40 Things You Can Do to Save the Jewish People is a collection of strategies for parents who wish to create a Jewish life that will extend to their children’s lives.
Joel’s best-selling book on Jewish parenting provides insights, techniques and ideas on Jewish child rearing, along with a lot of great stories. This book has been a valuable resource for many Jewish families and an excellent programming resource for Jewish family education.
How Much Can I Get Away
With and Still Go to Heaven?
I am regularly heard to say, “I would give anything to weigh 168 pounds again.” The truth is, I wouldn’t and I haven’t.
In my life I have weighed over 230 pounds. Less than a year ago I weighed as little as 202 pounds. But, these days I am weighing around 212. There is a price to pay to lose weight. It means not eating. It means lots of discipline. It means taking my exercise program seriously. I care enough about my health and my appearance not to let myself get too fat, but all my desires to again wear a medium sweater, to have a flat stomach, and even to feel physically better aren’t yet enough motivation to let the skinny person inside me find the discipline to endure the suffering needed to wear away the fat. The truth is, like almost everyone else I know, I want it both ways. I want to be skinny and I want butter. I want to look like a hunk and I want to sleep in and not go to the gym. I want to lose the gain without the pain! That in essence is the meaning of a bumper sticker I saw the other day when I was down in Orange County: “HOW MUCH CAN YOU GET AWAY WITH AND STILL GO TO HEAVEN?”
My business partner, Alan, has one of those metabolisms which can bum anything. But even so, he doesn’t get as hungry as I do. In our daily game of “chicken,” where all of us try to see how long we can last before someone has to give in and suggest lunch—he outlasts me and Jane every day. Lunch doesn’t seem to matter to him. Then, no matter what he does eat, nothing sticks. I, on the other hand, have to deal with the constant balancing of my desire for food and my desire for hunkhood. In the end, I have to try for a compromise— because I can’t have it both ways. We are all playing “HOW MUCH
CAN YOU GET AWAY WITH AND STILL That is the essence of living in America. Jewish life here is very much the same.
Jewish life in America began with such a compromise, balancing the obligations of the Jewish tradition with the best route to economic success. The first Jews who came here left their synagogues and families and rabbis and communities behind in order to find freedom and wealth. It wasn’t that they were fleeing their Jewish obligations—it was just that they were responding to an immediate call rather than “answering to a higher authority.” It was a commitment to a new life now, Jewish life later. First they came and set up stores and peddling routes and businesses. Then, they sent for their families. Later, when they felt the need, first cemeteries, then B’nai Brith lodges, then synagogues and (much later) Jewish schools were established.
Our Jewish lives, too, are imprinted on those patterns. We struggle to live in both worlds, yet we share our ancestors’ sense of what comes first. First we pay the piper, then we blow shofar. While we know (when we are honest) that we can’t be in synagogue and at the play-off game at the same time, we still want it both ways. Ironically, there is a power in that ambivalence, a power which will be lost if we ever give up wanting to hear the shofar or be in synagogue. Our lives have been organized: peddling route first, then family, then the synagogue. As much as we all want our own “Jewish living” version of weighing 168 pounds, and as much as we talk about it, we are only going to give up so much. Each of us has our own point of compromise.
This is a book by a Jew who also wants it both ways—written for families who want it both ways, too. If we really wanted to raise Jewish kids—and if that was our only want—we would be much tougher on ourselves and on our kids. But that is not our only want—it is only one strong desire. This is a practical book about improving the odds. It is a collection of simple practical techniques which invite positive, fun, meaningful Jewishness to inhabit larger portions of our unrestricted American lives. It is a book about: “HOW MUCH CAN WE GET AWAY WITH AND STILL RAISE “JEWISH ENOUGH” CHILDREN WHO WILL IN TURN RAISE OTHER JEWISH CHILDREN?”
The Rabbis of the Talmud also drew on the wisdom of folk practice. In the Talmud, they sometimes used a problem-solving technique called Tze u’Lomed—”Go and study.” When they couldn’t reason out the right ritual practice, when logic and deductive Talmudic reasoning couldn’t do the job— they went out and examined the Jewish lives people were actually leading. Sometimes visionary idealism is the best path; sometimes, it is the wisdom of real life. As with many things, it is a question of balance. (The rabbis had a name for that, too, they called it Midah k’Neged Midah—literally, “Measure for Measure,” but for our purposes, “Equilibrium,” or “Proper Measure.”) The idea of Tze u ‘Lamed tells us that sometimes, the people do know best.
This is a Tze u’Lomed book. Very little of it came from my mind or my imagination. It is the story of my parents, their friends, my students, their parents, my friends, and their children—all the people I have gone and watched as they’ve struggled with the real problems of day-to-day Jewish living. Slowly, in my mind, over the past few years, often when I am driving late at night, I’ve been busy assembling a new Talmud for contemporary Jewish life. I call my imaginary project Talmud 2000. It is made up of conversations real and reconstructed—it is my own montage of truths and practices I’ve assimilated, reconstituted in a form that seeks to teach more than all of the original settings. Throughout this book, you’ll see excerpts from Talmud 2000, the Talmud of my imagination. Here, in this fantasy Jewish talk-show of my inner struggles, the wisest practitioners of day-to-day Judaism will share the best wisdom and insight, as we again try to repackage and balance Judaism so it can thrive through its next transformation.
Use this book for inspiration. Take the “40 Things” as examples, models, starting points—not a complete list or program. By the time you’re done reading, I’m convinced that you’ll be convinced that you could have formulated a better list. Go ahead and do it! That is the real purpose of this book—to be a starting point.