You Shall Pursue

January 20, 2013

Reconstructionism Part 6: Reconstructing in the 21st Century

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — marleyweiner @ 2:23 pm

The whole point of being a Reconstructionist is that I am committed to continually re-inventing (or reconstructing) what it means to be Jewish. I think that, due to its commitment to embracing an evolving Jewish culture, Reconstructionism is uniquely poised to fill a growing niche in the Jewish community; that of young, diverse, thoughtful Jews who are looking for a Judaism that blends tradition with a commitment to creativity and an investment in the broader American project. While my last five posts were pretty heavily theory focused, in this post I’d like to take a look at the concrete actions that the Reconstructionist movement is undertaking and should continue to undertake to move us into the twenty-first century.

A hugely important part of Reconstructionism today is the creation of new rituals. Our lives today are markedly different than they were half a century ago, and we as Jews need to evolve new rituals and liturgy to acknowledge many of the diverse new experiences that a Jew may undergo during his or her lifetime. The Ritualwell website run by the Reconstructionist movement is a compendium of texts and scripts for undertaking new rituals, such as gender transition or gaining citizenship, as well as new takes on old rituals, such as marriage rituals for same-sex couples or prayers for adopted children. These rituals can serve as a tool for any Jewish person to mark the changes of their lives in creative, Jewish, and life-affirming ways (and you don’t need a rabbi to perform most of them!).

Another is evaluating how Reconstructionism can enter Jewish conversation in a louder and more public way. Reconstructionism has been a small movement for a long time. I think that this is due, in large part, for the tendency for Reconstructionist thinking to be subtle, complicated, and time consuming (and sometimes obtuse). We are not a movement that can me summed up in a few sentences (heck, I don’t believe I’ve done a thorough job of summing us up in six blog posts!) and that can be difficult when trying to explain the movement to people unfamiliar with Reconstructionism. The question I get asked most often is “Are you closer to Reform or Conservative?” which is not a question that has an easy answer, given our complicated relationship with Jewish Law combined with EXTREMELY liberal politics.

As a member of the Reconstructionist movement, I want to see us out there in the blogosphere, writing, advocating, and generally making our voices heard. I want Ritualwell to become as much a go-to resource as chabad.org for liberal Jews looking for resources and information. I want the movement to have funny t-shirts based on the sayings of prominent Reconstructionist thinkers. I want us to have a youtube video that goes viral. Part of that is creating the resources, and part of that is just continually disseminating those resources in our communities. While traditionally we have sacrificed accessibility for subtlety of thought, I think that it is time for us to try both tactics, which is why I include short links as well as longer, more in-depth posts on this blog. I want to make sure that we have introductory resources that are easy to digest, so that people can dip their toes in before jumping into the deep end.

And last, Reconstructionism must continue to be on the vanguard of social justice commitments in Jewish spaces and in the wider world. The Jewish community is ever more racially diverse, and we as Reconstructionists must lead the fight against racism in the Jewish community. After all, if history teaches us anything, it teaches that white and Ashkenazi has never been the only way to do Judaism. We must continue to fight for gay and lesbian rights, not only to marry, but also against discrimination in schools and in the work force. We must begin to build safe and welcoming communities for trans* and genderqueer Jews, ensuring that they have a safe space to be supported ritually and socially, while fighting against the staggering discrimination against this group in broader American society. And we must honor the oldest charge of the Torah, and fight hard for the poor, the powerless, and the stranger in our camps, from immigrant justice to the rights of domestic laborers to welfare reform that actually helps those on welfare to access the services they need.

As a religious person, it saddens me to no end how many progressive voices call out religious people as turning their backs on the disenfranchised. As liberal religious people, it is important for us to do our work not only as part of religious coalitions (and interfaith work is hugely important) but also within secular networks with similar goals. Our presence as religious people with a progressive agenda allied with secular activists has the potential to provide a different, and more palatable vision of what it means to be religious to those who share our goals.

We as a movement have so many good things to say. The more that we are able to raise our voices in unexpected places, the more we will be able to share our message.

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