Imagine, for a moment, that you can enter any Jewish setting, a synagogue, a class, a Shabbat meal. You walk in, sit down, and within a few minutes, you know easily what page everyone is on. You feel comfortable and at ease. You know what to do and what is next.
Truth is, very few people these days really feel that comfort. They don’t feel at ease, know what page we’re on, or what is really happening. It’s a problem we all need to face and be honest about. Some of it is because our Jewish educational systems over the last number of decades were not as successful as we would have hoped. Some of it is due to mass assimilation to the point that people did not find Judaism important to them before, but now are returning unprepared. And some of it is because we have not set up systems to help people better navigate our complex Jewish experiences.
Increasing our own literacy should be our central goal and the focus of our energy.
The way we tackle many of the challenges outlined above is by creating a culture of learning and increased literacy.
We’re all on the Literacy Spectrum.
We so often describe Jews as either, religious or not religious. But in reality, that structure is not meaningful, accurate, or helpful. Rather, we are all at some point on a three-axis graph including religious, observant, and literate.
Observant, Literate, Religious
The conversation regarding observant and religious will be for another time, but the relevant piece is that each one of us is somewhere on here.
We can be non-observant, sort of religious, and very literate. We can be observant, very religious, and not very literate. We can be very literate and very religious, but not very observant. Relative to someone else, we’re probably at one “extreme” or another.
Where we should all be seeking to be, however, is more literate. Religious and observant are important too, but literate, in our day and age, is by far the one we should be reaching to. Too many Jews in our communities are professionals or experts in their field and become embarrassed to not know what is happening in Jewish settings.
So where do we go from here?
We take it upon ourselves to learn. To cease the unnecessary embarrassment and engage in what is a tried and true practice of meaning-making. Let’s take classes, find study partners, and ask every question we can possibly think of. Let’s get out of our comfort zones. Let’s take a chance on what could make our lives better and more enjoyable.
There is no one stopping us, creating barriers anymore. Resources are being created every day to democratize and make accessible our amazing, thousands-year-old tradition.