Reinventing From the Edge

First off, Whoop, whoop: Savannah’s own Congregation Mickve Israel got a nice shout-out in Reform Judaism Magazine‘s “What Works: Ideas & Initiatives” section this month for the Backpack Buddies program.

When members of Congregation Mickve Israel in Savannah, Georgia learned that poor children attending a local elementary school were squirreling away the free meals the school provided on Fridays in order to tide them over until Monday, they created “Backpack Buddies.” Since November 2008, 200 congregants are donating money and/or individually sized portions of non-perishable foods, stocking shelves, assisting Shalom Sunday school classes in packing individual bags of food, and transporting the food to the school, where it’s placed in more than 40 backpacks provided by the temple. The students in need then take the full backpacks home on Fridays and return them every Monday. One child was overheard saying, ‘You mean I’ll have something to eat this weekend?’

I assume this means the program will continue when Shalom School reconvenes next fall. It’s been a good way to introduce the kids to the idea of participating in their community, a little tzedakeh, a little tikkun olam. Though sometimes while packing the bags, my kindergarteners had to be restrained from raiding the piles of chocolate pudding for themselves. Bring by your non-perishable, individually-portioned snacks to the synagogue!

I hadn’t poked around Reform Judaism for a while now (I had to cut back of magazine subscriptions when El Yenta Man he couldn’t find the alarm clock for all of the piles of intellectual reading and um, occasional crap next to the bed) and I’ve forgotten what a fine, thoughtful publication it is. The editors actually seem to understand what an identity crisis it is to be an American Jew, and have addressed the need for “reinvention” without panicking (’cause, duh, it’s all happened before.)

This interview with Jonathan Sarna should not be missed. As someone who has always felt like an Outlander in the Jewish world, I especially appreciated Sarna’s response to previous efforts to reinvent American Judaism:

First, continuity may depend upon discontinuity—turning past wisdom on its head to revitalize the Jewish future, as both the Zionist movement and the women’s movement have done … Precisely because they are not wedded to the community’s central assumptions, those on the periphery of Jewish life are the most likely to come up with such innovative approaches. Many of the central developments in American Jewish life have emanated from such “outsiders” as the young men who first created the American Reform movement in Charleston back in the 1820s and the young radical Jews of the 1960s and ’70s who created the havurah movement. When outsiders call for change, we dare not close our ears.

Well, Jon, bubeleh, CALL ME. I have ideas.

2 thoughts on “Reinventing From the Edge

  1. You do have good ideas and I like your comments. I am very concerned about the number of young jewish people who are not acknowledging their faith and not making an effort to look for Jewish partners.

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