Every day, as I walk into the office, I smile and think to myself that today will be a good day for the Jews. At the end of each day – after all the phone calls, meetings, emails and more meetings – I reflect that, indeed, it was a good day for the Jews.
As publisher of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, I read each edition of the newspaper before it goes to print. Two things struck me as I absorbed this first issue published in our new format.
First, what a difference the design’s crisp and clear layout makes! Second, how much Jewish angst exists as we ponder existential questions about our shuls, schools, the PEW report, etc.
Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that all of these challenges are actually indicative of the strength of our community – it all depends on whether you choose to view the glass as half-full or not.
Reading Samantha Banks’ page 1 guest column about why many young adults have turned away from traditional synagogue attendance and Ilana Belfer’s Emerging Gen column on page 3, I was inspired to learn that young adults yearn to connect Jewishly, if differently than their parents and grandparents. They are delighted that the Bulletin is going online so that they can join in the Jewish conversation and dialogue.
In reading about our synagogues, unquestionably, great change is happening and change is rarely easy. However, new models of religious engagement are connecting a younger demographic to Jewish life. Is the rapid pace of change taking place at synagogues daunting? Absolutely! At the same time, each and every member of the community has a historic opportunity to shape, change and help form our future.
PEW statistics about declining participation in Jewish life are certainly dispiriting. However, when I juxtapose these feelings with the pride and joy with which I took in the art work and Chanukah commentary from students who attend Jewish day schools, I am comforted and re-assured. These young people take great pride in the miracles of Chanukah and the miracle of the Jewish people.
Our challenge is to increase the number of consumers of Jewish education and Jewish life. Not a simple or easy task to be sure, but one which is clearly defined and we can all work on together. And one for which there is a successful precedence in our community with the powerful resurgence of Camp B’nai Brith of Ottawa, which Michael Polowin pointed out at the Federation’s panel discussion about the Pew report (see the article on page 5).
When I first read this edition, I must confess I was uneasy.
Part of me likes reading a Bulletin that focuses on the Jewish community’s finest accomplishments and celebrates key leadership. I enjoy hearing about all the good works and important projects that so many community members undertake.
My uneasiness stemmed from a feeling that this edition is different as it engages in an examination of some of the tremendous challenges that we as a people and community face. However, after some careful reflection, I realized that the fact that the inaugural edition of the new Ottawa Jewish Bulletin did make me react is actually a good thing.
Jewish life is about respectful discussion and debate. Jewish life ought to be about exploring new ideas and new approaches. Jewish life is about tackling important issues and meeting the challenges of today and preparing for future challenges.
At its core, Jewish life is and should always be interesting and inspiring. And, sometimes, interesting can be uncomfortable – it involves introspection, looking at areas for improvement and allowing for a diversity of opinions to participate in the conversation.
In print and online, we can now all take part in the discussion and debate and we all have a role to play in strengthening our community – ideas, opinions and actions go hand in hand.
When I leave the office today, I will once again think to myself that it was certainly an interesting day and it was also another good day for the Jews. Amazingly, tomorrow has the potential to be even better!
Andrea Freedman is president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.