The changing Jewish community makes it nearly impossible to define a standard Jewish identity. For example, Jews of color are the fastest-growing demographic, and political views are becoming more diverse.
During the second plenary session of the Jewish Funders Network conference in Buckhead, Yehuda Kurtzer spoke about how the Jewish community can navigate the shifts and still thrive.
“The Jewish world is in the midst of a seismic shift,” said Kurtzer, the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. “We Jews in America have been living through revolutions classified in themes as ethnic, political and institutional.”
The revolutionary events of the 20th century were dramatic and catastrophic, but Kurtzer said the revolutions now are slower and are changing Jewish behavior and meaning.
“Once upon a time, there was an us and there was a clear them. A common Judaism of 21st century no longer holds sway. There’s no more shared ideology,” he said.
Jews have never been homogenous, but Kurtzer said intermarriage, adoption and conversion have changed the rules of Judaism.
Some Jews are feeling left behind, but Slingshot board chair Sara Rueven said we’re gaining as a community by being open to change. She said the many organizations popping up to serve millennials are helping Jews move forward.
“Yes, we are losing some things, but it’s just spreading out, and we’re gaining the soul of Judaism,” she said. “These organizations are training grounds for young Jews and giving them opportunities they wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
Change is nothing new to Judaism. April Baskin, the vice president of audacious hospitality at the Union for Reform Judaism, said: “Our sacred book the Torah teaches us how to navigate this. I think as a people our operational model is weak. We need to learn how to be in more effective relationships.”
Though the Torah has bound Jews together for thousands of years, it also has fueled evolution within society. Although Judaism is expanding and assimilating more into mainstream society, Kurtzer said the success of Jews has always depended on authentic Jewish ideology.
“We as a Jewish people do our best when we’re presenting a counterculture idea to society,” he said. “That is to say the Torah is a counterculture document. When we as a people do what we believe is right, we more effectively influence culture, and then it doesn’t matter about the numbers. What matters is the message.”