Tag Archives: youth

Faithfulness in the Next Generation

Judaism and ChristianityDisclaimer: The following is nowhere near a comprehensive inventory, but it’s a place to start.

I came across an article at Aish.com called Too Many Young Jews Think Judaism is Irrelevant written by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff and began to ponder. First though, a relevant portion from Ms. Jungreis-Wolff’s essay:

Concluding a talk on Jewish pride, I offered to take questions. A hand shot up in the front.

“You speak about our heritage and what it means to be a Jew. So many around us are clueless when it comes to Judaism. How can we share with others and teach more?”

Another hand shot up in the back. The young boy stood up and said loudly, “To speak up and think that you have what to teach the world about your Judaism means that you think you are better. That’s racist!”

In any high school in America I suspect, if the topic were “Black Pride” or “Gay Pride” or “Feminist Pride” or even “Muslim Pride,” the speaker would be welcomed by the students with enthusiasm and high praise. The audience would have left the presentation fired up for social justice and the desire to support the underrepresented by protesting and convincing their parents to give to worthy charities and political action groups.

Just about the only subject that would receive a worst reception would be a talk on “White Pride,” which probably would be racist. So is “Jewish Pride” racist?

Probably not, and I don’t think it’s really possible that “Jewish Pride” to be racist. You have people from Sweden and Ethiopia who are equally Jewish, so how can it be racist to be a Jew? Judaism is something that transcends race as it does religion. It’s a deeply uniquely-lived experience and identity (and I only know this second-hand from being married to a Jew).

What does this mean for Messianic Judaism and that generation being raised by members of the movement (or whatever you want to call MJ)?

I know that both Judaism and Christianity have programs in their houses of worship and communities aimed at fostering the faith in their children.

However, sources such as Cold Case Christianity, Christianity Today, and ChurchLeaders.com confirm the trend that a large population of teens and young adults are leaving the church for a variety of reasons, “relevancy” being key among them, even though there are numerous programs designed to speak to their youth population.

A similar tale is told of young Jews and Judaism by NYC Religions and the Pew Research Center, although an added factor is that some Jews who have left religious Judaism converted to Christianity (which the church would see as good, while Judaism and even Messianic Judaism would definitely have concerns).

Messianic Judaism, however you conceive of it, has, in my opinion (though I could be wrong since I haven’t been part of a religious community in years) an even bigger problem. Based on my experiences, kids in that movement also tend to leave, either for secularism, more traditional Christianity or more traditional Judaism. Add to that the size and relative rarity of MJ communities in any part of the US and Canada. A family may adhere to an MJ view of the Bible, but the nearest congregation could be hundreds of miles away, so when kids grow up and leave home, they very well will leave their faith behind, too.

The only group I know of attempting to slow or halt the trend is First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) which produces products such as Children’s Torah Club and other resources. Also, apparently, their 2016 Shavuot conference was on the topic of youth outreach. Of course, I have no way to gauge the effectiveness of those methods or even to know the population size of MJ in general or by age group, but at least somebody is doing something.

However, based on the other information I’ve cited, it seems like secularization has firmly taken hold of youth, both inside the body of faith and beyond. In modern, western society it seems, Christianity and Judaism are blamed for a variety of ills, and it’s not just the faithful who are under assault.  Although many deny it, an attack on national Israel is an attack on the Jewish people because it denies the Jews the right to their own sovereign nation. We even have a few freshman U.S. Representatives who have been making headlines lately because of that, questioning the existence of our nation’s closest ally in the Middle East.

I’ve also noted a lot of push back against the landmark and popular (in spite of its topic) film Unplanned starring Ashley Bratcher, including the movie’s twitter account mysteriously losing thousands of followers (though this seems to have stopped after many complains were registered). Additionally, actress Alyssa Milano has been leading Hollywood’s charge against Georgia’s recent “heartbeat” pro-life law, though Bratcher has responded to Milano’s boycott.

Wait! What’s abortion got to do with young people leaving the church and the synagogue?

It’s one of the values of secularization, and perhaps one of the most important ones, a sort of “Holy Grail” of the secular. Any potential threat against free access to abortions, in some cases up until birth, is thought of as a heinous affront and must be combated with every resources available especially by the Hollywood public opinion machine.

