Quiet Quitting and the Jews
I’m not a quitter. Although it’s been tempting at times. The term quiet quitting was coined to define a working style that evolved during the pandemic. It’s not meant to be taken literally: a person is not actually leaving their job, rather they are quitting the idea of going above and beyond, of taking on extra duties that would further their career. While swathes of dedicated Jewish community professionals show no signs of quiet quitting as they clock extra hours and expend surplus energy, the concept gave me the opportunity to frame several quiet quitting trends I’ve observed that are impacting Jewish life – trends that community leaders are ignoring at their peril.
Economics drives quitting: The high costs of Jewish life, both essential infrastructure such as tuition, synagogue membership and kosher food, and the self-imposed socially constructed costs of extravagant bar/bat mitzvah celebrations and weddings, fuel additional pressures.
Communal politics infuriates: The small ‘p’ politics within communities and organizations is the definitive anaphrodisiac.Squabbling, power-plays and ego-driven decisions simply reinforce the notion that a fresh new perspective is the last thing the establishment wants and causes emerging talent to quit.
Volunteering demands are draining: Communities are built on kindness and compassion. However, the pressure to give freely of one’s time to help the elderly, visit the sick or set up a charity event drives people to quit rather than be called upon.
Israel, innocence lost: Israel is complicated, nuanced and fraught. No news there. But it’s also quite extraordinary. However, rather than acknowledge its complexities or advocate on its behalf, many Jews in the Diaspora have already quit from the difficult conversations and simply withdrawn.
Rebels without a cause: The recent protests in Israel hark back to the ‘golden age’ of rallies, marches and unbridled passion for Jewish causes – the campaigns on behalf of Soviet Jewry being a prime example. With very little to galvanize Jewish communities, [other than the occasional outburst of antisemitism] activists, particularly the younger ones, are quitting specific Jewish interests. Energy is now funneled into the global issues of climate change, human rights and food insecurity.
The politics of Holocaust education and combatting antisemitism: There seems to be no end of funding for educational activities, monuments and conferences to address these topics, but have they made a difference? It seems that global antisemitic attacks have not abated whether that be physical or online. It’s unclear if celebrity condemnations, social media campaigns and political initiatives to combat antisemitism actually make a Jew safer. While these issues may rouse the diehards, and some brave-hearts have taken a bold public stance, most people are quietly quitting and distancing themselves from speaking out.
Seeking souls in the lost and found: Jewish traditions, culture and rituals are multi-layered, historically fascinating and offer a framework for living. Jewish content is created every day on various platforms catering to every religious denomination, but do we have enough data to measure their use and impact? While certain communities continue to flourish [albeit with their own challenges] it seems that the majority of Jews are simply quitting Jewish life because they have not found a way to make it relevant.
A rabbi is no job for a nice Jewish boy or girl: While a flurry of idealism and enthusiasm motivates aspiring clergy and communal workers, retention has proved difficult. As long as these jobs are regarded askance and poorly paid, staff are literally quitting, citing inadequate support, career progression or validation.
Softly Shouting – a counterpoint: While there is no one solution to these catalysts for quitting, there are many organizations trying to counter the quiet quitters by what I call softly shouting. Technology helps of course – Jews are nomadic, global citizens and now even more so. A Jew sitting in Bolivia can access a synagogue service in Barcelona. A French lecture in Montreal is live-streamed to an audience in Paris. Artists in Neve Tzedek and New York can work together and a community in Tel Aviv can connect with one in Sydney. Money has been invested in a wide range of program focussed on themes such as the arts, education, spirituality and literature or designed around cohorts including educators, activists, community professionals and young families. However, these targeted activities are taking place within a bleak political and social context that is totally beyond our control. For those Jews on the path to quitting, the existential concerns within the Jewish community may understandably seem rather smug and parochial, thus strengthening the imperative to quit.
Indeed, it would be easy to quit, quite literally, as the frustration mounts with no fixes in sight. The dawning realization that the problems may require a structural overhaul of community life brings everything to a standstill for fear of change. And so we often fall back on our tradition that teaches “You are not expected to complete the task, but neither are you free to avoid it.” (Rabbi Tarfon, Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers 2:21).
Indeed, Rabbi Tarfon offers the fundamental guiding principle: Quitting is not an option.