Branding Judaism

by Mayrav Saar | March 2013 | Post your comment »

If you’ve picked up this magazine on a Friday, do me a favor and pick up a box of Shabbat candles and a loaf of challah, too.  Oh, and a little wine, if you don’t mind.

Thanks. Now that we have our mood lighting, nosh and beverage, let’s sit down (preferably at a dinner table) and talk.

A line from a recent podcast I heard has been stuck in my craw for weeks, and I need to tell you about it: “If you don’t want to see your grandchildren being baptized someday, the time to think about it is now.”

I’ve been to church weddings of people with Jewish surnames.  I’ve sent Christmas presents to children whose grandmothers lit menorahs.  And we all know the stats: 47% of Jews marry non-Jews.  When they have kids only 28% of them are raised Jewish and only 10% of those Jewish kids go on to marry Jews themselves.  So nearly all children of intermarriage are lost to the Jewish people.

A little more wine, please.  Thanks.

The podcast featured Archie Gottesman, a woman known for creating witty bus stop ads in Manhattan that have enticed New Yorkers to develop affection for neighborhood storage facilities.  And they think Californians are weird.

Now Gottesman is attempting to re-brand Judaism the way she re-branded storage.  Except, unlike storage facilities, Judaism comes cluttered with its own baggage.

Synagogues aren’t welcoming.  People don’t know why or how to pray.  Yom Kippur is a bummer, but it’s pretty much the only holiday everyone knows about.  Jewish day schools cost as much as universities.  Oh, and everything is in Hebrew.  So if you really want to engage, you’re literally going to have to learn a foreign language.

Maybe let’s pour Gottesman a glass of that wine, too.  Thanks.

Realizing she’s facing impossible odds, Gottesman wrote out what she calls the New 10 Commandments to getting Jews re-engaged.  I don’t have space to tell you all of them (they’re online), but a few include:

1. Jewish Grandchildren. If you want ’em, do something about it now.

2. Belief in G-d is not required. A very non-denominational rabbi friend of mine commented on a lucky streak she was having by saying, “The G-d I don’t believe in is being very good to me right now.”

3. Hebrew School. Gottesman is adamant, though I have to say Hebrew school is maybe what turned off as many Jews as it created.  I’d replace this with “affordable Jewish day school,” which I know is like saying we should end global warming by replacing cars with unicorns.  But who wouldn’t want a unicorn?

4. Jewish camp. This is where a love of Judaism is truly born for kids.

5. Shabbat. Gottesman loves this ritual and what it instills in kids.

And that brings us to this table.  Here.  Now.  We all have an opportunity every week to reaffirm our Judaism, even if it feels funny at first.  Even if it feels foreign.  Can’t find a challah?  Bless a pretzel, Gottesman advises.  Do it in English, even.  Whatever feels right.  Eventually this practice becomes a ritual, and a ritual becomes a way of life.  And a way of life becomes like one of those things locked securely in a storage facility:

Something precious that we keep forever.

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