Daily Alert

12 November 2007

To Sanctify the Profane

National Jewish conference focuses on youth
More than 3,000 leaders expected at Nashville event


By COLBY SLEDGE
Staff Writer

Published: Monday, 11/12/07
The gathering sounded like a college football game, complete with pep-rally music and pennant-waving students.

Instead, the scene was the United Jewish Communities' annual General Assembly, which is expected to bring more than 3,000 Jewish leaders to Nashville this week. The event runs through Tuesday at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center.

With about 8,000 Jews in Nashville and around 20,000 statewide, Tennessee's Jewish community is the smallest to ever host the conference.

"It's really been quite an undertaking," said Judy Saks, community director for the Jewish Federation of Nashville. Saks' organization is teaming with similar chapters in Chattanooga, Knoxville and Memphis to provide volunteers for the event.

Although discussion topics will vary, the overwhelming issue for Jewish leaders is the same facing other religions: figuring out how to keep younger generations involved.

"That's the big question, and if you have the answer, we'll pay you a lot for seminars," Saks said. "It's probably going to involve a complete change in the way we are doing things."

Students get involved

More than 200 students from colleges ranging from the University of Michigan to Vanderbilt University are expected to attend the conference, which includes sessions on involving young adults in Jewish life.

"I'm here to learn a lot more about my Jewish identity," said Jon Hurst-Sneh, a University of Kansas student. "We're here to realize our religion."

Hurst-Sneh was among about 60 Jewish students and young adults who volunteered at the Nashville Rescue Mission on Sunday morning, sorting clothing, preparing food and speaking with men and women at the complex.

Volunteer and service work are likely to play a prominent role in future Jewish teaching of students, said Saks.

"They really want to put the things that they have learned in religious school to work, and one of those things is helping others and involving younger people," Saks said.

The students and other attendees will have several prominent leaders, Jewish and otherwise, to look to during the conference. Sunday's speakers included Gov. Phil Bredesen, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will address the assembly Tuesday morning.

"Judaism doesn't stand between being secular and being orthodox," said Pnina Gaday, an Ethiopian Jew who fled to Israel and now leads a student group in Tel Aviv. "Orthodoxy is scaring a lot of students. There are a lot of ways to be Jewish on both sides."



Why do college age youth go the GA to learn about yiddishkeit? Why not spend a semester in Yeshiva? Today, there are plenty of "kiruv" or better "in-reach" (read it as enrich) yeshivas for boys and girls which will inspire growth in Judaism not only by advancing their knowledge of Torah but by spiritually motivating the 'soul' of the wandering and lost Jew. Indeed, all Jews are of one soul. (for reference material on the single neshama of Israel and the ideas implications, see Chassidic Dimensions, Shochet).

One would do well to begin this path with a desire to cling to HaKodesh Baruch Hu while overcoming the urge to look for an excuse not to do so. This is a direct challenge to the "I need to be inspired" crowd. It isn't inspiration so much which is lacking but commitment.

I would bet that most people making the "inspiration" argument have either played organized sports, taken up an instrument, dance, art or any hobby which must be nurtured. In the effort to learn or master the necessary skills, did they need inspiration or commitment? Clearly, the matter is one of desire to achieve. No one gives this to a Jew, it must come from inside. The inheritance is a gift but it must be brought out from the shell it is hidden in. But what of the end product? A sports player plays the game in the end, and the piano keys are stroked producing a melody. What of the Jew? Here we come to the loggerhead. What is the purpose of this search for meaning or spirituality? Is it to have some sense of satisfaction or accomplishment? Or is it something else, larger than the very person.

A Jew looks for HaShem for no other reason than to discover himself. How so? Since HaShem, Israel, and Torah are united in eternal oneness, the search for spirituality is to find oneself, or better to recognize the divine source of the soul itself. We are mere vessels carrying the soul. HaShem blew that soul into us. It seeks to return to it's source at all times, but the body selfishly refuses to let it go. And this, may I venture, is a secret of Jewish life. The body refuses to let the soul have it's way seeking to meet it's own agenda. However, being stuck together for a tour on earth, the soul and body must work together throughout life. The yetzer hara empowers the body in its effort to control the soul. The soul cries out to it's creator for strength to overpower the urges of the yetzer hara. The body can be convinced to do right and the soul can be taught to give in to foreign influences. It is an effort in the intellectual realm which drives a Jew toward an observant path away from a not yet observant path. A conscious effort is needed to turn aveiros into mitzvos.

Sorting clothes at a shelter might be a good thing to do. If it is done because it makes the body feel good, then it has affected the soul negatively. If it is done because the soul says, it's an act of chesed for you to should sort clothes at the shelter, and the body says, "I would rather be sleeping but will go if you make me", then the soul has influenced the body in a positive way. This is called sanctifying the profane and is a message as I see it that the Rebbe taught. Make what you do holy. This message is what is missed by college students at the GA. Spirituality doesn't follow attempts to "realize our religion". Rather it is the love of humanity and desire to do what HaShem wants which teaches how we "realize our religion".

"Judaism doesn't stand between being secular and being orthodox," said Pnina Gaday, an Ethiopian Jew who fled to Israel and now leads a student group in Tel Aviv. "Orthodoxy is scaring a lot of students. There are a lot of ways to be Jewish on both sides."


Pnina, it isn't Orthodoxy" which scares students, it is the commitment which scares students. It is the fear of being Jews, who Think Jewish, act Jewish and appear Jewish which scares students. Your position is a false dicotomy. Orthodox or secular is not the choice. Jewish or not is the choice. You seem to wish to define Judaism based upon what is good for you. It isn't Orthodoxy which scares you it is the fear that you cannot set and keep the standards for which you are comfortable.

Comfort is not what makes you feel good but a sense of continuity, that you are able to keep the tradition of your ancestors alive and meaningful. This is a true comfort and what HaShem expects from you. Connectivity to the past and future is your reward. But it is hardly your only obligation. While it is truly hard work to live up to HaShem's expectations, seeing through the facade of self-determination Judaism is harder.

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