Rabbi Andy Bachman’s blog, Ideas, today pointed me to a New York Times article called “An Unlikely Megachurch Lesson.” The article is worth a read. Some of this post may make little sense if you don’t read the article. Just read it. You’ll feel better afterwards.
Rabbi Bachman and his blog hold a very unique and special place in my current version of my life story. During a life-changing summer at the currently collapsing Kutz Camp, Andy became the first Rabbi who made me want to be a Rabbi. I have had always had the good fortune of having great Rabbis in my life, but Andy sparked something new in me. His unabashed way of saying what he means about things was new trait in a Rabbi to me and something I saw (and continue to see) in myself. Andy connects with people of all ages in a way that I never will. The man is more than twice my age and can engage someone my own age three times as well as I can. He now works at Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, where, since Andy joined their team, they draw new twenty and thirty-something members in ways that other synagogues across the country seem unable to.
That inability which Andy has somehow overcome and that Time article highlight the greatest challenge facing Jewry in America: de-affiliation. It was my impression for some time that I would be part of the solution to that problem as I mature and as I eventually join the Rabbinate. But this article along with a number of recent observations has led me to believe that I will never be a part of that.
I don’t like the kind of things suggested by the Times article. I don’t want guitars or bands or spiritual testimonials when I go to synagogue. I want traditional melodies and chanting and an honest, progressive and academically sound liturgy. It is clear to me that because of that, far from being part of the solution, I am part of the problem.
David Singer, my esteemed teacher, friend and fellow blogger (on the FAR side), would tell you that if you take what I described above as my desired mode of prayer and present it to people with passion and honesty, they will like it. As much as I would like for that to be true I think that David and I may have been born out of our time. We may not even have a time. My desire for truly progressive and truly reform liturgy seems to shared by almost no one. It certainly isn’t a priority for others.
So where does that leave me? What kind of Rabbi could I ever be and for what sort of congregation? I see that things described in the Times article are the way they may need to be to attract Jews to the pews, but how can I present that to others if I can’t stand it myself?