One of the key religious epiphanies is that we live in a world of illusions; not everything is as it seems. With all the justified emphasis on denominational feuds, each of the denominational publications have other things on their mind that are worth sharing across the Jewish Mason-Dixon lines.Jewish Action (Summer), the magazine of the Orthodox Union looks at the OU’s centennial, essentially Orthodoxy’s centennial in the United States. Virtually all of us have Orthodox roots dating to the time of the OU’s founding in 1898, and the story of how we got from there to here, or slipped away, is a family novel, not just an Orthodox one.
OU president Mandell Ganchrow presents his wish list for the coming years, topped by the desire that all federations, by the year 2010, allocate 100 percent of their funds for domestic use. He hopes Israel’s continued economic resurgence will allow American charity to better deal with Jewish poverty, care of the infirm and Jewish education.Along those lines, JTS Magazine (Spring), from the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, features a cover story: “Who’s Minding Our Children? Day Care in the Jewish Community,” pointing out that while Jewish women’s groups such as Na’amat do a great job of operating day care centers in Israel, here in United States — forget it: “Ask a rabbi or any Jewish leader what is most important in Judaism and many will respond, ‘Our children.’ But ask them what they are doing about day care and the answer is not so easy.
Author Jane Calem Rosen finds that “finding a high quality, affordable program with Judaic content is a formidable task.”Debbie Hirschman, executive director of the Jewish Community Center of the Upper West Side, calls the lack of Jewish day care “a glaring omission in the life of the community.” After all, “the most critical time to bring people into the Jewish community is when a baby is born.”Fern Fisher, a child psychotherapist and associate director of New York’s Board of Jewish Education, adds, “We’re not going to make good Jews out of children who don’t make good attachments in early childhood.”To their pluralistic credit, the JTS article doesn’t limit its vision to its native Conservative Judaism, but seeks the insights and examples of everyone from Lubavitch, which runs 200 day care centers in the U.S., to Reform.Reform Judaism (Summer), the publication of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, continues to signal that Judaism’s liberal wing is having second thoughts about dumping so many basic Jewish beliefs, such as life after death, into the old genizah.Rabbi Marc Gellman, of Temple Beth Torah in Melville, L.I., writes: “How unfortunate that we have rejected the awesome, inspiring belief that our souls live on after the death of our bodies. When was the last sermon you heard about life after death? When was the last funeral where the rabbi said ‘the deceased person’s soul has entered the world to come?’ Six eulogies were delivered at the funeral of former [Reform leader] Rabbi Joe Glaser, and the only speaker who pronounced that ‘Joe’s soul is now in the world to come’ was a Methodist minister.”Rabbi Gellman points out that because Reform has chosen to shy away from a classic Jewish understanding of what happens after we die, “I have seen Jews die with less serenity, grace and hope, and with more agony, than Christians who believe in heaven,” let alone the rest of the Jewish people, who believe in heaven, too.In the same issue, columnist Amy Hersh writes, “I’ve gone through my own times of skepticism and doubt, I still don’t know anything for certain, but I think we need the comfort of believing in an afterlife.”Skeptics and scholars will find a much more nuanced, footnoted and bibliographed dissection of the afterlife’s Jewish evolution in The Lion’s Letters (Spring), the Columbia University Student Journal of Jewish Scholarship, which is perhaps the finest publication of its kind.And speaking of the sweet hereafter, the lights are out at Sh’ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility that ceased publication this spring. A non-denominational newsletter that was never as pretentious as it clunky name, this sprightly eight-pager was once required reading, one of the snappiest cracker barrels of Jewish exchange before it grew old and the crackers found other barrels.