Misdirection and the Missing Jew

Like so many of us I have been enamored with the recent soap opera between the different denominations of American Judaism. Maybe I am drawn to it because my brother is a YCT student and there is certain personal relevance, but maybe (no…definitely) I am drawn to it because it is like watching the Kardashians without the cheap feeling afterwards. Either way, it is entertaining to watch the conscious uncoupling of American Jewry.

I am a day school graduate, a yeshiva high school drop out, spent a shabbos or two on the Carlebach moshav and I once spent a summer in chassidic yeshiva in Jerusalem. I grew up as a traditional Conservative, but no longer identify as anything but a non-kosher, shabbos breaking chassid.

I am a zionist, and spent four years of my life attending medical school in Tel Aviv. I love davening with Breslovers behind a mechitza as much as with congregations that would use every mechitza in the world to burn their ner tamed (eternal flame). I was kosher until two years ago, and I haven’t stepped inside of a synagogue since . Im not angry, or resentful: I am just bored. Yes…I am your typical disenfranchised American Jew.

Why am I bored? Because my leaders have done little to engage me.
Honestly, the most engaging thing I can remember is watching this petty
banter in the op-ed section, and frankly, I am engaged for all the wrong reasons. The childishness of this back and forth reflects how disconnected the leadership of American Judaism is from its market (yes, when you continue to charge exorbitant membership fees we can call it a market).

They spend more time on political discourse than wondering why the
independent minyan movement is blossoming and why their shuls are shutting down.

They spend more time trying to distinguish (or isolate) themselves than asking themselves why people are gravitating towards Jewish Renewal, and Open Orthodoxy and moving away from the better established denominations.

They spend more time fighting amongst themselves than asking why myself and many Jews alike find more solace in the teachings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama than most living rabbis.

Though I am certainly a proud champion of civil liberties, and I affirm that any Judaism must seriously engage with modern socio-political changes, more fundamental than women’s rights, and gay rights are Jewish rights. The right to connect, the right to lose yourself in prayer, the right to be inspired enlightened and loved. I assure you this is much more relevant to gays, women and even ‘misogynists’ alike, because at the end of the day they are still just Jews.

We are begging to be engaged, we are begging to have that spark turned into a flame. Sadly while you are busy facing each other you have turned your back on us, and we are sneaking away.

Herschl is dead. The Baal Shem Tov is dead. Solevechik is dead. Carlebach is dead. You are throwing the dirt on their graves instead of exhuming their souls.

The true beauty of American Judaism is that you can be a Chabadnik in Brooklyn, or an out of the closet rabbi on the Lower East Side and still consider yourself a religious Jew. I assure you that there is limitless space for all of us to practice how we feel comfortable. Our similarities far outweigh our differences. You can do your best to distinguish your tribe but we are all in the desert together.

When you ask your self why Jews are becoming so disconnected from you, maybe you should start asking why you have become so disconnected from Jews.

About the Author
Gary Soffer is a graduate of Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University. He is currently in his pediatrics residency in New York.