A New Golden Age
Last weekend, my husband and I saw the new Quentin Tarantino movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The story is set in 1969, the final years of Hollywood’s Golden Age, and depicts all the grit and glamour of the period, leaving audience members somewhat wistful for the way things were.
Back to work on Monday, my last meeting of the day was the kick-off for Chicago’s 2020 Jewish Population Study. As questions bandied around the table, the complexity of Jewish engagement was up for discussion. What does being affiliated mean? What does membership to a synagogue signify? What factors qualify one as an immersed Jew? Things are different today, the group concluded.
One of the statisticians chimed in, referencing a Golden Age of being Jewish. Miriam Webster defines Golden Age as “a period of great happiness, prosperity, and achievement.” No doubt the reference was about a time when “everyone” belonged to a shul, made Friday night dinner, attended Hebrew School, celebrated a Seder.
On a daily basis our inboxes are littered with articles and studies about how this is a new era for the Jews. Synagogues are seeking to reinvent in response to declining membership, new models of Hebrew study and Bar and Bat Mitzvah tutorial are being introduced, terms such as “low-barrier” and “accessible” are overcoming “membership.”
And our Jewish community is responding. I’ve been with JCC Chicago for close to six years and during that time we have similarly pivoted, offering more that makes it easy to do Jewish. Our reach has swelled from 25,000 community members in 2015 to 60,000 in 2019. Talk about a Golden Age.
Out-of-the-box thinking is fueling the J’s trajectory with the advent of unexpected initiatives that delight community members of all ages. When is the last time you cycled through Israel or listened to your kid proudly share the Hebrew they learned at camp? Incredible partnerships with organizations such as Honeymoon Israel, Mishkan and Beth Emet The Free Synagogue similarly catapult Jewish life to the forefront. Together, we’re looking ahead as a collective, committed to those core, meta goals of Jewish continuity and the future and strength of our peoplehood.
With the New Year upon us, I encourage you to celebrate and enjoy the holidays in ways that resonate with you and your family. Attend services, eat sticky challah with friends, stroll to tashlich, read a book, take a nap. I’ve encouraged my college kids to check out Hillel and Chabad and also sent them Rosh Hashanah care packages with apple cookies and honey pots. They have a lot to choose from, as do we all.
In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the lead actor has fallen from fame and fortune and is struggling in a Hollywood that he doesn’t recognize anymore. The strength of Jewish tradition fosters a continuity in real life that’s missing on screen—we not only recognize yesterday’s Golden Age today but are building upon it for tomorrow in new, accessible ways.
But, hey, who doesn’t love a good movie?
From our JCC family to yours,