Jay Michaelson writes in his September 16 column of his delight and empowerment in D.I.Y. — Do it Yourself — Judaism. While he acknowledges that Judaism has always been a tradition of direct access, where we are “each responsible for our own religious lives,” he writes, “only a small minority of non-Orthodox Jews live this way.”
We think he is wrong. One and a half million American Jews who affiliate with Reform synagogues across the US and Canada are exercising active responsibility for and engagement in a Judaism that celebrates both innovation and tradition, a Judaism that brings together creative experimentation with deep knowledge of and intentional interpretation of timeless sources. Membership in sacred community is, for many Jews, a powerful expression of our Judaism. In community, individuals and families explore our rich traditions of study, celebration, and the support that comes from nurturing connections with those who share our Jewish values.
We do live in a consumerist culture, and for some, Judaism has become commodified. But reclaiming Judaism does not mean that each of us must “make Shabbes for ourselves.” Truly embracing Judaism means developing and exploring vibrant and creative life cycle celebrations and ceremonies in the context of communities where all feel visible and empowered. Jewish feminists pioneered new rituals, from brit bat ceremonies to simchat chochma/wisdom celebrations, and those innovations, and the music written to accompany them, have transformed Jewish practice. And, we would guess, Mr. Michaelson has drawn on those resources to create both his wedding and the funeral for which he officiated.
Finally, Michaelson supports an entrepreneurial spirit that is at odds with Jewish communal survival.
As we support and celebrate creativity we need not disparage Jewish institutional life, or the dedicated professionals who sustain and serve our communities. Rather than D.I.Y., let us reclaim the imperative to D.I.T: do it together. That’s the Jewish way.
Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell
Union for Reform Judaism
Rabbi William I. Kuhn
Congregation Rodeph Shalom