So many of our young people take this “right” for granted. If Christianity and Judaism threatens this and many other “rights” by touting how human life is sacred, then young people in houses of faith are more likely to struggle with choosing between the “relevancy” of their faith vs. the “relevancy” of secular cultural norms, and thus is the problem.

Racism, climate change denial, anti-choice, the list of pejoratives goes on and vulnerable young people, many of them it seems, don’t want to be associated with those highly emotionally charged labels. So what secular post-modern civilization considers “relevant” makes many of the values of Christianity and Judaism “irrelevant.” The exodus of young people from the faith continues.

What to do? Besides what’s been suggested at the various links I’ve posted, I don’t know.

I have three adult children who were young at the time when my family was transitioning through Christianity, Hebrew Roots, and Messianic Judaism (and in my wife’s case, out the other side to more traditional Judaism), and I think they became so confused that eventually, they departed from all of it. Ethnically, they all identify as Jews, but that’s about it. I’m pretty sure one, maybe two keep a sort of Leviticus 11 “kosher,” but I was at the third’s house yesterday, and he was cooking up bacon for his kids for dinner.

I’ve heard of this “culture war” for decades and didn’t think too much about it, but now it seems that I was wrong. This “war” is real and it’s taking our children and grandchildren from us.

The fastest growing form of religious Judaism is Orthodox, though the category “other” is outstripping them hand over fist. According to the Christian Broadcast Network:

While Congress has yet to decide the future of the country’s illegal immigrants, some say they are critical to the survival of Christianity in America.

“Every denomination is experiencing explosive growth within the Latino church and the immigrant church at large. It’s been this way now for several decades,” Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, told CBN News. “This is a perpetual revival, if you will, and it’s not going to cease and it’s growing and we thank God for it.”

Rodriguez says Americans can fulfill the great commission by ministering to their immigrant neighbors next door.

Maybe the key to understanding how to preserve and grow future generations in Messianic Judaism is to understand what dynamics drive the two groups I’ve listed above.

Early in the Morning – Late in Life

Running out of timeMoshe ascended early in the morning and descended early in the morning.

-Shabbos 86a

Rabbi Menachem Bentzion Sacks used to expound upon this theme. The climb to God, the spiritual drive to perfection, must begin early in one’s life. In reference to Moshe’s receiving the second tablets (34:2), the Torah similarly emphasizes: “Be ready in the morning, and go up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and be placed there before Me at the top of the mountain.” Within these words is contained a message for all generations. Namely, one must prepare in the “early morning” of one’s life and begin an ascent in order to stand before Hashem when one reaches the peak of one’s maturity.

Our sages have praised those who partake of a hearty morning meal. We are told (Bava Kama 92b): “I will remove illness from amongst you.” (Shemos 23:25). This refers to the removal of eighty-three maladies associated with the disease called “marah”. Also among the benefits gained by eating a morning meal is that one is granted the ability to study Torah and to teach.

Finally, “Sixty men may pursue one who has early meals in the morning, but they will not overtake him.” All of these advantages can be applied as well to one who partakes of spiritual food. “Torah is compared to water, as in Yeshayahu 55:1.” – Bava Kama 17. The more a young person is nourished early in the morning by studying in the dawn of his life, the stronger and more solid are the fibers of his spiritual foundation. By means of this reinforced and vitalized internal charge, our youth can merit to study Torah, to teach Torah, and to have the knowledge of Torah permeate their beings. Shlomo HaMelech has written (Mishlei 22:6): “Educate a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” This system serves to immunize children from illnesses of the soul which otherwise infect them with ‫ .מרה‬Only when our youth are equipped with Torah ideals can they withstand the difficult and corrupting challenges which the world will present to them later.

Daf Yomi Digest
Gemara Gem
“Early in the Morning – Early in Life”
Commentary on Shabbos 86a

Fortunate are we that our youth has not caused us embarrassment in later life.

-Succah 53a

Many people gain wisdom in their later years. When they look back on their youth, they regret having squandered so much time. Some people’s “golden years” are unfortunately marred with regret over the time they lost.

Young people can learn from their elders. People who reflect on the past during their last days often say, “My greatest regret is that I did not spend more time with my family.” Has anyone ever said, “My greatest regret is that I did not spend more time at the office”?

