By Michelle Cohen
Rabbi Joel Seltzer, executive director of Camp Ramah in the Poconos, will tackle the topic of "Making Jews in 21st Century America" at a reception for Jewish Federation major donors on Oct. 6. The phrase “making Jews” might sound odd, but it gets at the central point of Seltzer’s talk.
The phrase comes from a piece he studied with members of the community this summer, by Rabbi David Moligner, z”l, who was the director of Camp Ramah of the Poconos in the 1960s and 1970s. He summed up the enterprise of Ramah with the simple phrase “Ramah makes Jews,” and now, Seltzer looks to the broader application of this phrase.
“What can we do as Jewish communities to make Jews?” he asked. “What are the experiences we need to be invested in and supporting, since they take these children of ours and turn them into Jewish leadership for the next generation? How do we take formative experiences like camp, day school and synagogue life and support them so that we’re building the next generation of Jewish life?”
Seltzer’s talk, three years after the PEW Institute for Research portrait of American Judaism sparked concern and pessimism due to the data displaying “erosion of people’s perception of their Judaism, synagogue affiliation and membership, and support of the state of Israel,” is trying to bring hope back into the conversation. “I think there are reasons to flip the conversation and focus on the positive things that are happening and then think about what are the takeaways for all of us,” he said.
“Now is the time for us as the Jewish community to redouble our efforts,” he added. “To find out elements of the Jewish community that are working, to share best practices from those programs and opportunities and go back to our home community and see what are these models of innovation that we’ve learned and how can we apply them in our community to hopefully get success.”
The reception will be presented to families who have made a minimum commitment of $5,000 to the 2017 Campaign for Jewish Needs. To learn more, visit www.jewishlehighvalley.org.