Is the Future Someone Else’s Problem

by Rabbi Jacob Rupp September 23, 2017


Business people sitting at office desk, putting puzzle pieces together, finding solution, high angle view.

What should our experts do to ensure the future of the Jewish people?

What can we do to engage the youth, the teens, the millennials, the baby boomers, the elderly as they become increasingly disenfranchised with Judaism?

As we consider the challenges facing the Jewish people, many people ring their hands and ask what can be done, looking expectantly to the ‘Jewish professionals’ to do the work. The problem is—it’s not working. In history, there was never a class of ‘Jewish professionals’ who had some crystal ball to fix whatever problems faced us.

Let’s be clear; the Jewish people in every generation have always had the sages whose role it was to dedicate their lives to in-depth knowledge of the Torah. They could tell us what to do in a given situation, or what we needed to work on, but Jewish engagement, per se, wasn’t their issue.

And if there’s no historical precedent to Jewish professionals, was there ever such a thing as a ‘lay person?’ A Jewish person that didn’t have to lead? The joke of two Jews three opinions isn’t a joke at all–we are a fiercely independent people by nature, and all of us carry within a unique soul with a unique mission that demands us to become a master.

At the core of the “Jewish disengagement” issue, in my mind, is a lack of understanding of what leadership is from a Jewish sense, and as a result, the misunderstanding that even someone who isn’t a Jewish leader by title or profession is still called upon to lead.

Our great leaders and motivators were men and women of faith and fire, oftentimes ridiculed and laughed at while they were alive, hardly having any platform other than the ones they created for themselves. Even our great leader Moses was not universally loved; his message was too controversial, he was too powerful, too on fire that the people in his generation looked at him skeptically at times, and found plenty of fault with him.

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob didn’t have a cushy pension or a nice corner office. They worked on themselves and their relationship with G-d their entire lives, at times at the risk of their lives. That’s the legacy they left us; to toil. No app in the world will help you with this.

We suffer from the disengagement because we think there are ‘professionals’ out there to do the job for us. The bad news is that the professionals might know organizational skills, or modern techniques to scale–which might help grow a product, but it sure doesn’t create one. We can’t think of Judaism as something to scale. In each generation, in every person, it has to be created fresh.

As a coach, there is a fundamental concept that I tell clients and I tell myself. There is no shortage of tools to help people get to their goals. But if they don’t have goals, don’t have desires, aren’t willing to work, then there’s no place to start.

As a people, as we consider the massive problems (read opportunities) facing the Jewish people, it’s time to stop looking towards the leaders and start looking towards yourself. G-d promised the Jewish people would be eternal. No Holocaust or high rate of assimilation will change that. What issue calls to you as important? Is it education? Helping needy families? Israel?

It has to stop being about the issue, and start being about you. What does Judaism mean to YOU? Where can YOU find YOUR inspiration? Whose job is it to inspire you? And once you’ve found your answers (through much toil and energy) how can YOU spread it to your tribe?

This isn’t a message for the leaders or the people or anyone in between, other than me. I have changed my ideas so many times in my life. I’ve been inspired and not. I’ve thought I had the answers, then I didn’t. But as I get older, the thing I realize is that it’s okay to change. It’s okay to be immersed in the struggle instead of removed. The last thing I should do is teach topics I don’t find compelling. It’s okay if things don’t always flow.

What drives me crazy is the hand wringing of so many people in my many spheres of community that are concerned with the future while they themselves are detached from real fire in their own Jewish expression, however or whatever that might mean to them. If you find your fire, it will spread. If you don’t have your fire, in my estimation, you shouldn’t worry about anyone else–as we always must start with yourself.

Of course, this isn’t new–in Deuteronomy it says that real clairity only happens if you pursue it like you pursue great financial wealth–with a hunger and an understanding for its importance. And once you set yourself on fire with a desire to become spiritually “real and alive” you will find the world around you isn’t disengaged; they are engaged and inspired by you. A


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