Jewish life in America has thrived, particularly since the influx of Jewish immigrants in the late 19th century, has thrived and remains an important part of the American fabric. These large and established communities created all of the necessary
But as the world becomes more connected and fast-paced, our attention span lasts a mere millisecond before we’re off to the next thought or screen, and we prefer living vicariously through someone’s Instagram life more than through an envious protagonist in a good novel, maintaining close-knit communities becomes increasingly difficult. Part of the success of the Jewish people and of Jewish communities has historically been in the ability to connect to the people and the world around us while maintaining a distance and protecting the values and traditions important to us.
So the question is, how do you lead a Jewish life in America today? The fact that you’re interested in the subject and making a conscious effort to sustain Jewish continuity is a good start. Sometimes, it’s when you’re surrounded by people of other faiths and backgrounds that you’re most reminded of who you are and the importance of cultivating it. Here are 10 practical ways to lead a Jewish life in today’s America.
1.Join a synagogue
It doesn’t matter what denomination you are. Orthodox, conservative, reform, reconstructionist or none of these. Choose a synagogue in your area and become a member. It’s like paying to join a gym – when you do, you’re more likely to go and be present. Whether you choose to go on
2. Send your kids to a Jewish day-school
Leading a Jewish life in America isn’t only about what you do, ultimately and most importantly it’s about what you choose to teach and pass down to your children that
3. If you can’t do #2, send your children to Hebrew school
Not every parent can send their child to a Jewish Day School. Thankfully it’s not the only option out there for exposing your children to a Jewish education. Hebrew school often provided through the synagogue communities is a chance for your kids to learn about Jewish laws, traditions and holidays as well as learn to speak Hebrew once a week and feel connected to a Jewish community.
4. Send your kids to Jewish summer camp
Imagine your kids spending an entire month away from home in a positive environment without digital distractions where they get to just be a kid and enjoy. Then imagine that in that positive and enclosed environment there are Jewish kids from all over there to enjoy their summer too, and Jewish counselors and a Rabbi or two from different communities and some Israeli counselors too. That’s the perfect setting for your child to be exposed to Jewish people, learn about Judaism and Zionism and connect to their Jewish identity while having fun.
The saying goes, for every
6. Encourage your kids to take part in a youth group
Jewish youth groups are a powerful way to help your kids connect to their Jewish identity and also a very practical way to expose them to other like-minded Jewish kids. In the context of these youth groups, they’ll learn a lot about Israel and strongly advocate for this special country. They’ll also learn about
7. Maintain tradition
In order to mindfully lead a Jewish life in America, being a Jew needs to be front of mind – often. One of the ways to go about that is to maintain traditions. This connects you and your family to a Jewish identity through fond memories and repeats experiences as a family. Jews are hard wired to pass lessons and traditions down from generation to generation. If a holiday tradition was a staple in your household, you want these traditions to become just as familiar and comforting to your children as they are for you. You don’t have to wait until the holidays come around either. Have a Friday night dinner with your family every Friday. Light candles and say the Kiddush prayer over the wine. It’s this repeat experience that encourages time together as a family and brings your Jewish side to the forefront once a week that is possibly the best way to lead a Jewish life. For more on maintaining traditions, check out What Your Children Must Know About the Jewish Holidays.
8. Surround yourself with a Jew or two
The most practical way to keep your Jewish identity alive is to surround yourself with friends that are also Jewish. It doesn’t mean you actually have to do “Jewish” things together. The mere fact that you’re with them means you’re cultivating that important sense of community that defines the Jewish people. It brings you closer to your Jewish side rather than distancing you from it – which can naturally happen when you’re not surrounded by Jewish people, holidays or traditions for a long time.
9. Connect to Israel
Part of leading a Jewish life in America is actually connecting to Israel and understanding your Jewish identity through the lens of the importance of this country for you. Some Jewish Americans connect to Israel because it’s a Jewish country for the Jewish people. Others connect based on a cultural or historical perspective. Whatever it is, not only connecting to Israel but also understanding the importance of this country for the Jewish people and advocating for it in your circles is a critical part in leading a Jewish life in America. The best way to do that is to take a trip to Israel.
10. Connect to your roots – see where you came from
We all come from somewhere and seeing the history behind the Jewish communities in different countries helps bring that idea to life. There are interesting Jewish communities everywhere in the world. And you may gravitate to first exploring your roots and where your family came from. It’s when you have a better sense of your Jewish past that you can proudly connect to your identity and use that strength to lead a Jewish life back at home.
Leading a Jewish life in America can be a challenge. In today’s
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