More Dinosaur Slaying-Do It Yourself Judaism

This post was also posted as a comment to this article on JewSchool by Mobius. It describes the "Next Big Jewish Idea: Jew It Yourself" (JIY.) It sounds like a concept I could really get behind.
 
Here’s what I wrote:
 
It’s taken me a while to post a response so I hope these thoughts remain timely.
Though raised in NYC, and now living in the DC area, I spent ten years in Fargo, North Dakota, 8 years in Elkhart, Indiana, and a few years in other places like New Orleans, Clearwater, Florida, and Nashville, Tennessee.
Though I am now enjoying and utilizing the more expansive Jewish resources of the DC area, my experience has taught me that Judaism can and does flourish in places like Fargo. In many ways, it takes more committment to be part of a small-town Jewish community.  It takes a little more effort to live Jewishly in places like Fargo as opposed to places like NYC.
It is, however, also true, that in a small community, you either afffiliate with whatever Jewish community there is, or you simply have no Jewish life. So the myth of Judaism requiring large communuties to thrive is largely myth–yet at the same time, there does need to be some kind of community – not necessarily synagogue-based, although this is the model used is most small communities.
While living in the Dakotas, I worked with others to use the then finally being discovered Internet (which I had been using since the time it was ARPANet, but that’s a story for another time) as a tool to connect even smaller and more far-flung Jewish communities like Missoula, Montana, and Rapid City, South Dakota. We had ourselves a little Jewish network of the Plains and were able to share information and resources this way.
Having come so much further than it was in the 80s and 90s, I imagine that were I still in Fargo, the Internet would be providing rich content and support to help keep the Jewish community thrive. I am sure it is doing so for those I left behind in the Northern Plains.
As a Jewish educator, though now in the over 50 crowd, and employed in the synagogue world, I nevertheless remain convinced that this model is a dinosaur, and I am continually exploring alternative settings for supplemental Jewish  education that can serve the type of Jewish community that I have observed developing over the past decades.
I’ve been an active CAJE member, and have even chaired a CAJE conference. I do think that the organization was doing the best it could to be true to its origin as grassroots and outside the establishment. However, it has become the establishment, and, as a result, I believe it is veering in directions that, while they may satisfy the vision of an aging membership that is seeking more in depth learning and higher standards, is not at all the direction that it needs to go to serve the next few generations of Jews. It is too invested in the status-quo. There are a few others in the CAJE community who are willing to say such things openly (and by that I include both what is happening to CAJE, and my belief that we are entering a post-synagogue age) and I believe a goodly number who believe so but are scared of telling the Emperor he is naked.
Not just the leadership, but the rank and file in the Jewish world is a bit out of touch. They don’t realize how married they are to the status-quo of synagogue-centered Judaism, and the current institutional system. 
And for those that are in touch, they often make the mistakes cited in your post, of trying to make Judaism like pop culture. Now, I am a firm believer in the co-option of popular culture in service to Judaism. I used SpongeBob as a prop and a hook for years-but I used it as a way in to young minds – not as the end product – and sought to use it to teach my understanding of Jewish "core values." Sure, there’s a little shtick involved, but the product wasn’t entertainment-it was Jewish learning. Crabby Patties weren’t just a funny kosher joke-they were a path to serious learning about kashrut. And it worked. (I’m moving on to a new mascot, but have yet to find a cultural icon that crossed as many age barriers as SpongeBob. I am open to suggestions!)
I remember the session at CAJE last August when the "Throw the Jews Down the Well" clip from Da Ali G show was shown and all but two small segments of the audience of Jewish educators were in total shock. (The small segment not shocked were the groups of college-age kids that were there, plus the two or three in the over 50 crowd like myself who, as students of popular culture, keep up with such things. Sadly, even after it was revealed to them that it was an outrageous piece of cultural satire by a cutting edge comedian and social critic, most still considered it unusable in their school-ever. Now I, too, have a few mixed feelings about the Borat phenomenon, but I remain generally approving–I’ll have to save this for a future post.)
Yes, we need some bricks and mortar – places to assemble, to socialize, etc. but there are other ways of making this happen. The "anarchistic" web can and will likely prove to be a component of this, despite reservations that even I have about it. Yes, being at a real Pesah Seder with real people is different (and better) than participating in a virtual one, even when the technology has advanced far beyond where it is now. But I participated in a virtual online Seder in the years when the entire process was text-based and run in a  DOS window. And it wasn’t entirely empty and meaningless. You could feel the others as if some aspect of their souls was being transmitted through the ether along with the text. (As I once said to a critic of email communication "if e-mail is so impersonal, how come it is so capable of upsetting another person based just on words that I type?")
JIY is indeed part of the future-and I, too, hope to see it make a big splash, and thrive. It will take lots of nurturing, and have to fight lots of entrenched interests – and it will still requires some form of "common core Judaism" for the post-synagogue age to truly happen. G"d-willing, it will come to pass. Keep up the good fight.
Migdalor Guy
 
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About migdalorguy

Jewish Educator & Musician, Technology Nerd and all around nice Renaissance guy
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