I have enormous respect for what Rabbi Elie Kaunfer and his partners have been accomplishing in engaging Jews — especially those of a younger generation — more substantively in Jewish study and worship. The excerpts from his new book “Empowered Judaism” published in the April 9 edition (“The Real Crisis In American Judaism”) give readers an excellent sense of the enormous good that is being achieved at Mechon Hadar and at independent minyanim throughout the country. I have ample reason to be proud of these things.
But I must call attention in deep disappointment to one of those excerpts, which unfortunately made it to the front page of this newspaper. Having offered the unwarranted generalization that “there are very few places that offer Jews an opportunity to experience the power and mystery of Judaism firsthand,” Rabbi Kaunfer then resorts to the unkind and unhelpful stereotype contained in this phrase: “they trudge to High Holiday services to receive the requisite ‘Be good!’ sermons, only to return to their lives unchallenged and unchanged.”
I know that I am speaking for many of my colleagues in the rabbinate in saying that I would long ago have abandoned my calling were I to feel that I am repeatedly sending mere passers-through back to their homes “unchallenged and unchanged.” “Empowerment” means many positive things. Among those should be a liberation from having to appeal to clichéd negative images of other models when presenting one’s own.
Temple Israel Center
White Plains, N.Y.