Ninety per cent of American Jews are either proud or very proud of being Jewish. Yet less than fifteen percent of those same Jews consider religion important. In the recent Pew study of all Americans, Jews received the warmest feelings and the lowest cold feelings of any religious group. What is this Jewish sense that so matters? What draws us to services on the high holidays?
Our Jewishness has cache not only because it comes from ancient tradition but because it reflects our distinct experiences in art, culture, social action and business. It comes out of the way we navigate the path between maintaining our identity and engaging with the greater world. Coming to services can seem problematic because we know we should belong but it also can feel distinct from us—even from our own sense of Jewishness.
This year on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we will face this challenge directly. This year Rabbi Tsafi Lev will face the difficult questions with us. Why am I proud of being Jewish if I am not religious? What am I proud of? Do Jews think differently from others in the world or do we just think we do? Where does my Jewish sensibility come from? How do I explain myself to whomever my child brings home? How do I sit in services when my neighbor is fervently praying to a God I don’t think exists? Do I have an idea of God and what if I don’t like it? Could I be spiritual but not religious or be religious but not spiritual? It sure will be interesting to engage in how all this does affect us.
Cantor David Landau and multiple Grammy winner Howard Levy with Kalyan Johnny Bongo Pathak and Larry Gray are already working to make our music a spiritual and emotional uplift and counterpoint to our thoughts. And we will have activities for kids and teens that will be pure Jewish joy.
As Donniel Hartman said during his last visit (available for viewing on the Aitz Hayim website), American Jewish life has moved into a new stage of development since we began Aitz Hayim. Jews want more individual opportunities to pick and choose how they will experience, express and “do” their Jewishness. They don’t like the limitations of affiliation as they want to define themselves with Jewish perspectives, not be limited by templates.
This year we are restructuring our services on both days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur to make every moment meaningful by more fully integrating the prayers and music with the ideas and themes for this year.
Aitz Hayim is at its best when it is fresh and exciting. We are looking forward to achieving new heights this year.
We hope you will be with us for 2018/5779 High Holiday Services at the Highland Park Community House.