Facing the Future of American Judaism

May 30, 2019
Yakirah Mitchel

Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States

Class of 2020

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What is the future of Reform Judaism? What does it mean to be a Jew today? Where do we draw the line between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism? All of these questions and more were discussed at Facing the Future of American Judaism event I attended in late March. This event was moderated by my Rabbi, Rabbi Josh Whinston, with special guest Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the President of the Union for Reform Judaism, and several other scholars and historians working for the University of Michigan or who live in the area.

I was honored that my Rabbi invited me to his event, and hearing what all the speakers had to say sparked a lot of thoughts in my mind. American Jews today live largely in privilege and power but also live among the rise of anti-Semitism. As American Judaism becomes more diverse and more secular, I might also say it's becoming more controversial. At times, I feel like our community is more united than anything, while at other times, I feel like our community has never been more divided.

The Jewish obligation and love for Israel have somewhat become an obstacle and point of tension within political discussions among many Jews and non-Jews. Israel, a country many call home, has become a topic that can result in heated political arguments and many feel threatened by this.

With all the differing opinions on Israel, how do we draw the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism? Is it equivalent? What’s the difference?

This topic was brought up almost immediately as the event got started. In historian Deborah Dash Moore’s opening statements, she quoted a passage from a book by David Vital:

“I found myself witness to a particularly steep rise in the longstanding but hithered to somewhat muted tension between Jewish American public and the state, people, and of course the Government of Israel.”

The book she quoted was published in the 1990s. Does it still reign true? Absolutely. So what do we take away from this? Can we criticize Israel? Do we let this tension get worse, or do we work to unite our community?

The event left me with a lot of thoughts. As Jewish Americans, many of us identify with the land of Israel because it’s our homeland. Though we may have disagreements about the state, we cannot let it come in the way of our community– as we are a small one. With the steep rise of anti-Semitism within our country, our only solution is to come together and fight back. This is something that BBYO has taught me, and a theme I think was present within the event.

When Rabbi Rick Jacobs spoke, he told a story that really caught my attention and opened my eyes to a prevalent issue in the Jewish community. Rabbi Jacobs told us that he and a friend were going to synagogue as normal one day, but his friend, unlike him, was a Jewish person of color. Rabbi Jacobs was handed a Siddur, but not his friend– as it was assumed he wasn’t Jewish because he wasn’t white. While this issue is rarely discussed, it is one that is much more common than we think. Assuming that all Jews look a certain way or have a certain type of name isn’t an assumption that is just made by non-Jews, but by Jewish people as well. When we make these assumptions ourselves, it only hurts us and other Jews. This story really affected me.

The future of Judaism is only going to become more diverse. After hearing from all of these scholars, unity was something that kept popping back in my mind. With more interfaith couples, varying opinions on Israel, differing views about morality and justice, the Jewish people will always be diverse. It’s important that we overcome those diversities and remain a united Jewish people.

Yakirah Mitchel is a BBG from Michigan Region, has been a vegetarian her whole life, and loves garbanzo beans.

All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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