One of the kvetches I hear most from young people today about why they’re often turned off by the organized Jewish community is regarding money – that everything seems to revolve around the Almighty Buck.
Maybe they’re just a bunch of kvetchers, right? After all, you need money to make shuls run, federations thrive, advocacy groups flourish, Israel bloom, etc.
Or maybe they’re on to something.
I was recently in New England for the bat mitzvah of the kid of some old friends. They’d asked my wife and I to participate in the service, to read the Prayer for Our Country, which is always a great honor.
Shortly before the point arrived in the service when we were slated to do our bit, the gabbai came up and gave us a card, which designated that we were the folks to recite this particular prayer. Fine. But on the other side of the card was a little note, mentioning that if the holder was so inclined to make a donation to this fairly well-off congregation after he or she returned home, that would be much, much appreciated.
So even on Shabbat, a time when traditionally we’re not supposed to exchange money, someone is still digging into my pockets? Imagine the reaction of someone – maybe a young, unaffiliated person—who’d never stepped into a shul before. It’d be such a horrific turn-off.
I know this is a tough time for shuls. Seats need to be reupholstered, bimahs need to be upgraded, light fixtures need to be replaced, rabbis and executive directors need to get paid, etc. But there must be a more proper and tasteful way of soliciting funds than reminding someone before they read a prayer on the bimah for our country that generous “tips” are most welcome. Truth is, I’ll probably never be in that shul again – why should I send a check to them? I’ve got my own shul to send my checks to.
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OK, on to the next rant. An elderly friend of mine recently told me that she heard a rabbi speak about – you’ve got it – the Bible. He shared with her group a couple of his thoughts about a certain passage in the Torah.
Her response to me later was, “Who cares about these bubbe meises? What does that have to do with me? I was bored out of my mind.”
In this world, there are good teachers and bad teachers. But when it comes to teaching Torah, my experience has been that few rabbis have been able to really get across why these stories from our sacred texts matter so much and why they’re relevant today. Sure, talking about something that may or may not have happened 3,500 years ago might sound dull from the outset. But a skilled, gifted teacher will have the capacity to demonstrate why the story pertains to our lives today. They’ll make it live and breathe, even for those of us who aren’t necessarily traditional or observant.
I know these teachers are out there. Heaven knows we need more of ‘em.