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We have seen the Jewish future, and it is all about choice



There was a young lady of title
Who insisted on wearing a sheitel.
She didn’t care much
For kashrut and such,
“But the sheitel,” said she, “now that’s vital!”

(JTA) — As the old limerick suggests, there has long been a tradition of picking and choosing Jewish observance in America, whether it involved keeping kosher or observing Shabbat, or, in this case, covering your hair with a wig (a sheitel) if you’re a married woman.

But in America today, choice has come to occupy a central place not merely in how Jews practice Judaism but in the very way they conceive their religious identity.

Over the past several decades, Americans have come to regard their religion less and less as an ascribed identity — as something they were born into — and increasingly as what they choose to be at the present time. This shift has had a particularly dramatic effect on Jewish Americans, in whose tradition religious identity had for millennia been ascribed at birth. The tension between ascription on the one hand, and choice on the other, informs American Jewish religion.

How is the Jewish community responding to this new regime of choice? That is the central concern of our new book, “The Future of Judaism in America.” Understanding religious identity as chosen is crucial to understanding the future of Judaism in the context of its denominations, its numbers, its relationships with other faith communities, its stance on public affairs — and, perhaps most important, its ability to renew itself in response to pressures from outside and from within.

Let’s consider the different denominational streams.

Reform, after steady growth in synagogue membership from the late 1970s until the new century, is no longer the fastest-growing movement. Still, Reform in America, while it struggles with the boundaries of “who is Jewish,” has lowered the barriers to participation in its brand of Judaism. “Inclusiveness” is the byword for contemporary Reform, both externally (outreach to non-Jewish spouses), and internally, by welcoming those Reform Jews who choose to embrace rituals — tallit and kippah and tefillin, mikveh, full synagogue services — traditionally considered outside the sphere of a movement that does not regard halacha, or traditional rabbinic law, as binding. “Reform Judaism teaches that each of us is an autonomous individual, able to make thoughtful, religious choices,” said Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president the Union for Reform Judaism, at his installation a decade ago.

Have Reform’s accommodations worked? So far, the answer appears to be “yes,” as the percentage of Reform in American Jewry has remained stable at around 35-40% for decades.

For its part, the question for the Conservative movement is more about ascribed identity than about anything else. The movement is struggling with the question of how long it can sustain its policy of forbidding its rabbis from performing marriages between Jews and non-Jews. (The question is of a piece with the angst always felt by Conservative leaders when their commitment to halacha collides with the movement’s commitment to change.) The question of intermarriage is central to the future of Conservative Judaism, as its contemporary identity is defined and has always been defined by the clear line it draws between Jew and non-Jew. This dilemma, in addition to the host of serious issues that plague the movement — not the least of which is a precipitous decline in Conservative’s numbers, from 43% to 17% of those who identify with a denomination over some two decades — suggests that the future of the Conservative qua independent movement is highly uncertain.

Many analysts (including several authors in our book) suggest that Reform and Conservative Judaism will ultimately merge and become a single heterodox movement. That, or Conservative will remain as a smaller movement, concentrated in large population centers.

Orthodoxy, meanwhile, claims 17% of Jews ages 18 to 29, compared with just 3% of Jews 65 and older, according to Pew. If current trends continue, their proportion of the entire Jewish population in America will grow from a small minority to a dominant majority by the end of the century.

Yet there is no one “Orthodoxy” in America. Orthodoxy is expressed in Modern and Centrist forms, the many flavors of Hasidism, the numerous forms of non-Hasidic “haredi” Orthodoxy, Chabad-Lubavitch and the Orthodoxies that push the religious and ritual envelope in countless ways. It’s about choice.

But the price for Orthodoxy may be high, as the increased fractionalization of the movement demonstrates. Haredi groups (what we call Sectarian Orthodox, and others call “ultra-Orthodox”) operate by preventing choice, especially in some of the more sectarian Hasidic groups that create barriers to prevent adherents from leaving. More progressive Orthodox groups have adopted strategies that accommodate choice.

Orthodoxy will remain strong, but its future presents no consistent pattern.

Understanding Jewish Renewal is central to understanding the present and future of American Judaism. The varied expressions of Jewish Renewal that took root in the 1960s and ’70s — the havurah movement, Jewish feminism, practices that bear its spiritual approach — found newer expressions in communities such as Kehillat Hadar in New York; Yeshivat Maharat, which provides Orthodox ordination to women; The Kitchen in Los Angeles; “partnership” minyanim that maximize women’s participation within the parameters of traditional halacha, or Jewish law, and New York’s unaffiliated B’nai Jeshurun congregation. Indeed, while the formal structures that generated Renewal recede in memory, Renewal has had a broad and deep impact on American Judaism and on American Jewish life.

The impulse of Renewal, whatever its varied expression, was and is to create alternatives to the prevailing Jewish movements and forms. These alternatives are “chosen” ways of participation, and Renewal is yet vibrant.

The wildcard in American Judaism is, of course, the “nones,” those who identify as Jews of no religion. According to Pew, the percentage of U.S. Jews who do not claim any religion is 27% — higher among the young and going up. The future of Judaism in America will depend in part on the relative percentages of Jews with religion and Jews of no religion: Which will grow, and which will decline?

What has changed in American Jewish religious life? It is what Will Herberg, in his landmark book “Catholic-Protestant-Jew,” did not see in the 1950s: There is no longer any pressure to remain within any given religious community, nor in any movement or stream of Judaism, nor within Judaism itself (as the rise of the “nones” suggests). The American Jewish religious future — for all the movements, denominations and post-denominationalists — will be positioned in this dynamic.

When religious identity is increasingly seen as a matter of personal choice, groups that have depended upon ascribed identity to guarantee their numbers will be challenged to develop not only new means of keeping and attracting members but also new ways of conceptualizing and communicating who and what they are.

The post We have seen the Jewish future, and it is all about choice appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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