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Synablog » 2006 » March

Archive for March, 2006

The Tribe: get the (house) party started!

Friday, March 31st, 2006

Last night I attended the Los Angeles premier of The Tribe, “an unorthodox, unauthorized history of the Jewish people and the Barbie doll …in about 15 minutes”:

What can the most successful doll on the planet show us about being Jewish today? Narrated by Peter Coyote, the film mixes old school narration with a new school visual style. The Tribe weaves together archival footage, graphics, animation, Barbie dioramas, and slam poetry to take audiences on an electric ride through the complex history of both the Barbie doll and the Jewish people- from Biblical times to present day. By tracing Barbie"s history, the film sheds light on what it means to be an American Jew in the 21st Century.

The Tribe, conceived and directed by Webby Awards founder Tiffany Shlain, was supported by many of the foundations currently supporting Jewish Emergent, including the Andrea & Charles Bronfman Slingshot Fund, Natan, the Righteous Persons Foundation (via REBOOT), and many others. Consultants on the film included S3K Jewsh Emergent Working Group members Andy Bachman and Amichai Lau-Lavie.

The film probably had its desired effect on me, leaving me with more questions than answers. Very wisely, the film doesn’t ever give a fixed definition of “tribe,” nor does it weigh in on the infamous “Who is a Jew?” debate.

The Barbie motif is an excellent vehicle for talking about assimilation, especially since a Jewish woman designed the doll based on a very blonde postwar German doll called “Lilli.” But while the film addresses assmilation very well, there was a clear European-American emphasis and it left me wondering about Jews who don’t look like Barbie or Ken, and in fact may resemble other Others (I’m thinking of Mizrachi Jews, Sephardi Jews, etc.).

But that’s the point, right? — to get me thinking, and to get Jews talking. And it that it succeeds very well.

It was a provocative film — definitely a conversation-starter, as one of my friends put it. In fact, the producers have created a Tribe “kit” containing a “Guide from the Perplexed” and “Conversation Cards” to trigger an “unorthodox discussion.” Although the “institutional screening” price probably puts the film out of reach for many Jewish Emergent groups, there appears to be a loophole for those showing the film in a private home: for that, the DVD discussion kit costs only $40.

I’ll probably get in trouble with Tribe’s producers for saying this, but in fact, this loophole is a great excuse both for smaller groups and “establishment synagogues” looking for a creative way to engage 20- and 30-something Jews in their communities. Throw what IKAR calls a “house party,” an effective way to move beyond the walls of the synagogue to have a serious Jewish conversation. (And if the experiment works, go ahead - buy the full institutional package and get the entire congregation involved….)

And yes, you can join the conversation on the Tribe website. But they’re not selling membership: you’ll have to figure out on your own how to be an MOT….

Hitting the (j)spot

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006

The Jewish social justice blogosphere has become richer with the creation of jspot.org, “featuring Jewish perspectives on contemporary issues of social and economic justice” and sponsored by the Jewish FundS for Justice:

Our focus is on domestic issues only; no foreign policy, no Middle East, no Israel. We hope to direct some attention to the problems faced by those living in the United States without access to quality health care, housing, education, childcare, or a clean environment; those who work for low-wages, in unstable jobs, or are unemployed; those who struggle against discrimination and bigotry; those who are victims of violence and abuse. We hope to celebrate and scrutinize the efforts to address these problems; to offer varied perspectives and new ideas.

JFSJ is a thought-leader on social justice issues for Jewish Emergent congregations, and this blog certainly will help to further the conversations that are taking place around the country.

Seminary, yes; pulpits, no?

Friday, March 17th, 2006

The New York Times reports on a decline in interest in pulpit careers among Christian seminary students. This is no surprise to those Jewish seminaries, professional clergy associations, and denominations, which have been concerned about this issue for the past 5 years or more. As early as 1999, Forward editor J.J. Goldberg reported on the trend in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.

“To uproot our spiritual home”

Thursday, March 16th, 2006

S3K Leadership Network member Rabbi Sharon Brous, in Sh’ma’s JTSFuture Blog:

We don"t need a niche — we have Shabbes. We don"t need a new narrative — we have yetziat mitzrayim, the promise that the world need not look the way that it does, and that human beings, in partnership with a living God, have the power to shape history. We don"t need a PR makeover — we need to get back in touch with our essence. What the movement needs is not, in the words of the Slonimer Rebbe, to paint over the cracks in our walls and replaster. What we need is to uproot our spiritual home — to have the courage to ask the most fundamental questions about the issues facing us as Jews and human beings today, and then make space for the voices of our tradition to guide our own voices in addressing those questions.

The future of Conservative Judaism will depend on our ability to embody an ethic of passionate, committed involvement in the world that flows naturally from, and likewise directly informs, humble and courageous encounter with the Jewish tradition. We need to articulate the fundamental connection between a halakhic, Torah-centered life on one hand, and a serious concern for and engagement in the world on the other. We need to remember how to dance, how to daven with real intention, how to study text with passion and purpose. If the movement is true to its deepest aspirations, allowing the creative tension between our tradition and modernity to fuel our religious existence, then it will undoubtedly inspire a new generation to become both actively committed Jews and agents of change on the world stage.


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