[UPDATE (June 22, 2007): In search of a cool summer full of meaningful Jewish experiences, Rabbi Judy Chessin of Temple Beth Or in Dayton, OH, notes that when you turn up your Jewish volume, you get your heir-conditioning at full blast....]
As of today, I’ve decided to stop using the words affiliated and unaffiliated as general descriptors. In a world of multiple and episodic connections, they just don’t mean anything anymore.
Instead of asking whether someone is affiliated or unaffiliated, I propose to ask what his/her “Jewish volume” is. Conceptually I link the notion of “volume” to the idea of “minimalist” and “maximalist” manifestations of religion (see Bruce Lincoln, Holy Terrors: Thinking About Religion after September 11 (2002). The idea is that if your Jewish volume is high, then Judaism really is a significant part of many aspects of your life; if your Jewish volume is low, then it isn’t. Midrange volume could mean that Judaism either is a small part of many aspects of your life, or a large part of one or two aspects. In other words, it’s not the either-or proposition that “affiliated-unaffiliated” suggests.
More importantly, you can turn the volume up or down at different points without shutting the system down completely. Life-cycle, significant personal or historical events (planned or unplanned), and other factors can affect Jewish volume. Not to mention the reality that people change the station/change the tune — all the time, again without turning off the radio entirely.
An an “outreach” invitation, as such, isn’t some futile quest to transform an “unaffiliated” Jew into an “affiliated” one. It’s an invitation — “Turn up your Jewish volume!”, perhaps, or “What’s your Jewish tune?”. (This has the happy the advantage of riffing on the iPod phenom, too.)
Here’s how I would apply it to myself. At the moment, on a scale of 1 to 10, my Jewish volume is somewhere between 11 and 12. When I was 13, it was around 9; it dropped to about 3 while I was in college, and was between 4 and 5 for most of my 20s.
So …what’s your Jewish volume?