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Three responses, though, are possible. The first is to remember that even these bedrock institutions have evolved, often quite quickly. Israeli places of worship look nothing like American synagogues, and American synagogues look nothing like what they looked like a century ago. While one should not be sanguine or exuberant about change for its own sake, impermanence is in the nature of the universe.
Second, the Jewish community might take a cue from capitalism and welcome the messy ecosystem of innovation rather than the tidy gardens of yesteryear. Post-everything Judaism is more like the bazaar than the cathedral; it is a laboratory in which many initiatives fail but in which innovation is also more likely to succeed than in top-down, command-and-control environments in which we do the same thing that we’ve always done because that’s what we do.
Finally, doing what we’ve always done has failed. When I talk with Jewish organizations about the risks of innovation, of open source Judaism, of providing platforms rather than content, I admit we have no idea how this will turn out. But we do know the traditional model is not turning out enough committed Jews to keep itself afloat, and institutions are facing existential challenges. Sometimes the unknown is better than the known.
For many less-involved and less-interested Jews, the same old same old — the same liturgies, cultural markers, organizational affiliations — still fits the bill. Probably most Jews are not interested in or Jewishly educated enough for richer forms of engagement. But the cultural creatives, that motivated minority whose energy and dedication power entire communities, are already leaving mega-synagogues for other modes of community affiliation, already hybridizing and experimenting, and finding other Jews interested in immigration reform, or permaculture, or Kabbalah, or whatever. The mainstream can kvetch about this, or hope that it reverses itself once this generation’s kids are ready for day school, but kvetching and hoping are usually not enough to change the world.
Nor should they be. This is an exciting time for those interested in taking ownership of their Judaism, and for those institutions ready to thrive by empowering them in open source, platform-enabling ways. A thousand Jewish flowers are blooming already, even if they look like weeds to some who run the greenhouses. With nourishment and attention, they might produce an abundant harvest.