Monday, September 29, 2008

Shana Tova, or Judaism Today

by J J Cohen

From the NYT, some paragraphs about a synagogue's desire to become a "spiritual Starbucks" (can I have a double shot of spirituality, but with soy and sugar-free vanilla?) that give a small glimpse of Judaism (and, really, religion in general) as tending towards the culturally mixed and remaining historically fragile:
Inspired by the movement known as Chabad, a Hasidic sect with a missionary tradition around the world, Rabbi Jacobson said he would offer his programs — which until now he has operated on an itinerant basis around the city — at the Sixth Street synagogue in hopes of creating “a spiritual Starbucks.” The plan is to attract people, regardless of their faith, from all over the city, he said. But the goal is to restore Jewish identity to those estranged from Judaism and, if possible, to add them to the membership rolls of Community Synagogue.

Like many Lubavitchers, Rabbi Jacobson embodies a paradoxical mix of strictly conservative theology and a freewheeling, nonjudgmental hipster style. He is partial to drum circles. He is friendly with the Hasidic reggae-rap-klezmer artist known as Matisyahu.

Of course, this is not everyone’s cup of tea. “Is there tension because we love things the way they are and he wants to make everything completely different?” asked Ruth Greenberg, 90, a member of the congregation, which had about 250 members when she joined in 1950 and now counts not quite 100. “Not at all, not at all. We may not like each other, but that doesn’t mean there’s tension.”

I was also struck by these lines, about how the synagogue found its original home:

The building needs work. The pews and the pipes date from the mid-19th century, when the place was built as St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church (which effectively died on June 15, 1904, along with about 1,000 of its parishioners, in a fire aboard the steamship General Slocum, en route to a church picnic). The roof leaks.

From Evangelical Lutherans to drumming Lubavitchers in a mere century.

1 comment:

Steve Muhlberger said...

What a tragic story about the church picnic! It strikes me more than the transition to Lubavitcher drum circles, but somebody over a century later bothers to remember that day, even though it's a complete side issue in the context of the article.