Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Social Interactions or Social Networks?

A couple of month ago, during the annual convention of Reform rabbis, we were addressed by Dr. Ron Wolfson, who teaches Jewish education at American Jewish University in Los Angeles. Wolfson spoke about his new book, Relational Judaism. His talk was so powerful that it inspired many of us to buy the book right there (and have it signed by the author). One of his main points is that Jews who attend Jewish programs and activities not always make a personal connection with those institutions. For sociological reasons he explains in his book in great details, despite our 24/7 connectivity, what Jews seems to seek most in the 21st century is “relationships,” more princely, personal contact.
In a recent blog published on the Forward, Dr. Wolfson writes, “No doubt that the social media platforms such as Facebook […] have enabled many to create and support relationships among friends and family. Jewish organizations are just beginning to marshal the power of these platforms for building online communities and for encouraging face-to-face communities. Finally, it turns out the best fundraisers in the Jewish community all agree that relationships are at the heart of securing funding.”
Let me be clear less we trivialize Wolfson’s contribution to Jewish communal life and the challenges we face. We are not talking about passing acquaintances –we would be pressed to find a congregation who sees itself as unfriendly and does not care about establishing relationships. Wolfson challenges us to switch the focus back to basics. We must ask ourselves, does what we do as a congregation foster lifelong relationships that can develop within communities and that will lift us up and beyond our own individualism? Relationships must be based on listening to one another’s needs and on shared experience, and through commitments to work side by side and to join together in prayer. Needless to say, the relationships Wolfson’s book promotes are those that require face-to-face encounters.
Echoing the title of his book, Wolfson blogs, “I believe the time has come for us to shift the paradigm of engagement from programmatic to relational.”
I would encourage everyone in our congregation to read his book first and then begin a conversation about our future together. I share Wolfson’s concern that Judaism will not survive in the 21st first century if we continue the paradigm of the past. Paradigm changes are not easy but necessary.
I invite you to post your comments here. Please respond: Have you read the book? Are you planning to? In the coming year, I would like to hold some forums with those interested, to share our thoughts about how we can switch the paradigm at our congregation. I hope to hear from all of you.

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