Jewish Megatrends: Charting the Course of the American Jewish Future
Visionary solutions to a community ripe for transformational change from fourteen leading innovators of Jewish life.
The American Jewish community is riddled with doubts about the viability of the institutions that well served the Jewish community of the twentieth century. Synagogues, federations and Jewish membership organizations have yet to figure out how to meet the changing interests and needs of the next generation.
In this challenging yet hopeful call for transformational change, Rabbi Sid Schwarz looks at the social norms that are shaping the habits and lifestyles of younger American Jews and why the next generation is so resistant to participation in the institutions of Jewish communal life as they currently exist. He sets out four guiding principles that can drive a renaissance in Jewish life and gives evidence of how, on the margins of the Jewish community, those principles are already generating enthusiasm and engagement from the very Millenials that the organized Jewish community has yet to engage.
Contributors—leading innovators from different sectors of the Jewish community—each use Rabbi Schwarz’s framework as a springboard to set forth their particular vision for the future of their sector of Jewish life and beyond.
This book is mandatory reading for anyone excited about the next chapter in the story of an ancient people.
Contributors to Jewish Megatrends
Rabbi Sharon Brous
Dr. Barry Chazan
Dr. David Ellenson
Rabbi Jill Jacobs
Rabbi Joy Levitt
Rabbi Asher Lopatin
Rabbi Or N. Rose
Dr. Jonathan Woocher
Purchase Jewish Megatrends.
Starred review in Publishers Weekly, February 11, 2013
“For American Jews in the immediate post–World War II era, the major concern was Jewish community, especially given high rates of intermarriage. Author Schwarz (Finding a Spiritual Home), a rabbi, consultant to synagogues and Jewish organizations, and something of an elder statesman within American Judaism, calls those preoccupied with assimilation and threats to Jewish survival ‘tribal Jews’. Younger Jews, dubbed ‘covenantal Jews,’ are generationally removed from the Holocaust and the founding of Israel. They are attracted to Jewish ethics and values, expressed in Jewish social justice organizations and activities in human rights, global peace, gender and LGBT equality. Schwarz, who continues to bring new ideas to the Jewish community, spells out in his introductory statement his ideas for what Jewish organizations need to attract covenantal Jews. Thirteen innovative American Jewish leaders wrote responsive essays. Schwarz concludes with his reactions and summary, calling his presentation ‘my prescription for a Jewish renaissance in America.’ This stimulating book is a thoughtful commentary on the present and future of the American Jewish community.”
Gary Rosenblatt on Jewish Megatrends, in Jewish Week
[Jewish Megatrends]… is a compelling overview of the stand-out successes and major challenges in confronting a generation many believe is moving away from its parents’ and grandparents’ ways of identifying Jewishly, and in charting a course for engaging it in ways it can relate to, authentically.
Rabbi Schwarz has the credentials for this effort. Besides his rabbinic duties, he is known nationally as a social and political activist, and founder of PANIM, a group he led for two decades that trained teens for leadership through Jewish education, values and social responsibility. He is also the author of two previous books, one exploring the key to successful synagogue models (Finding A Spiritual Home) and the other (Judaism and Justice) on the power of social justice in engaging young people.
Those themes form the core of Jewish Megatrends, in which Rabbi Schwarz identifies a growing polarization between what he describes as two types of Jews. One, like himself, he dubs “tribal Jews”; they identify strongly with Israel and worry about external and internal threats to Jewish continuity. The other he terms “covenantal Jews”; they are primarily made up of younger people who are less parochial, less concerned about group solidarity, and more interested in universal themes like justice and human dignity.
Rabbi Schwarz argues that the organized Jewish community, led by tribal Jews, is in effect driving away covenantal Jews by “drawing hard and fast lines on who does and who does not belong to the Jewish community.” He says “rabbis and the organized Jewish community are notoriously bad at understanding and validating” those whose Jewish identity is “soft and highly ambivalent,” but who can be engaged through programs that connect them to universal and liberal values stemming from their Jewish heritage. (Read More)
Other Praise for Jewish Megatrends
“Sid Schwarz, along with his colleagues, has provided us with another much needed lesson in understanding the American Jewish community and reaching our spirits. His work is charting a course for the synagogues and Jewish centers of the 21st century.”
– Rabbi David Wolpe, Sinai Temple, Los Angeles; Author, Why Faith Matters
“Jewish Megatrends challenges us to do much-needed big picture thinking about the nature of American Judaism today and what in our present is pointing us to a more hopeful and meaningful Jewish future. By gathering and challenging major American Jewish thinkers in one volume, Sid Schwarz has given us the gift of a critical conversation wrapped into one important book.”
– Dr. Erica Brown, Scholar-in-Residence at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington; Author, Happier Endings: Overcoming the Fear of Death (Simon and Schuster)
“Jewish Megatrends is spot-on in its analysis of the biggest changes in American Judaism. But it is more than an accurate description of the present; it is a moving, multi-vocal vision of what the Jewish community could be. Read this book to become informed, but more importantly, read it to become inspired to build the next vibrant chapter of Jewish life.”
– Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, Executive Director of Mechon Hadar; Author, Empowered Judaism: What Independent Minyanim Can Teach Us about Building Vibrant Jewish Communities (Jewish Lights).
“Sid Schwarz is willing to think outside the box and face difficult issues head-on. The faith we share in a creative Jewish future is due in large part to people like him and those visionaries he has gathered around him in these essays. Rabbis and other Jewish leaders should pay careful attention.”
– Arthur Green, Rector, Hebrew College Rabbinical School; Author, EHYEH: A Kabbalah for Tomorrow (Jewish Lights) and Radical Judaism (Yale University Press).
