Jewish Empowerment

Ahhh, so much to write about – speaking tour 2010… Israel in general… next year… DC… I’ll get to it all soon, I promise. For now, one quick story which happened yesterday, which I must share.

To catch you all up briefly, I’m working this summer in Washington DC with/for Hillel International, as a summer intern. (Though in reality, I’m planning for next year and how to take Heart to Heart national.) Anyway, so I was talking with some of the other interns in the office – they’re all college students, involved in their local Hillels, interested in engagement and Hillel’s strategy, etc. I started telling them about Heart to Heart and what I’ve been starting and trying to spread, including some of the programs we run (e.g. Shabbat dinners, Hebrew classes, etc.) One of the girls asked me where I run the dinners, to which I responded (in typical Third Space language) – in my dorm room, in friends’ apartment, off-campus houses, etc. “So which rabbi runs the meals?”, she asked me. I was stunned – that thought had never even occurred to me, that I had to have a rabbi run everything. “Well, none.”, I answered, “We do it ourselves, me, my friends.” “What?!”, she responded, “So who explains things? Who talks when everyone is eating?” As I tried to explain how the meals work, the other girl turned to her and said “Don’t you see? We’ve been thinking about it all wrong.”

When I told the story to my mom, she pointed out something interesting. For people who didn’t grow up in religious homes, their only perception of Shabbat and of ritual Jewish observance was in the synagogue or in school or in a Chabad house, with the rabbi telling everyone what to do. Many people don’t know, or didn’t even think to learn, that they could do it themselves – they can run their own Shabbat dinners, teach their own Judaism, forge their own paths. Much of institutional Judaism’s failing is the lack of empowerment – relying exclusively (not that any reliance is bad, but exclusive reliance is problematic) on rabbis and others, thus becoming lazy, ignorant and apathetic about their Judaism. People need to realize that they can do it themselves, they can help mold their own Jewish identities and create the Jewish future they so desire. It’s not so simple and it takes many things, but the first thing is realizing that the Gd-given power rests within you.

Posted in Shabbat dinner, Uncategorized.

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