Wednesday, June 05, 2013

The view from here.

In a few days my middle son will go on a Taglit-Birthright trip to Israel.   My youngest will be entering college this fall, majoring in Psychology (can't help but wonder about that...).   My oldest son still lives in Minnesota, which surprised all of us.  I doubt I would have lasted past one winter.  My daughter is still not talking to me.  It is what it is.

Last Friday, the two younger boys and I prepared Kiddush lunch for our shul, in honor of the trip and of the youngest's 18th birthday, as well as in recognition of all the kids graduating high school at the shul.  My middle son did the Torah service and my youngest gave the drash.  All of this spring's graduates were honored.  A "happy graduation" ice cream cake was served for dessert.  It was a very nice service.

But it's sad that most of those graduates will go away from this community, if not immediately then after college, and probably never come back.  I am pessimistic about this community's future.  It seems that far more people leave, disengage, or fade away than arrive and become active.  And, of course, this community does not have the basic infrastructure to attract young observant families, and does not appear interested in building a miqvah, or a JCC, or a Dayschool.  I have the feeling that the community doesn't particularly want observant families to come.  So it will dwindle away - is dwindling away, actually.  The Reform Rabbi would protest that's not true - why, his Temple has plenty of kids in it.  But statistically speaking, those kids are not committed to Judaism, especially Torah observance, and are not likely to be motivated to do so in the future.  The intermarriage rate of Reform congregants is extremely high - and many kids there have been taught - accidentally or on purpose - that Judaism is not anything particularly special. It's just one choice among many, a social consciousness instead of an obligation.  All the benefits without any of the responsibilities.  The youth have other priorities.

But they came by it honest, as they say here in the south.  My generation, Generation X, is not much better.  Maybe not any better.  We are the reason most of the Millennials have other priorities.  We gave them those other priorities.  Or worse, we didn't recognize their priorities, because we were too busy with our own.

Of course, this problem is not unique among Jewish youth - it's a pretty strong trend in all American youth.  And probably with good reason!  Should they feel obligated to a society or a country that has left many of them without basic healthcare, saddled with tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt, off-shored most of the living wage jobs with benefits and replaced them with Mc-Wally-Wort useless make-work wage-slave jobs?  Should American youth feel connected to a society that completely disregards the things that are important to them - a clean environment, fair trade, safe natural food, non-toxic products for their homes, and walkable cities?   We tell them it can't be done and they need to just get over it.  Or we tell them their concerns are irrational.  Or we tell them more of the same will somehow make things better than they can even imagine.

Of course, none of those things are true, and they know it.  The kids graduating from high school and college today are inheriting a world that we have come close to ruining.  And it's likely by the time we (the X-ers) wrest control away from the Boomers, and the Millennials wrest control away from us, it will be ruined.  There's really not much doubt about that.  I have spent the last six months reading books, articles, studies and documentaries.  I'm not optimistic about America's future, so why should they be?  They know intuitively - through zeitgeist perhaps - what the rest of us refuse to admit.  Things can't go on the way they are.  If nothing changes, their future is going to dwindle away - is dwindling away, actually.

Israel's future is equally fraught with peril.  Aside from the ever-present threat of rockets, invasion, or chemical/biological attack, the internal political and religious struggles are draining away Israel's vitality.  Every glimmer of hope - the Women at the Wall, hints of a right to marry or a right to freedom of religious practice - seems to come with a fog-bank of confusion making finding the way forward extremely difficult.  Each step forward seems to lead to two steps back - the Chereidi simply have no intention of allowing such changes, and demographically they have the upper hand.  All they need to do is bide their time (and stem their own tide of defectors, but that's a whole other issue).  There's no law people can do now that can't be undone.  Whatever victories we win now will probably just be shot down later - or else the entire country will be shot down, it's hard to tell which.  Israel relies on America for a huge chunk of their defense capabilities.  What if America can't or won't continue to provide?

Certainly the radical Islamicists don't consider the Chereidi to be any real threat.  The more they refuse military service, refuse to be educated and stay in poverty, and become the dominant adult majority, the closer the radicals are to being able to waltz in and exterminate them all with little effort.  So the Chereidi, also, are throwing away their futures with both hands, militarily and economically.

But that day has not yet arrived, thankfully.  So I'm glad my middle son is going to get to see Israel.  I wish I could afford to go see it.  I hope my younger son will get to go one day.    Meanwhile here in America we could, if we wanted, have a social democracy that eschews war-mongering and takes care of our citizens needs instead of lining corporate pockets. It's not like it can't be done - Switzerland and the other Nordic countries seem to be doing it perfectly well.  And if anybody is willing to be honest, it was importing American style banking and American style profit-over-people policies that led the rest of Europe astray.  We could fix it all if we were willing.  But apparently we don't want that.  I can't understand why, personally, but lots of people rationalize it.  And here in this community, we could try and attract vibrant young observant families and strengthen the Jewish nature of our community.  But apparently we don't want that, either.   It remains to be seen if there will be enough X-ers or Millennials left willing to monetarily support this Jewish community after the wealthy Boomers retire south or go to their fate in the great beyond.  I'm guessing not.  I don't see that many people my age either in shul or at Federation events.  Some, yes.  But not enough.  And I'm on the top edge of the X-ers, not far away from being a Boomer, actually.  Just missed it, for all practical purposes.   And I'm the youngest person who attends our local Hadassah meetings, for example, though our chapter is widely regarded, has a high fundraising quota, and meets it - for now.  As the Boomers dwindle away, it's not clear how Hadassah, either, will hang on.  Meeting quota because somebody died and left a nice bequest is not really a great way to meet quota.  Nor is it sustainable as a fundraising model.

So here we are.  The view from here and now is not encouraging.  Of course, things can change.  I hope they will change.  And if they don't, well, it is what it is.  And let's not forget - we made it what it is. 


SJ said...

I'm surprised you are still blogging.

How is the hope and change going?

"Ahavah" Gayle Bourne said...

I'm way too busy to blog much anymore...

As for hope and change, I think the Green Party is where my votes are going from now on. Clearly the Democrats are bought and paid for by the same CEOs that own the Republicans.