They can be a little outrageous and their jokes are sometimes R-rated, but Archie Gottesman and Stacy Stuart are doing their part to keep Judaism alive and vibrant with their nonprofit Jewbelong. They created the organization and wonderful website in 2013 to welcome anyone seeking a way back to Judaism or a better understanding and more meaningful engagement with the religion they were born into. They also welcome non-Jews married to Jews and raising Jewish families.
“Sometimes Judaism can be more complicated than your last girlfriend. That’s where Jewbelong comes in,” Gottesman and Stuart explain on their website. “Think of us as the friendly, kinda funny kid from your geometry class who explained in simple language and without judgment only what you needed to know for the test. We provide straightforward explanations, readings and rituals to help warm your heart.”
Gottesman and Stuart were interviewed by The Forward’s Lilly Maier. “Recent surveys,” writes Maier, “have shown that fewer and fewer Jews consider themselves religious or are raising their children Jewish.” Gottesman told Maier, “At this rate, Judaism just won’t exist anymore; it will just time itself out.” Thus began what Gottesman called a “crusade to save Judaism.”
“Stacy and I very much believe that people want meaning in their lives,” Gottesman told Maier. “And if they don’t get it from Judaism, they will get it from something else. They will get it from yoga or from meditation or a number of other ways.”
“Gottesman and Stuart believe it’s often the fear of doing rituals or customs wrong that leads people to not do them at all—and thereby stops them from finding meaning in Judaism,” wrote Maier. “So Jewbelong’s mission is to empower people and tell them, it’s OK how you do it, as long as you do it.”
“There is no Shabbat police,” said Stuart. “If you wanna do Shabbat and you don’t have a challah and so you use a soft pretzel instead, use a soft pretzel! But still do it.”
The Jewbelong website presents a wealth of information, readings, history, ceremonies, innovations and jokes. (Sample: Don’t make a mountain out of a mohel.) This includes Jewish holidays and Shabbat dinners, as well as Thanksgiving and lifecycle events including bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings and baby namings. Also covered are what Gottesman and Stuart call “different kinds of Jewish,” that is, forgiveness, Israel, keeping kosher, pets, travel, work and their “New Ten Commandments.”
With Rosh Hashanah around the corner, I strongly recommend their “Rosh Haggadah: Your Haggadah for Rosh Hashanah.” There are 16 pages of poems, readings, songs, blessings and challenging questions to bring greater joy, meaning and fulfillment to your holidays with a focus on what they call the “trifecta of forgiveness: apologizing, forgiving and receiving forgiveness.” They also include a “Yom Kippur Cheat Sheet.”
“By the time Yom Kippur rolls around,” write the dynamic Jewish duo, “you have theoretically asked for forgiveness from everyone in your life and forgiven those you were angry with, e.g. no more holding grudges. This leaves you with one last person to deal with…yourself.”
In their Rosh Hashanah Personal Roadmap, they include questions to encourage serious self-reflection. These include: If I knew I couldn’t fail, what would I try to accomplish? And, over the last year, did my most important relationships become closer and deeper, or was there a sense of stagnation and drifting? What can I do to nurture these relationships this year?
- “Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act; it means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning.” (Johann Christoph Arnold)
- A blessing for anyone who wasn’t born Jewish, but is part of an interfaith family, adapted from Rabbi Janet Marder: “May everyone who shares in a Jewish life feel welcome and integrated. We are deeply grateful to those who provide love and support to their Jewish partners and families by creating a home that includes Judaism….”
- From Aidan Nowlan: “The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent. The day he forgives them he becomes an adult. The day he forgives himself, he becomes wise.”
- “No matter how much you revisit the past, there’s nothing new to see.” (Robert Tew)
I could go on and on. There is so much great stuff! Go to the website! These wise and witty women have put together a toolkit for making your High Holidays, and almost any aspect of Jewish practice, more meaningful, relevant and accessible. Jewbelong makes us all belong. Shana Tova!
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