Looking for a Penny in the Light

Last Saturday night, I was invited to a sacred Rosh Hodesh Kislev women gathering. I say “sacred” in all earnestness, not because that’s how anyone of the organizers described it themselves, but rather, because of how the space felt, because of the care, love and attention present. In a modest, lovely Brooklyn apartment, we were 12-15 women, most under 30 (at least one not…). When I came in, havdala was already done. There were small candles on the low round table, snacks and wine (all kosher, some homemade and most environmentally friendly). There were thoughts on the Torah portion, explanations about what’s special about Kislev, and inspirational words from Chasidic masters; there was a guitar and songs, Jewish and others; there was time for relaxed, personal sharing. It was quickly obvious that each of us came from a different Jewish upbringing and backgrounds, from growing up ultra-Orthodox to “nothing”, but the thirst for an authentic, personal way was evident.

At the end, we all joined on the floor for an art project: In honor of the month of Kislev, the month of dreams (Jacob, Joseph and Pharaoh), darkness (with the shortest day and shortest Shabbat coming up soon) and desire for light (see the festivals of this season), stuff “showed up” for each of us to make an aromatic candle. I asked if there’s any charge, and the organizer said, not to worry, it’s part of her tzedakka.

Recent studies are big on how remote and uninterested is the younger generation of American Jewry; how they are ditching Judaism, and generally, oy vey and what’s going to be with them. Aside from sounding like our parents and all the things we said we’ll never say, perhaps it’s time to look again. At least around here, Judaism / Yidishkeit is alive and well. It’s just doing much of it on its own: friends meeting for Shabbat dinners and potlucks in the park, gathering for Rosh Hodesh, planning chagim together, starting new and alternative minyanim, and more.

There is an old joke about a person who loses a penny in a dark alley. When his friend tries to help him, he finds him right under the street lamp. ‘Why are you looking here?’ the friend asks. ‘That’s where there’s light’, he answers.

I’m not suggesting that there is no intermarriage, disinterest, criticism of Israel and other issues that beg our attention. But I would like to suggest that there’s more, and that along with all that, much is happening that isn’t yet obvious because it does not look like what we’re used to. It’s not always inside one of our institutions (and that fact alone might offend us, blinds us and makes us quick to judge, yes, more things we said we’ll never do…). Costs and attitudes, dues structure and membership requirements have driven much of the younger generation’s Jewishness away, and they, ironically, took it back to where it always used be: home.

To the doomsayers who tell us American Jewry is diminishing, disappearing, vanishing; to those who flash scary statistics with glaring numbers, I’d like to say, just because you don’t see something, doesn’t mean it’s not there. There are many ways to be who we are. That’s our strength. Stay tuned for more.

About the Author
Born and raised in Israel, Michal is currently the Rosh Kehila of Prospect Heights Shul in Brooklyn and a student at Yeshivat Maharat, NY. She holds several degrees, and has been a leader and educator in the Jewish Community of Northern California for over twenty five years. She is an avid learner and writer – her 1st book, Ha'chug, appeared in Israel in 2016.
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