Judaism 2030 And Israel

Judaism 2030 And Israel

One of the great things about our high-tech world is that — by e-mailing files back and forth, scheduling everything on Google Calendar and relying almost solely on my cell phone — I can, fairly seamlessly, work from home three days a week.

Alas however, one thing Google cannot yet remedy for me is my tendency to leave reporter’s notebooks in the wrong places, to lose them altogether and to forget which bag and which notebook I was using when.

Which is why today, as I am at the Jewish Week’s Times Square headquarters (doesn’t that make us sound all impressive?) and am supposed to be blogging about last week’s Jewish Outreach Institute "Judaism 2030" conference, my notebook from said conference is at this moment lying on the floor of my home office. (A rather grandiose description of the tiny third bedroom in our apartment, where my IKEA desk, laptop and cheap all-in-one printer/scanner/copier compete for space with an exercise bike and stacks of yet-to-be sorted laundry.)

Why, you might ask, do I even use old-fashioned paper notebooks? It’s not like my handwriting is so good. In fact, it’s so bad that even I have trouble deciphering it at times. And I can type (which I do when taking notes from most phone interviews) much faster than I write. But, hey, it’s not like I can easily or discreetly take notes on the go on my Droid. Yes, it has a slide-out keyboard, but it’s microscopic. And people don’t always feel comfortable chatting with you at conferences once you pull out a laptop computer. Plus, when talking to my Deep Throat sources (doesn’t that make my job sound glamorous?), I worry the sound of me clacking away on the keyboard will make them nervous.

All of this throat-clearing is a way of saying: I’m going to write a little about the conference, but off the top of my head, so bear with me.

And what struck me most at this conference, amid all the excitement about collaboration, spirituality, welcoming, new models of synagogue membership and engagement — and anticipating the World of Tomorrow — is just how far American Jewish life and Israeli Jewish life are drifting from each other. (I’m not the only person thinking about this right now: check out Rabbi Sid Schwarz’s op-ed in this week’s paper.)

Granted, I missed the second day, when the themes were Peoplehood and Globalism — topics perhaps more pertinent to that little state in the southwest corner of Asia. But the day I attended, Israel itself (rather than Israel trips or Birthright or even Birthright NEXT, all aimed for diaspora Jews) was barely mentioned.

Toward the end of the day, in an informal discussion, the whole Who Is A Jew/patrilineal descent issue came up, an issue that seems to be, on this side of the Atlantic, less and less divisive. My sense is that Conservative and even liberal Orthodox Jews are becoming more flexible about patrilineal Jews: maintaining ritual boundaries for things like minyan-counting and calling people to the Torah, but wherever possible seeking to handle matters delicately and offering opportunities for easy conversion/affirmation ceremonies, so as not to make patrilineal Jews feel uncomfortable or unwelcome.

Meanwhile, in Israel conversion to Judaism seems to be getting more and more complicated, with the Chief Rabbinate increasingly picky about the requirements and commitments for becoming Jewish — with some rabbis even seeking to rescind conversions for people not deemed sufficiently observant. And hundreds of thousands of Russian immigrants unable to have Jewish weddings or be buried in Jewish cemeteries.

Plus, Israel has a prime minister who picks fights with a president most American Jews support and seems more comfortable with America’s Republicans and Evangelical Christians than he is with its liberal Jews.

And secular, often politically liberal, Israelis seem to be on an Exodus West to Manhattan and Los Angeles (I have no numbers, just hearsay and the fact that I increasingly hear Hebrew on the streets of New York), while the American Jews moving in the other direction, toward Zion (with the exception of folks like my former colleague Sharon Udasin) tend to be more right-wing and Orthodox.

Not to mention that the chances of Israel and the Palestinians achieving a two-state solution, one that would prevent the Jewish state from sliding into apartheid, seem to become smaller by the day.

Which leaves us looking at a 2030 anchored by two Jewish hubs that are ever more different in character and ever more different in their definitions of Judaism. And no amount of Skype-ing or high-tech telecommuting or other futuristic communications can compensate for that.

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