What does it mean to be a Jew in America today? It’s a surprisingly challenging question that always lends itself to rich conversation. Now that the Pew Research Center has released a new survey of American Jews—the first such national survey in over ten years—it is a question that we will hear discussed in the coming weeks more than ever, not only amongst ourselves but in the general media as well.

Already, we’ve seen lots of spin on the data, spanning the spectrum from the good to the bad and ugly. My favorite responses so far are those that challenge us to move beyond the spin altogether, even to move beyond the data, to instead take the opportunity to seriously consider what makes Judaism important and meaningful (or not) to each one of us: what it means to be a Jew in a America today.

I hope to hear from many of you on these questions in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, I am delighted to report that at Temple Or Hadash our young people (who are, of course, the future of our Jewish community) will not be left to address such a large and significant issue alone. In fact, beginning this month, our students and our youth will have more support in their Jewish identity formation than ever before.

As you may already know, thanks to our amazing and indefatigable religious school directors Renee Cohen-Jones and Leah Schaer, this month Temple Or Hadash will offer its opening sessions of Hineni (“Here I am” in Hebrew), a Wednesday night program for our teens and tweens; and Bagels and B’nai Mitzvah, a recurring gathering for students preparing for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah and their parents.  

Hineni, according to its creators, offers our 4th-12th graders “Jewish schmoozing and more.” In other words, it will consist of a series of hands-on, interactive sessions that will give students an opportunity to learn, think, and talk about the wisdom Judaism has to offer them on topics that concern them most. Bagels and B’nai Mitzvah will meet on Sunday mornings when I am in town (our first session is scheduled for October 27th at 9am), and provides a special time and place for making the celebration of Bar or Bat Mitzvah—a custom that has come under much media scrutiny lately—a profoundly meaningful occasion for the whole family.

The question of what it means to be a Jew, today, in America, is a question that cries out for an answer—from each and every one of us. I hope all of our young people will take advantage of our new offerings. I invite the rest of the congregation to continue to engage, individually and in community—through worship, conversation, study, and gemilut hasadim, the performance of righteous acts—in exploring the ancient yet ever-changing paths Judaism sets before us: to a life of greater meaning, greater fulfillment, and shalom (wholeness).