Guess what, you ARE Religious

When I was growing up in Baltimore, I had a lot of family most of whom were somewhat observant and one side of my dad‘s family that were ultra orthodox. In Jewish Baltimore, it is not uncommon to see black hatters walking down the street on Shabbat and see women with their heads covered, wearing long black skirts even on the hottest days of the summer.

In fact one section of Baltimore is so religious, that you can find orthodox men and women wearing full religious garb at the JCC gym. I’ve seen women wearing a long skirt while doing the elliptical and men running the treadmill wearing tallit Katan and a kippah.

To me, that was what religious people looked like. Sure, I went to synagogue once or twice a month, and most Fridays we had Shabbat dinner, but in no way did I consider myself religious.

Well things have changed quite a bit in the last 25 years. In 2013, The pew report was released that scared conservative Jews half to death, because it told a story that we already had heard whispered in conversations at kiddush and at Federation board meetings and in the halls of our synagogues. That, predominantly was the story of intermarriage and assimilation, but also of affiliation and engagement.

Only about 35% of all American Jews are affiliated with a synagogue. Of that number perhaps 10 to 15% belong to a conservative synagogue and breaking that down maybe 60 to 70% of those send their children to religious school. I can only imagine what minuscule percentage of children continue on after their bar and bat mitzvah.

Recently I had the opportunity to speak with parents of the second graders at our religious school on a Sunday morning. The conversation was supposed to be about Jewish parenting, and that’s the way it got started. But, it quickly turned to the subject of engagement, participation and Jewish Role Modeling for our children.

One of the points that I tried making to those parents, was that, compared with the majority of American Jews, all of us sitting in that room were absolutely religious. How so? We send our children to religious school we bring our children to services we celebrate Jewish holidays and we have Shabbat dinners.

Compared with the majority of American Jews, that is religious behavior, or if you want to think of it differently, it’s traditional Jewish lifestyle. The point is we live in a community that is religiously engaged that thrives because our members continually choose to live Jewishly and every day we are redefining what it means to be religious.

I am enormously proud to call Beth El my religious community because there is a sense of pride and enthusiasm in all things Jewish. I am hopeful that if we can begin to look at our behavior as religious and see ourselves as religious Jews within our own modern context, we can continue to stretch ourselves to take on more aspects of Jewish life.

We can walk this road and see where it takes us, knowing that religious life is full of joy, adventure and serves as a journey towards greater understanding of our history and relationship with God.

One of our biggest moments of joy is coming next week. Megillah Madness!!!

It promises to be a “religious experience.”

Shabbat Shalom

Posted by Hazzan Asa Fradkin

Hazzan Asa Fradkin is the hazzan at Congregation Beth El in Bethesda, MD. He is a native of Baltimore.

1 comment

Suzanne R Glaser

That the one man, Adam, was responsible for all may be the reason we cringe when a Jew does something illegal/immoral and we say, “Shandeh.” And, when a Jew wins a Nobel prize, we are proud.

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