Robert Braitman is a past International President of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, past Chair of the Leadership Council for Conservative Judaism, and a driving force behind the “Hearing Men’s Voices” initiative in the late 1995. He recently launched mentschen.org, an online community for Jewish men to share their voices and opinions on cutting-edge issues and other topics related to life as a Jewish male in America. Robert is a pediatrician and is a member of Temple Shaarei Tefilah in Norwood.
What’s going with Jewish men today?
Men just aren’t connecting with the Jewish community in the same ways that they were a generation or two ago. The reasons are as complex as they are hazy — it’s not a simple as the consequences of egalitarianism. The fact is that men just are a lot less comfortable ritually than they used to be. It’s also got to do with the religious nature of a family’s home being dictated by the mother more than the father, and how our school committees are under-populated with men, plus a host of other issues that we can’t all address at once.
How have you tried to engage Jewish men in Judaism over the past fifteen years?
In 1995, the FJMC began a program called Hearing Men’s Voices. It was designed to give Jewish men a forum to discuss issues that were on their minds, issues like fatherhood, children, spirituality, men’s health, and more. This worked, but we need a new strategy now.
A strategy like mentschen.org?
Yes. The world has changed, our synagogues have changed, and a new generation of Jewish men is here. Today we see Jewish men much less willing to engage in existing communities and we need to reach out to them by providing virtual ones like mentschen.org.
What’s the site all about?
We are really embracing blogging as a key feature of the site and think it’s a way to attract men into the conversations that we think are compelling for Jewish men today. We have articles on Israel, intermarriage, fatherhood, ritual, and a lot more. Some of them can be controversial. Others can be inspiring. There’s a lot there to explore.
The co-editor of the site, Art Spar, just put up a post entitled Why Conservative Rabbis Should Marry our Intermarrying Children. That one generated some interesting comments. Likewise, Jacob Artson’s story about living with autism might bring tears to your eyes.
Do you have a vision for what success would look like?
I want to energize men who will go out and work in their communities to increase the visibility of Jewish men and make them more comfortable in Jewish life. That would make me happy. If the portal for them to get involved in mentschen.org, that’s great. But I think that all of us, whether we’re talking about us at mentschen, or at FJMC, or in United Synagogue, or any other organization or denomination, share a vision for doing just that.