and interests. In short, we never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity!

Putting the Cart Before the Horse

“American history is often driven by passionate outsiders who force themselves into the center of American life.” David Brooks – NYT 1/5/10

Jewish religious leaders constantly ask their congregants to live a religiously observant Jewish life. That’s how they were trained. That’s what they think they were hired to do. However, most rabbis never bother to either ask or educate their congregants regarding the beneficial effects of living this type of life. They seem to assume that the benefits to be derived from living a religiously observant life are self-evident. In making this assumption, they utterly fail to give their congregants a context for living this type of life. They never explain why this is desirable. Thus, they fail to articulate what they claim are the goals and benefits that their congregants will experience if the advice is followed.

What are we trying to achieve? What is our goal when we ask people to be observant Jews? Is it to adhere to God’s law? Is it to adhere to a comprehensive set of ethics, values, norms and a code for living? Is it to achieve a level of deep spirituality? Is it connection with other like-minded individuals? Is it to build an intimate spiritual community? All of these are acceptable and even laudatory goals. However, the means for achieving the goals will vary widely. That’s one of the reasons why it’s imperative that we strive to identify in a positive, affirmative manner what we’re trying to achieve or “sell” to our constituents by asking them to live and worship Jewishly.

Let’s first agree on what are our goals before we tell people what they should do. Jews will no longer blindly follow a code, a set of instructions or a set of laws. While guilt may have worked for earlier generations, it clearly won’t work today for modern North American Jews. Instead, today’s Jews must be shown in an affirmative manner what the benefits, the positive outcomes and indeed what the payoffs will be by living a committed and observant Jewish life. Let’s not assume that people automatically understand what these benefits are without ever being taught about them. Take the time to start at the beginning again and not put the cart before the horse. In short, let’s begin the conversation.

Shooting Ourselves in the Foot

Virtually all rabbis, even the Reform ones, erect obstacles to prevent Jews from marrying people where one of the people is not willing to convert to Judaism. Even when the couple is strongly committed to raising their children Jewish, rabbis seem to go out of their way to make it difficult for the interfaith couple to be married in a Jewish ceremony by a rabbi. This is shortsighted and wrong-headed. It is as if the rabbis believe that their refusal to perform a Jewish marriage ceremony for an interfaith couple is the one thing that will prevent intermarriage. If that were true, there might be some validity to their irrational policy. However, this is clearly not the case. Fifty percent or more Jewish people are already “voting with their feet” and electing to marry a non-Jew and without a Jewish marriage ceremony. So, it’s clear that the policy followed by most rabbis regarding the conduct of a Jewish wedding ceremony for interfaith couples is not having the intended effect. More importantly, why do we continually go out of our way to make the interfaith couple feel unwelcomed to Jewish worship and practice? If Jews are already choosing to marry non-Jewish without a Jewish ceremony, why not do whatever we can to support the Jewish partner’s decision to raise the children Jewish and make the couple feel comfortable and welcomed in the synagogue? Once again, it is as if we never miss the opportunity to miss the opportunity to make interfaith couples feel welcomed and to support the Jewish partner’s decision to raise the children as Jews. This is another reason why the existing Jewish establishment is inadequate in both its training and skill set to deal with important issues of today.

My Interests

Who Am I?
Hello and welcome to my Blog. My interest in doing this Blog is to promote dialogue on ways we can reinvigorate, reimagine and ultimately transform Judaism into a religion that has more meaning, power and relevance in the lives of ordinary Jews. My vision of a transformative Judaism is one where the largely artificial boundaries, distinctions and turf battles embodied by the major streams (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist) either evaporate or become irrelevant. They will be replaced with a new non-denominational brand of Judaism that is more responsive to the personal and spiritual needs of its members. It will do this by emphasizing fundamental Jewish values that infuse new meaning and relevance into Jewish rituals and practice. This new form of Judaism will also be concerned about finding creative ways to attract previously disconnected and disaffected Jews. It will further try to create opportunities for people involved in mixed marriages to understand and experience the beauty of Jewish wisdom.
I welcome your comments and feedback regarding my ideas.
Jim Stein