Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before;
and God will call the past to account
The above quote from Kohelet a.k.a. Ecclesiastes (or as tradition would have it King Solomon) expresses the perennial angst about the inevitability of cycles; everything from wide lapels to old TV shows returning (X-files, Will and Grace etc.) Yet, I can’t help but notice, to quote the sixties refrain, “the times they are a changing.” One case in point is the invention of Uber, a new and indispensable travel service that is convenient, cheaper, and faster than a Taxi. With a few touches of an iPhone screen, this car service will pick you up, know your number, and appear on the screen indicating just how far away the driver is and how long it will be till his or her arrival. As you have already posted your credit card in cyberspace, there is no need to pay or tip the driver. The result? A recent New York Times article revealed the angst of the ever diminishing fleets of yellow cabs in Manhattan. (I can’t help but think of my dear old dad, a onetime cabbie doing a 360 in his grave.) Uber is being followed by at least a handful of similar services, like LYFT. (I learned about this in Miami last week as Shelli and Josh wedded their lives together. Mazal Tov! Hank and Marla!)
Speaking of my dear old dad, I recall watching an episode of Star Trek in which Spock and crew were miraculously beamed out of a burning spacecraft. This was circa 1972. My father, up until the beaming out, was enthralled with the show. When the characters vanished in a haze of light and then safely
re-materialized, my dad exclaimed, “What the heck was that?” I tried to explain this unfamiliar concept of 23rd century transporting, but in vain. Disgusted, he turned off the TV never to watch Star Trek ever again.
When we age, new situations arise that challenge us and our way of doing things. Some rightly so, while others not so good, like a colleague of mine who last Rosh Hashanah put up a computer screen above the pulpit so that everyone with their iPhones could text one another with their comments (hopeful not too cynical and appropriately civil) on the screen. I am still in wonder at the idea, trying to wrap my mind around it. Shades of dear old dad’s reaction to Star Trek I suspect. What goes around comes around!
American Judaism is going through other changes as well, not dissimilar to some of the challenges facing Churches. Increasingly, the market place values drive religious choices. What can be called “Vending Machine Judaism” has invaded our culture. Institutional connection to synagogue and Church has diminished. Millennials are no longer joiners. Their community is often virtual, skyping, and instant.
The Pew report revealed an ever growing number of “Nones,” as in “I belong to none of the above religious communities.” It has now been followed by the “Dones,” that is to say those who were supportive and are no more. Many of our own folks have become habituated to vending machine Judaism in which you hire a temporary rabbi, sometimes with no real credentials (what we in the trade call a “rent-a-rabbi”) or teacher to train a child for Bar/Bat mitzvah, which will take place in a faux community, often a hotel venue. Many other examples, traditional and non-traditional have followed in which loyalty and fidelity has taken a nose dive.
Not to despair as Ecclesiastes has promised, “what will be has been before.” In the meantime, I hold fast to my appreciation to those of you reading this, for your constant and abiding support of Temple Judaism. Many of you are not frequent attendees of services and other programs offered. As one member, most devoted said to me, “There are prayers and then there are payers. I am a payer.” It’s a start, but not a finish. A temple thrives not merely by dollars, but by spiritual currency as well. As a community, all of you are quite good in a pinch to support a minyan when death arrives and solace is to be provided. Sadly, our steadfast commitment is ebbing. Accompanying “Vending Machine Judaism,” is “show time” Judaism in which participation is no longer a habitual practice, but a sometime happening. Prayer is an exercise. One would not expect to go but once or twice a year to a health club and think that it would provide physical well being.
Many of my colleagues have bought into “show time” Judaism with dog and pony shows to lure members into the Temple on special occasions. I recognize the temptation and have alas, given into it from time to time. I look forward, perhaps naïvely to a cultural realization as to what real community, real faith is about. A commitment that finds expression “from the time we rise up to the time we lay down.” I pray as did Solomon “What will be has been before.”
Wishing one and all the best,
Rabbi Yossi Liebowitz, D.D.