Rabbi Jennifer Weiner
Judaism has always been a family affair. Family, though, is not just the immediate blood-relatives but also the greater Jewish community. Judaism is a way of living one’s life growing out of one’s belief in G-d. Reform Judaism allows for interpretations of religious law and Torah while stressing participation and education. It is a means of helping one make moral and ethical decisions and expressing one’s commitment to humanity through prayer, mitzvot and action. Judaism, thus, is not just a religion that occurs within a Jewish organization or congregation, but it is a way of being a whole person living a truly righteous life through the values taught by our Torah. Judaism is alive. It is a means by which we live our lives spiritually and ethically. It is services and Tikkun Olam (Repairing the World). It is social action and social justice. It is personal and communal. It can be heard in the songs we learn at camp and the prayers from our hearts. Judaism is a part of daily life and rituals. Judaism is a religion that includes every stage of an individual’s life from the moment of birth to the time of the last breath. Children are the cornerstones of our faith but not the end. Children must be taught the basics of Judaism in such a manner that they always want more. Reform Judaism must not become juvenile in nature. Children are our future and, therefore, must be given a strong foundation of education and exposure to all aspects of Judaism. This foundation of education, though, must continue with life-long education. With tools such as N.F.T.Y., our movement’s camps, and trips to Israel, informal education has excited and engaged our teens into wanting to continue their Jewish education. This education must continue when they return from such enriching programs through means of Religious School, Confirmation class and experiences. Our teens want to know what Judaism says about issues concerning their maturity into adulthood. These teenagers should be encouraged to ask their questions within the safety of their congregation with caring teachers.
Our college students cannot be forgotten. We need to find a means of keeping in touch with them either so that they will know that there is always a place for them in Judaism. They should be encouraged to forge bonds with local congregations but know that they will always have a place at home. College graduates must also be involved in the congregational setting. Many graduates believe that they do not need a congregation until they are married and have children. However, this period in an individual’s life is one of the most vulnerable socially and spiritually. The challenge is to involve these singles and young couples and harness their energy so that they are actively helping to strengthen the community. Families seek a congregation to engage in life-cycle and educational needs. Parents need to be involved just as much as the children in the congregation. If Religious School should not just be a place to drop off children and pick them up a few hours later. Our Religious School involves activities in a family educational setting incorporating them into the classroom structure. Thus, the congregation becomes a learning environment enriching to all who wish to become involved. Our congregation involves all ages since we know that each part of our community has its own special needs when it comes to activities. Our temple provides both educational and spiritual needs through services, educational, and social justice opportunities. As a congregation, we reach to all our members so that every individual feels needed and included.
Reform Judaism, thus, is an all-encompassing way of life. It begins with V’Shinantum L’Vanechah- you shall teach to your children- and continues with Dor L’Dor- from generation to generation. It guides us. It teaches us. It inspires us. Most importantly, it involves us. We, as Jews, must become involved in our world. It is what we teach to our children. It is what we do as adults. We are taught by Rabbi Tarfon in Talmud that the time may be short and the task may be hard, and while we may not be commanded to finish the task neither may we desist from it. Our task is to ensure that Judaism not only survives but that it flourishes, nurtures, and enriches all who find themselves within the Jewish community.
L’Shalom- Rabbi Jennifer C. Weiner