Wednesday, December 18, 2013


This past week we closed the book of Genesis, and read about the death of both Jacob and Joseph.  Both they and their family have become settled in the land of Mitzraim and are somewhat comfortable.  But both long for the land of their ancestors.  At Jacob's death he asks that he is buried with his parents and grandparents and Joseph exacts a promise that when the children of Israel eventually leave Mitzraim that they take his bones back to Canaan.  While living in the land of another culture, there was a real effort by these leaders to keep a connection to land of their ancestors and to their God.

For Jacob there was a time of concern.  There is a famous midrash in Rabbah  that on his death bed Jacob worried that his children would forget God in this foreign land.  Seeing the struggle in Jacob's eyes they said to him:

“Listen, Israel (Jabob's name given to him after wrestling with a divine being earlier in the Torah), Adonai is our God. Adonai is one.”  In other words: Shema Yisrael. Adonai Eloheinu. Adonai Echad.
With his last dying breath  Jacob whispered:  “Praised is God, whose glorious reign will go on forever.”
or  Barukh Shem K’vod malkhuto l’olam va’ed.  This is our continued declaration of faith that we repeat up to today.

I can sense an analogy to today.  The pressure of the greater culture to overwhelm our young people to move further and further from Judaism is real.  Jewish Identity has become the most important topic in the life of Jewish educators due to a recent study.  I think there is something to it.  I find that many Jews my age in liberal communities have a very stunted understanding of their Judaism, the result of leaving formal Jewish education after Bar or Bat Mitzvah.  It is like thinking you know all about history if once you finished 7th grade.  But despite a distancing themselves from synagogue and practice I also see a trend of their children coming back to building meaning of their Judaism.  Students in their late teens through the late 20s seem to be looking for ways to create a Judaism that works for them.  One that may not look like their parents Hebrew school or even like the way they learned when they were in Aleph classes not that long ago.  I have found a real effort to not only wanting to be Jewish but have a way of talking about what that means and to do Jewish.  It may not be in synagogues or even in Jewish institutions that have existed in the past.  But like Jacob's children they are holding on to the gift of tradition they received from their parents and preparing it for when it comes time to give it to their children.

Like in the deep and rich culture of Egypt, we remembered who we were I think we will continue to do it today, we just have to make room for it to be something we may not have seen before.

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