To critics far and wide, Amazon.com is destroying the book industry. In an interview with Charlie Rose, Jeff Bezos responded to this charge by outlining a challenge inherent in innovation that should give Jewish leaders pause when we think about the relationship between embracing the future and feeling anxiety about the present.
“The Internet is disrupting every media industry,” Bezos said. “People can complain about that, but complaining is not a strategy. … Amazon is not happening to bookselling; the future is happening to bookselling.”
As a rabbi who works with synagogues across North America at the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ), I am inspired and scared by Bezos’ quote about the media industry.
The Jewish world is changing at a rapid pace, and with change come challenges and opportunities. Yet far too often, the strategy of Jewish leaders is to bemoan the rapidly changing present while the world continues to change and institutions get left behind. The more that our leaders use this stormy present as an opportunity to see Judaism for the first time, the more we will find the collective courage to write a vibrant new chapter of the Jewish future.
My favorite passage from the Rosh Hashanah liturgy is hayom harat olam, “today is the birthday of the world.” Regarding this passage, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz argues that Rosh Hashanah is a “day of gestation” when “all that will happen and be revealed in the coming year is already there, only in a hidden form.”
We do not know what the Jewish future will look like, yet the seeds of the future have already been planted. We uncover them when we strengthen an authentic and dynamic Judaism with a spirit of possibility, rather than the paralysis of fear.
This December, more than 1,000 leaders will convene in Atlanta for the USCJ Convention, the largest gathering of Conservative Jews in the world. The USCJ Convention brings together millennials, synagogue presidents, rabbis, philanthropists, teenagers, college students and baby boomers to hear from speakers such as Jeffrey Goldberg, Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer, Rabbi Noa Kushner and Archie Gottesman and to attend concerts for the entire Atlanta Jewish community with Joey Weisenberg and Nava Tehila. A special concert with Neshama Carlebach and her gospel choir will be at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Join us as we study, design, sing, create and dare together to ensure that we have the inspiration and support to do transformative work. Anyone can register for the USCJ Convention by visiting www.uscjconvention.org.
The USCJ Convention is a campaign, not a convention, an opportunity to venture boldly into the Jewish future. Our convention challenges our participants to name the anxieties facing communities today and learn the skills we need to be stronger while we journey into the unknown.
Participants will learn what it means to talk about core Jewish practices using new language, why thriving congregations must embrace 21st century Jewish families, and how experiments in innovation can provide us clues for how to navigate the present.
This Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, more Jews will step inside a synagogue than at any other time during the year, yet most of the Jews will be disconnected from Jewish institutions from the time they leave on Yom Kippur until the next Rosh Hashanah.
We all know that this model is unsustainable, yet creating new paradigms of Jewish life requires that we develop collective courage to experiment in the present. Doing this will take all our creativity and strength, but the first thing each of us needs to do to be a part of the solution is to see Judaism for the first time.
On behalf of USCJ’s international president, Margo Gold (of Ahavath Achim Synagogue), and CEO Rabbi Steve Wernick, we would like to wish you and your families a shana tova u’metuka.
Every Rosh Hashanah we have the opportunity to see things for the first time and embrace the power of change. And if each of us can change, then so can our institutions.
The future is happening to Judaism, and it is our obligation to take hold of the emerging future and help the Jewish communities thrive within it.
Rabbi Joshua Rabin is the director of innovation at the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (www.uscj.org) and the program director of the USCJ Convention (www.uscjconvention.org). You can read more of his writings at www.joshuarabin.com.