After a long hiatus, Jewish boys and Jewish men are a hot topic again.
Rabbi Charles Simon, the Director of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, wrote a striking piece last week entitled “No Man’s Land: The Status of Jewish Men in the Conservative/Masorti Movement” that commented on the dearth of male volunteers and male leaders in Conservative Judaism. He paints a picture of a Jewish community that in recent generations has been (rightfully) engaged in creating a culture of egalitarianism and equal access for women, and the consequences of such policy in the apparent disengagement of men in synagogue and communal life.
While we should all celebrate the revolution in the role of women in Judaism over the past thirty years, we are left to wonder if the dedication of resources to girls over the years has resulted in a generation of boys, and now men, who didn’t get the support in identity-development that they needed. Has an investment in women necessarily drawn away resources that might have been spent on Jewish boys?
The facts are the facts: the majority of Jewish males vanish from Jewish life between the Bar Mitzvah and parenthood, taking anywhere from fifteen to thirty years off from “being Jewish.” How can we realistically expect them to re-engage on an adult level with a community in which they lack the necessary skills to be leaders?
As I glance around my synagogue on Saturday mornings, a dynamic and fairly large one, at a sanctuary virtually bereft of young fathers, I wonder, as I think many people are, if Judaism becoming a no-man’s-land. And if it is, what can we do?
It’s time for a market correction- and there’s a growing consensus. In addition to Rabbi Simon’s piece last week, Moving Traditions, best known for its “Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing” program, came out in the fall with research called “Engaging Jewish Teenage Boys: A Call to Action.” The publication asks the community to “reverse the exodus of teenage boys from Jewish life” by engaging them in creative Jewish experiences and creating a sensitivity towards the needs of 21st century adolescent Jewish teens in the community.
Along the same lines, I am in the midst of launching a venture entitled “Making Jewish Men” as part of the CJP/PresenTense Fellowship, which seeks to bridge the chasm between Bar Mitzvah and fatherhood for Jewish men. By starting early, in 6th grade, and continuing through high school, college, and young adulthood, Making Jewish Men will both create a new generation of male Jewish leadership and provide a supportive peer community for Jewish men as they move through the key years of Jewish identity-building.
The time is now to start working, and everyone should get on board. Synagogues, camps, JCCs, Israel programs, Hillel, Jewish Federations, Jewish Men’s Clubs, youth groups, and others must embrace a shared agenda of male outreach and engagement that is logical, pluralistic, and cuts across denominational and ideological lines.
It’s been a long time since the Jewish community invested in Jewish men. Change is in the air, though, and now is the time to get involved. The buzz about not just Jewish boys, but Jewish young men and Jewish male adults, is growing louder every day… and it’s time to start acting.
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