Friday, November 5, 2010

Jacob and Esau - The Birthright, The Blessing and The Jewish Future

This is the recruitment and retention season which means I see a good number of airports, lots of returning campers and their families, as well as families thinking about camp for the first time.  During my visits to communities, I have the opportunity to meet with rabbis, cantors, educators and other communal professional and lay leaders.  Attempting to gain greater understanding into what is going on in a given place, what is important, and what is concerning the community, I spend more time listening than I do talking. Along the way,  I learn more and patterns of commonality begin to emerge: hopes for growth versus fears of decline; desires for perpetuation of tradition versus concerns of rejection; yearnings for a bright future versus anxiety about looming, darkening skies.

None of these contrasting feelings about the Jewish future are new.  In fact, they are as old as the Torah itself.  All of ספר בראשית - The Book of Genesis - is focused on the promise of descendants and a homeland; on a blessing and its perpetuation; and on a bright future for the descendants of one couple paired with ongoing existential fears about whether the promise and the blessing will be sustained or if it will whither and die.  Abraham and Sarah are guaranteed children yet have none of their own until much later in life.  They are promised a land yet, early on, they have to leave that land in search of sustenance.  Fulfillment of the promise seems fleeting when Abraham has to take his son, Isaac, to the top of Mount Moriah for what appears to be his demise via human sacrifice.  This week, in פרשת תולדות, as we turn our attention to the next generation, we are once again given insight into family concerns about the future as the birthright and the blessing are passed onto the next generation.

A soon to be released study examines the reasons why parents choose to send their children to Jewish camps.  Chief among the motivations for the choice is a parental desire for their children to have more Jewishly than they themselves did.  Over and over again, parents express an understanding that not only is more, in fact, more but that Jewish camp plays a central role in providing the best of a higher quantity of Jewish experience, Jewish socializing and socialization, and Jewish learning.  In visiting communities over the past few weeks, in talking about concerns about the Jewish future, parents expressed to me the same hopes in their own words.  Parents who send their children to Camp Ramah in Wisconsin do so overwhelmingly because they recognize the unique power of the Ramah experience in instilling a commitment to Judaism, both in learning and in living.  They understand that Camp Ramah in Wisconsin is the launchpad to a bright Jewish future.

This week, the Jewish community will gather in New Orleans for the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly (GA) - The Superbowl of Jewish communal gatherings.  For the first time in the history of the GA, the Board of Jewish Education of New York is sponsoring a conference on the Jewish future.  People will ponder and pontificate, discuss and debate.  A variety of options will emerge.  Our attention needs to turn to the most robust visions of the Jewish future, those that are rich in substance, high in frequency, and powerfully transformational in their impact.  In the end, it is those visions of the future that will lead to the brightest, most enduring futures.

As people prepare to head to New Orleans and as final preparations are put on the General Assembly and on the gathering about the Jewish future, I hope that you will spend time over Shabbat and during the week to come thinking about what you hope will be part of the Jewish future.  Engage your children and your friends in that conversation.  Challenge yourself to consider a world ripe with possibilities, without limits,  a world where the Jewish sky shines brightly.  And please share with us your thoughts, visions and hopes - those for yourselves, your children, your communities and our entire people.  

Shabbat Shalom.

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