The Boulder JCC recently received a grant from Roots and Branches, an initiative of Rose Community Foundation. The purpose of this grant is to create a lighthearted, innovative, friendly network of young Jews in Boulder who are interested in, and excited about, programming for the young, Jewish Boulder crowd. In order to accomplish this, I am having conversations with 100 young adult Jews in Boulder County over the next few months, to discuss what their background is and what they are looking for in terms of young Jewish adult programming.
What does Judaism mean to you? It seems like a simple question, however the range of responses I’ve gotten in these conversations has absolutely astounded me. To some it’s fostering a sense of community or acts as their moral barometer. Others would argue that Judaism is their driving force to continually learn and better themselves and the world around them. To others, it is their spiritual and religious guide to life. Still others just find Jews good people to grab a drink with. However during a recent conversation, the response I got to this question was fascinating and three-fold. That brings me to my topic of the week: Judaism has meaning for everyone; however Judaism can also hold many meanings for each individual person.
The first prong of the response was the historical and cultural value of Judaism. This referred to two aspects of our religion: the history and learning that many Jews experienced throughout childhood from their parents and at Hebrew School as well as the traditions, culture, and holidays we all celebrated together. I’ve found this to be the most prominent aspect of our religion among this demographic. Many people look back at their Jewish journey and immediately recall all of the holidays they celebrated with their families, going to Hebrew School and becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, and learning about the history of “our people.” I find this to be the lowest barrier of entry to Judaism. It’s what we grew up learning that recalls some of our fondest childhood memories. Who doesn’t have a great Chanukah present or Passover Afikomen story?
The second response he gave was the spiritual and esoteric value of Judaism. Having gone through a traumatic experience at a young age, as he got older, he found Judaism to be a vessel for his spirituality. I will be the first to admit that people living in Boulder do have a higher propensity towards the spiritual, but that does not always relate to religion. This is neither a good nor bad aspect of Judaism. For some people, spirituality comes via yoga, nature, meditation, or from a random personal experience. For others, their spirituality is manifested in Judaism. From the Renewal movement, to Humanistic Jews, to the Adventure Rabbi, there is ample opportunity for someone to have a heightened sense of enlightenment and spirituality, simply by being in Boulder. I am not saying that all Jews need to have a spiritual inclination, however many do and having spirituality come from a religion where you have already gained so much can be very rewarding.
Finally, he added that Judaism imparts a feeling of both present and future to his life. To clarify, he was excited about the present state of our religion and how it has become more adaptable and relevant in recent years. The future referred to his desire to pass on this religion, culture, and traditions to his future children. This is such an important aspect of Judaism that many people have split feelings about, especially in today’s age of interfaith marriages. Yet I would not hesitate to guess that every person who classifies themselves as a Jew has some, if not many memories of their great times with their family celebrating a Jewish holiday. Fostering a sense of family is one of the most beautiful parts of our religion in my eyes, and the Jewish values instilled in me at an early age have stuck with me throughout my life. I also found this to be intriguing as many people rediscover Judaism only upon having children and deciding to raise them in a Jewish manner. Most people of our generation can’t plan more than a few hours in advance, let alone deciding how to raise your children before you have any, but this conversation raised some important questions for me. Would there be a reason for me to not raise my children in a Jewish household? Is there a reason to not pass on the traditions and values that my parents passed on to me and that I hold so dearly? While I can’t say that I’ve thought about having kids much, I think it’s safe to say that the Jewish values, traditions, and way of life will be a top priority to teach to my children.
As always, if you are a Boulder Jew between the ages of 25-35, give me a shout. I would love to take you out for coffee and talk about where you came from, what you are looking for in terms of programming for this demographic, and how we can work together to achieve this. If you know someone that fits this age group, feel free to send them my information or shoot me a line with theirs. You can contact me at Michael@boulderjcc.org or at 720-583-5522.