Friday, December 08, 2017

Birthright - Why Reform Judaism is Failing

Reform leader, Rabbi Rick Jacobs
I hate to keep criticizing the Reform Movement. But if the shoe fits…

It seems that a program called Birthright Israel has dropped the Reform movement from participation in its program. For those that don’t know what Birthright is, it is a nonprofit educational organization that sponsors free ten-day heritage trips to Israel for Jewish young adults aged 18–32. 

It was created so that Jews with limited Jewish backgrounds can find out about their Jewish heritage and connect to their Jewish identity. 

Birthright  was founded by Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman, 2 decidedly non Orthodox Jews. They are a breed of non-religious Jew that seems to be becoming increasingly rare in America.  The kind of Jew that cares about their Jewishness and future of their people.

Any Jew that fits the above description can apply for this trip. But all is not well in ‘Birthright-land’ According to an excerpt from Ha’aretz in the Forward Orthodox operators are taking over Birthright at the expense of Reform participants: 
“(Because of) aggressive” and often misleading “marketing” of Orthodox trip providers and the popularity of low-cost or free Orthodox extension programs after the ten days. These “growing trends,” Ha’aretz explains, have been boosted by the well-funded Orthodox outreach initiative on campuses of “the Diaspora Affairs Ministry – run by the Orthodox, settler-aligned Habayit Hayehudi party.” 
But I agree with Gil Troy the lay-chair of Birthright and author of the Forward article,. The reason young Reform Jews aren’t taking advantage of Birthright is because Reform leaders are unsuccessful in selling it to their young members. Blaming charismatic Orthodox leaders is a cop-out.  As Troy notes: 
(T)he Reform Movement’s trip provider, URJ Kesher, again failed to meet its recruiting quota and lost its status as a Birthright Trip Organizer.   
This has nothing to do with some sort of nefarious plan by the Orthodox Jews to take over Birthright. They are merely taking part in that enterprise in their own legitimate way. Orthodox young people should not be denied the chance to find out more about their heritage just because they are Orthodox.

True they have a head start as Orthodox Jews. But there is still plenty to learn about their heritage via this organization. The fact that Orthodox providers offer extension programs after the ten day trip is over – is irrelevant. It has nothing to do with Birthright.  Not a penny of Birthright money is used for it.Those extensions are offered entirely by Orthodox community as their own independent add-on. Which is their right and can be done by any other trip provider. Whether Conservative or Reform.  

That Orthodox providers are infinitely more successful at this is because young Orthodox Jews have been more Jewishly inspired from the very beginning. They should not be faulted for that. They should be praised.

But Reform leader Rabbi Rick Jacobs apparently does not have the ability to look in the mirror. Instead he blames those ‘crafty Orthodox Jews’ for abusing the program.

Why is Reform not successful? I think the answer is obvious. It can be found in the very philosophy that Reform Judaism was founded upon. A philosophy that glorified complete assimilation. A goal facilitated by a rejection of any behavior that is identifiably Jewish. Which mostly meant abandoning all Mitzvah observance.

Sure – they are back-pedaling now and even encourage Mitzvah observance on a voluntary basis. They realize their mistake They didn’t think Mitzvah observance was important from a religious perspective. They believed that one could be a Jew in good standing without observing a single Mitzvah. That was their creed at first and actively discouraged Mitzvah observance. But they now embrace it (on a voluntary basis) realizing that it was a big mistake from a sociological perspective, too.

And all their efforts to instill a little Judaism in their flock is too little too late. While there is a bit of culture re-instilled in some Reform Jews that care about it, I believe that most Reform Jews prefer complete assimilation. Those among them that that want to practice Judaism and want to perpetuate it in their children - look elsewhere.  Many of them find it in Orthodoxy. But they are a tiny minority of the Reform community. 

The vast majority of Reform Jews are not interested in changing their lives from the freedom they have as a Reform Jew to the burden of Mitzvah observance that would drastically change their lives. That makes them pretty much secular - being Jewish in name only. Which is why so many Jews today become unaffiliated and so many intermarry.

This description of reality may be a bit harsh. It may very well be hard for Reform leaders and Jews to hear. But it is the truth. And if their leaders were honest they would see just how true this is.

This is the reality of a  movement doomed, despite their current status as the largest segment of American Jewry. Sure – they might be growing. But that is because they keep moving the goal posts. Every time they see Jews moving further away from even their form of Judaism, they simply redefine the concept. Intermarriage is now fully accepted. And conversions do not require anything more that living a ‘Jewish lifestyle’. As if eating Gefilte Fish and putting Matzah balls in their soup makes them a Jew.

Yes, Reform Judaism is doomed. If you are a Refrom Jew reading this and care about a Jewish future for yourself and your children, I invite you to study what Orthodoxy is all about and then judge for yourself if that is the right path to take towards that goal. For the rest of Reform Jewry, if you continue as you are but still want your children and grandchildren to be Jewish - good luck. You’ll need it.