December 14, 2007

Emergent Communities Attract the Experienced

One can scarcely begrudge opinion writer Shawn Landres his computer-infused enthusiasm for alternative emergent communities (“Breaking the Code of Ritual Observance,” December 7). However, a note of caution is in order.

As a news article in the same issue indicates, such groups tend to attract Jews who have already had intensive Jewish educations (“Study Looks Beyond Shul”). This can lead to a certain smugness, and an elitist and exclusionary approach. One person’s graceful operating system is another person’s difficulty in keeping up.

Independent minyanim benefit from investments made by the wider community — most obviously in rabbinical education — but their comparative lack of structure and dues means that they don’t pay back into the system so much. Synagogue bureaucracy might be tedious, but it keeps the wheels of education and charity turning.

What an interesting counterpoint provided by two December 7 opinion articles. One, by Shawn Landres, is hip, using familiar technological relationship language to describe new alternatives in Jewish communal worship. The other, by Yulia Khabinsky, is simple, direct and uses common Jewish phrases (“My Parents Barely Knew About Shabbat”).

One sentence in particular from Khabinsky’s piece will stay with me: “It seems impossible to erase years of not knowing about Judaism, but my parents do their best.”

Do their best — what a wonderful approach to breaking the code of ritual observance. Maybe we should all try to.

Set Up Fund for Building A Library in Lithuania

It was amazing to read a November 30 article on Wyman Brent’s effort to create a Jewish library in Lithuania (“Baptist From Virginia Toils for Jewish Library in Vilnius”).

Once upon a time the Forverts used to not just report the news but also actively involve itself in the community. Maybe now it is time for the Forward to step forward and support a worthy cause.

How about setting up a fund to help revive Jewish culture in Lithuania? How about bringing back the community activism that was the trademark of a great newspaper?

It was a pleasant surprise to read a positive story related to Eastern Europe. For far too long, the news has been about the continuing decline of Jewish life and the rise of antisemitism.

Whatever possessed Wyman Brent to come up with the idea of a library in Lithuania? It will be a pleasure to see something new being created in Europe other than the repetition of more memorials to the past. All I can say is more power to Brent.

Democracy Requires More Than Elections

Among the many problems created by the Bush administration, those caused by its misunderstanding of democracy are among the most dangerous (“America Must Stay Focused on Pakistan,” December 7). Democracy is not primarily about free elections; that is a very small part of what it means to be a democracy. A true democracy entails democratic institutions, such as a free press, an independent judiciary and universities in which free inquiry is protected. It includes functioning school systems, law enforcement agencies that actually work for the good of the people, a single armed forces under civilian control that has no credible possibility of leading a coup, and a myriad of other institutions as well.

Mere elections without these institutions are often very little different in effect than an outright totalitarian government. What good are oppressive democracies to the people who elect their oppressors?

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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December 14, 2007

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