Thursday, August 23, 2007

Open Letter on Minyanim

Dear BZ, Kung Fu Jew and others who left comments on my final rant on indy miyanhim,

Back when I was coming into my own, I had a very interesting conversation with my then-girlfriend. I said that is something is broken you have to throw the entire thing out and try again. She, being a very establishment kind of woman, said that you have to work within the rules of the system and then try to change it to fit your needs. Well after growing up just a bit, I think we were both naïve to assume that it was either one way or the other.

I still don’t like the system. But I have come to realize some of the merit she had discussed. The system in place isn’t always wrong, just most of the time. It is wrong simply because it is set up by people trying to get the most out of the system while pleasing the greatest number of individuals. Being a true progressive or liberal or whatever we want to assign to ourselves, we need to fix the problems we see within our community or system.

Granted a havurot movement is an establishment in and of itself. It has been around since the 1960s/70s and serves a broad community. Young people tend to come in greater numbers to these services than older folks for many reasons. But what does that mean to me, someone who doesn’t like the feeling of sitting together and finding holiness in music or drum circles? That is the question that is asked about havurot. What can I get from this community and what can I give to it. BZ, the “me first give me give me” aspect is found everywhere and you are right about those who “get bar/bat mitzvahed” and leave. But I think it is more prevalent within a younger community, and therefore found more in the indy minyans. Many young parents (the bar mitzvah factory crowd) also are young and fall into that community of me first give me give mees.

But this is my last argument on this issue for two reasons: 1. I don’t really care about the outcome. 2. I have no vested interest in what happens. It was discussed briefly that ReformJews don’t get the education they need to identify with Judaism. Ach. It was also discussed that small independent groups will remain strong forever but if they need to disband because they aren’t working anymore they will disband. Ach. BZ you grew up in the Reform camps and the like right? All Jewish learning is a starting point and you should know that. All institutions remain in one form or another because someone (with power) tends to see them as necessary.

Kung Fu Jew, I don’t think someone is saying the indy groups are the answer to all problems but it sure is insinuated. The idea that young people can’t find anything meaningful in traditionally organized communities, young people are quoted all the time saying that they don’t find any thing worth their salt in synagogues and are forced to go to indy minyanim to find meaning etc.
“Do any of us pray in Reform synagogues in New York City aside from small minyanim at Beth Elohim?” the Park Slope Reform synagogue where he works as rabbinic intern. “No. You’re more likely to find us at the independent minyanim” that in recent years have sprouted up around New York City, where the approach to prayer tends to be at once creative and traditional. NYJW

So folks do what you want. I don’t care what you do or who you do it with. Throw out the system that doesn’t work for you. That is not my beef, for at one point in my adolescents I too wanted to get rid of the system. I won’t even say “when you are done playing you will be welcome back.” If you never want to be part of my community that is fine and if you want in you are welcome. I don’t care at all. It isn’t for me but can be for you. I however am done talking about this.

Take me on for different reasons but on this issue, I am finished.


DK said...

I am curious if you enjoy the regular Reform Temple services in NYC?

Annie said...

I think that I must have missed the previous rant.

I agree with you that if institutions fail due to lack of participation, then they are clearly not serving their purpose, and should fail. But I also think that there should be efforts made before that point to try and shape the institution into something more useful.

That said, as much as I have enjoyed some indy minyanim, I hate the fact that everyone feels entitled to have exactly the flavor/type/shape of Judaism that they want. It might seem silly to be against spiritual fulfillment for all, but it only seems to fragment the community, no one needs to work together or compromise, because you can just form your own new minyan. Whither goes community, or compromise? And then Jewish peoplehood?

I like indy minyanim, and I think that many serve an important purpose, but the trend they embody worries me.

Liberal Jew said...

dk- I do. I like services where the Rabbi is firey (sometimes) and we follow the tradition I grew up with. I like the songs and the variation. I like the Bar/Bat Mitzvah family taking part in the service and the youth group kids in the back. I makes me feel like part of something I liked and loved growing up.

annie- Great to have you back even if you you are just signing in without a link! I think you hit my over all point. I don't care but the trend makes me worry about the my way only aspect of breaking off and doing it "independently." But we will see what the folks who are addressed in this letter have to say.

Annie said...

I was actually thinking about this on the way home too, and here's the exact point where I am a bit troubled:

Jewish prayer is all about community and communal experience. For many prayers a quorum (however you count it) is required, so it seems to be a direct contradiction of that to set up services designed to fit the individual.

And just FYI, I'll probably start blogging again soon. I just got fired up about something (in this case interracial/international adoption) and have nowhere to vent :(

BZ said...

That may be the case in places where the Jewish population isn't large enough to support multiple options, but in places with lots of Jews, it's not necessarily desirable to have thousands of people all going to the same shul (davka because of a sense of community which can get lost when the community is too large), so if there are going to be multiple options, then why not have them be substantively different?

Also, it's not so clear empirically that having a range of options fragments the community, since there are lots of people who hop around to multiple choices; people aren't just constrained to their own box. Some communities even offer different styles on different weeks with basically the same cast of characters.

Ruby K said...

it's a shame, polj, to start with a rant, have a few folks disagree and then end the conversation. To say "this, this, this, this and this are what is wrong with these communities I don't know firsthand" (many of us, for example, don't daven in drum circles and there are plenty of minyanim that don't have musical instruments) is kinda on the short sided side, and this is coming from someone who agrees with you on probably 90% of everything else.

I also still think you're missing BZ's point, which is that many of these communities are run by volunteers... you may not agree with how the communities they help build manifest their idea of Judaism, but claiming that's me first doesn't add up.

I realize i'm late to the party, and as this is your self described last post on the subject, I look forward to agreeing with you on other stuff.

Liberal Jew said...

Ruby K-

That is fair. But I have been talking and learning about this movement for a while now. I just am done with being told that what I believe is wrong because I don't like the indy movement.

BZ said...

That is fair. But I have been talking and learning about this movement for a while now. I just am done with being told that what I believe is wrong because I don't like the indy movement.

Which part do you think you're being told is wrong? If "what you believe" is that institutional synagogues work for you, then no one is telling you that you're wrong. If "what you believe" is that institutional synagogues work for everyone, then yes, what you believe is wrong.

Liberal Jew said...

BZ I could respond but I am finished. I really do believe that getting together with liked minded people of the same age is selfish and my opinion that is not the point of a community based culture/religion/etc. If that works for you gay gazunt.

BZ said...

People at the NHC Summer Institute are not all of the same age (the picture posted on Jewschool was misleading, since the NHC-Jewschool intersection is much more homogeneous in age) - they range from infants to over 80 - and are certainly not all "liked minded [sic]".