BY RABBI PATRICK ALEPH / AJT //
When I was in my late teens, I lived in a small town with nothing to do. But one Saturday each month, the clouds opened and G-d shined a light down on me.
No, I wasn’t going to synagogue; I was taking part in a monthly teen concert at Grandpa’s Extreme Skate Park.
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In a rundown warehouse in the middle of nowhere, teens from all over the area converged to hear their peers play punk, heavy metal and even rockabilly in a sweat-drenched haze of hormones and restlessness. The concert included five bands for only $5 – what a deal!
But why exactly did teens pack an industrial complex with no air conditioning in the middle of Arizona? Frankly, it was because the concert promoter built a “scene” around his venue.
And he accomplished that by doing three things: inviting friends, letting it be known how much people were wanted there, and instilling tons of “fear” in us. I think of this model today as the key to the Jewish future.
Invite Your Friends
I once asked an Orthodox rabbi at his Shabbat dinner how he felt Orthodox Judaism was able to reach out to so many young non-Orthodox Jews when their local Reform and Conservative synagogues couldn’t. I expected something pompous like, “because Orthodoxy is true Judaism.” But I was surprised.
He smirked and said, “People go where their friends are.”
It’s that simple. If people invite their friends, then they will come. It doesn’t matter so much what you do, or how you do it, but who is there.
Let People Know They Matter
The first time I went to a concert at the skate park, I instantly made friends. People thought I was pretty cool for dressing like a “mod” (think the Beatles on Ed Sullivan) even though it was 100 degrees outside.
I also met the owner of the place, who invited me to come see his band play several months later. He even remembered who I was long after I had left Arizona.
The obvious conclusion is that people don’t want to be ignored – they want a tangible human connection. Community isn’t just about people in a room; it’s about knowing that someone cares about you.
Fear: The Best Motivator
Why do couples instantly become “Super Jews” the second they have kids? Why do parents who don’t believe in G-d suddenly feel the urge to learn Jewish blessings in that same G-d’s name?
Sorry, but it’s not religion. It’s fear.
Now, when I talk about fear being the motivator for Jewish life, it’s clearly not the fear of G-d, the fear of upsetting Bubbie because you eat bacon or the fear of retribution from a rabbi. What people fear in Jewish life is the fear of missing out.
After all, your child will only be eight days old once. Your child will only be b’nai mitzvah age once. And your child will only have one opportunity to go to Hillel and the Birthright Israel trip.
The Jewish calendar and lifecycle offer a set number of times when Judaism is at its peak in people’s minds. As a parent, if you miss out on that opportunity – whether it’s lighting a menorah or watching your child painfully chant trope – you feel like you’ve lost something.
So that’s it: invite your friends, let people know they matter and give them something to fear missing out on. Do that, and presto, you have Jewish community.
Rabbi Patrick Aleph was ordained by Rabbinical Seminary International and is the founder of Punk Torah (punktorah.org).