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Rabbi Fink wrote a piece on Keeping the Orthodox Orthodox. I encourage you to read the whole piece, but here is the snippet I want to discuss:

We have to make our actual Jewish experiences into positive experiences. That doesn’t mean we just give out candy whenever people are not enjoying themselves to distract them. I think the way to do this is by shifting our communal focus from knowledge and beliefs to rituals and experiences.

I want to tell you a bit about my community. It is a very small community with an orthodox rabbi. The vast majority of members are immigrants from the former Soviet states [we call all of them Russians] and do not know a lot about Judaism. Many of them use the services of the community (help with appointments, forms, medical advice, social services, etc), but very few ever show up in the synagogue.

The community tried to find activities to engage the people who never show up. And it worked. We have Russian literature readings, a chess club, piano concerts and events to honor the Russian war heroes. And these are well attended. I am sure these are positive experiences. But this does not translate to a minyan on Shabat or an interest in religion. And that is why the community will eventually vanish. I am sure R. Fink was not thinking of this type of experiences, but I want to point out the danger that lies in putting experience first and religion second.

So what is the solution? How can my community survive? Well, to be honest I think most German communities will die in the next 30 years. But for those that could survive I agree partly with R. Fink. We must create positive experiences, but Jewish religious experiences. Lively services. Enjoyable Shabat dinners. Communal holiday celebrations. But I think it is not enough to have experiences, there has to be an element of learning. This may be specific to communities like mine where there is no Jewish education to speak of. Knowing the structure of the service enhances the experience by a large factor. Discussing Torah can be fun and engaging and I cannot get it anywhere but in the community. Attending a dinner to mark a holiday is more meaningful than just spending a random evening with your friends (for which you wouldn’t need to pay membership fees).

When I leaf through the community newspaper I see very few things that speak to me. I am not looking for a Russian culture club or a neighbourhood tea party. I am interested in religion. I want to mark religious occasions. I want to discuss spiritual topics, the search for meaning, ethics, G-d. Just to have some company I can go to a sports club, choir, book club or any other place that has less Russians, less complicated application procedures and less fees.

I will probably have to say more about this topic, but this post is long enough. Basically, positive experiences YES, but with a connection to religion.

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