While experience teaches most efficiently, some things are simply too costly to be learned by experience, because the opportunity to apply these lessons may never arise. Our learning too late that we have spent time foolishly is a prime example.

Ask your father and he will tell you; your elders and they will say it to you (Deuteronomy 32:7). In his last words, Moses gives us this most important teaching: “Why learn the hard way when you can benefit from the experience of others who have been there?” We should regularly ask: “How pleased will I be in the future about what I am doing now?”

Today I shall…

try to examine my actions with the consideration of how I will look back at them in the future.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tevet 15”

None of the above is at all comforting to those of us who came to faith later in life. Worse, since my initial coming to faith was not within a Jewish context and there were a lot of “mixed messages” between Christianity and Judaism traveling in my household when my children were young, I was unable to communicate a distinct Jewish “intent” for my children who now, as young adults, operate only marginally within the Jewish lifestyle and not at all within one of religious observance and faith.

interfaithMore’s the pity and certainly as the Father, it is my fault.

Not that my children blame me, I suppose, but given the dangers we hear about intermarriage and assimilation as delivered by the Jewish community and by Jewish history, I feel the weight of responsibility rests upon my shoulders.

Patrick Stewart (in the role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation) once delivered the line…

Remembrance and regrets, they, too, are a part of friendship…And understanding that has brought you a step closer to understanding humanity.

Being human and given my particular background, I may understand humanity, but I am no less vulnerable to human foibles and failures as the next man. I suppose, from the Jewish point of view, at least if I use the above quoted commentaries as my guide, I’ve arrived at the party far too late and wearing the wrong suit for the occasion. Only the Master suggests that it may be otherwise.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”

Matthew 20:1-16 (ESV)

That helps me but it doesn’t help my family, particularly my children who, as young adults, are now responsible for making their own decisions without any sort of “parental influence” from me, at least the unwanted kind.

But if I didn’t arrive early enough, perhaps it’s still not too late.

Hearken and hear Israel, (Devarim 27:9) this is the time marked for the redemption by Mashiach. The sufferings befalling us are the birth-pangs of Mashiach. Israel will be redeemed only through teshuva. (Jerusalem Talmud, Taanit I:1) Have no faith in the false prophets who assure you of glories and salvation after the War. Remember the word of G-d, “Cursed is the man who puts his trust in man, who places his reliance for help in mortals, and turns his heart from G-d” (Yirmiyahu 17:5). Return Israel unto the Eternal your G-d; (Hoshei’a 14:2) prepare yourself and your family to go forth and receive Mashiach, whose coming is imminent.

“Today’s Day”
Wednesday, Tevet 15, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

early_morning_skyI wish I could prepare my family to go forth and receive Mashiach, but the best I’m able to do at the moment is attempt to prepare myself. On the other hand, my wife recently confided in me that she feels I blog more about my feelings of going back to church than I ever discuss with her. I was rather shocked at hearing this, since I had no idea she had any interest in my church activities at all. Maybe what I do to prepare myself to go forth and receive Mashiach is more noticeable than I thought.

On the one hand, God and faith seem to be happening too late to do much good in my life and in the lives of those I love the most. On the other hand, Rabbi Tzvi Freeman had this to say about the Rebbe’s lessons, which may also apply to me.

There is a recurring theme in the volumes of stories told of the Rebbe: The tale of the man who was in the right place at the right time.

There are the stories of someone embarking on a trip to some distant place, and the Rebbe gave him a book to take along, or asked him to do a certain thing there, or to meet a certain person. Or the Rebbe simply asked someone to go to a place, with little direction of what to do there.

And then, in these stories, it always works out that just at the right time the right person turns up in the right place and all the story unfolds. It’s all a matter of making connections: Every soul has certain sparks of light scattered throughout the world that relate to it in particular. The Rebbe sees the soul and senses, like a geiger counter, the sparks that await this soul. All that was needed is to bring the two within a reasonable proximity and the rest takes care of itself.

The stories are meant as a teaching as well. The Rebbe was revealing to us the wonder of our own lives, that there is purpose latent in whatever you are doing.

To extend the metaphor and express it as a question, is God still writing my story with purpose and intent in what I am doing today? Is it still possible for my life to draw others to God?

“A wise man changes his mind, a fool never”

-Spanish Proverb