Religious life in America is going through a most significant transition. As many Americans are seeking new faith communities, switching religious traditions, and creating new communities of spiritual and religious engagement, Jewish leaders and their institutions need to be cognizant of these major transitions, open to working with religious seekers and young Jews who are exploring with their future mates and partners ways to move forward on their spiritual journeys. Today, we find many younger persons defining themselves as “religious nones”. As they move away from formal religious practices or question various traditional ideas about faith, our leaders must remain open to their concerns, questions and criticisms.
One of the goals associated with 21st century American religion ought to be about breaking down silos of denominationalism in favor of building cross-institutional partnerships and programs. The Jewish community ought to model such collaborative behaviors as a way of assisting new Jews in finding their place and voice within Jewish life. Our communal and religious institutions must be open to welcoming and embracing those new participants who are seeking to become a part of our community. How we receive and engage individuals and couples will be a critical test of our own resiliency and openness to the stranger. We need to acknowledge in this current environment that the different models of Jewish expression and religious practice afford seekers multiple options. The availability of religious choice and the presence of a culture of experimentation are abiding features of the current Jewish scene.
How we prepare and introduce Jews by choice to the Jewish communal roadmap will be another critical first step in helping these new Jews find their way within our community. Our institutional and cultural diversity ought to be seen as a key strength, as it demonstrates the multi-layered character of American Jewish life.
How we manage the opportunities and appropriate roles for those individuals who at this time do not elect to become formally a part of our community, yet who are partnered or married to Jewish spouses, raises some important and challenging issues. Our fundamental goal ought to be focused on welcoming and including wherever possible these individuals within the life cycle experiences of their spouses, children and extended family. Giving clarity and attention to the functions and roles that these folks can play represents another opportunity to demonstrate our community’s flexibility and openness.
Professor Steven Windmueller, summary of talk on delivered at Trustee Giving Circle Lunch, 2/26/2019