“Rabbi Sid Schwarz and his contributors to Jewish Megatrends paint a realistic and nuanced picture of the North American Jewish scene as it truly exists. With much to celebrate and much to cause concern, the reader will better appreciate the complexities of Jewish life when all Jews are Jews by choice. I congratulate them for their compelling book.”
– Charles R. Bronfman, Chairman, Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies
“A thoughtful work that challenges the traditional biases of decision makers in the Jewish community and empowers them to take risks and step into what could be a glorious future.”
– Rabbi Charles Simon, Executive Director, Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs; Author, Building a Successful Volunteer Culture (Jewish Lights).
“Rabbi Sid Schwarz has provided an invaluable framework for understanding the challenging dynamics of contemporary American Judaism. He not only describes our current situation but, along with an impressive array of experts, he provides a blueprint for the future that will inspire and motivate leaders of our community. Anyone who wants to see American Judaism thrive in the 21st Century should read this book!”
– Rabbi Marla Feldman, Executive Director, Women of Reform Judaism
“Taking into account thought-provoking trends about Jewish Gen X-ers and Millenials that range from alarming to reassuring, Sid Schwarz wisely and skillfully offers a multi-dimensional platform for reinvigorating the Jewish experiences and charts a course for a future of Jewish relevance.”
– Rabbi Will Berkovitz, Senior Vice-President, Repair the World
“In the twentieth century, the American Jewish Community responded to the enormous challenges of absorbing millions of immigrants, the destruction of European Jewry, the establishment of the State of Israel, and determining the role of Judaism in a modern, pluralistic, democratic society. In Jewish Megatrends, Schwarz and an impressive body of thought-leaders offer their perspective on the key challenges of the twenty-first century, as well as their insights on how the community can respond with intelligence and creativity.”
– Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block, Rabbi-in-Residence, Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice
“Sid Schwarz’s new book pushes us all out of our comfort zones, to recognize what works and to train today’s rabbis, educators and communal leaders to transform our respective institutions and create meaningful intellectual, spiritual and action opportunities for the young Jews who are waiting for these changes.”
– Ruth Messinger, President, American Jewish World Service
“A thought provoking, challenging and important book at this critical time of transition in Jewish life.”
– Rabbi Laura Geller Senior Rabbi of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills
“More than a decade ago, in Finding a Spiritual Home, Sid Schwarz changed the way we imagine synagogues. In this volume, Schwarz’s compelling 21st-century case for a Judaism of four key value propositions – wisdom, social justice, community, and sacred purpose – gains a fifth – honest conversation – through the voices of some of American Jewry’s most creative leaders.”
– Shawn Landres, co-founder, Jewish Jumpstart
“Rabbi Sid Schwarz offers an insightful and honest analysis of the current status of Jewish life in America. He provides specific ideas for how we must evolve as a community. He and the esteemed group of contributors he assembles offer innovative strategies for building a Jewish community so compelling that future generations will be inspired to connect.”
– Nancy Kaufman, CEO, National Council of Jewish Women
“There is today a renaissance of Jewish life in America taking place in non-traditional institutions such as Sixth & I, that are serving as laboratories for modern Jewish life. Jewish Megatrends brings these and many other exciting developments into a focus that provides a fuller understanding of where we are and where we can go. It is a must read anyone thinking about the future of American Jewish life.”
– Esther Safran Foer, Director, Sixth and I
“Sid Schwarz has offered us a roadmap to the unparalleled changes affecting the Jewish world today. By assembling some of the most forward thinking Jewish communal leaders we have, Jewish Megatrends uniquely lays out a new reality filled with challenges and opportunities that could not be more timely. After reading this book, one thing is for certain–the Jewish world of tomorrow cannot and will not look like the Jewish world of today.”
– David Bryfman, The Jewish Education Project and co-designer of the Jewish Futures Conferences
“A must-read book for anyone who cares about the future of the Jewish community. From diverse angles and experiences, the writers present a realistic, yet hopeful, view of how the Jewish world is changing and how those with leadership responsibilities in the community can respond.”
– Rabbi Laura Baum, OurJewishCommunity.org and Congregation Beth Adam, Loveland, OH
“Rabbi Sid Schwarz delivers an excellent and well thought out set of assumptions and combines them with some of the best thinkers and doers in the American Jewish community. I recommend his book to anyone searching to learn more about the major trends and direction of our Jewish community.”
– David Cygielman, Founder and CEO, Moishe Houses
“In this engaging and spirited collection of essays, some of the finest thinkers and practitioners in American Jewish life today address the prime question asked repeatedly by Jewish communal policy makers: How can younger American Jews become more deeply engaged in a serious, compelling, and sustainable way of Jewish life? These imaginative and original essays call for authenticity — a renewed focus on community, prayer, learning, social justice, Israel travel, and cultural participation as ends in themselves, rather than as mere instruments to some other end. To get the best results, just do the right thing.”
– Professor Steven M. Cohen, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and
Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU Wagner
“If you want to understand the here-and-now of the Jewish community in the 21st century, then read this book today. Some of the most important leaders and innovative thinkers in the American Jewish community share their historical analysis and current vision for ensuring a rich and diverse tapestry for Jewish continuity. Sid Schwarz helps us better understand the new narratives and urgent challenges of Jewish identity, engagement, and continuity.”
– Lori Weinstein, CEO and Executive Director, Jewish Women International
“Sid Schwarz has combined his remarkable institutional building experience, his extensive network of relationships with the best and the brightest in Jewish life, and his keen knowledge of the American religious landscape to produce a must read for those concerned with the genuine challenges of the next era in American Jewish life. Jewish Megatrends is neither apocalyptically despairing nor mindlessly naive – the twin weaknesses of contemporary writing on the Jewish future. Rather, this collection, framed insightfully and creatively by Schwarz, is sober and hopeful, realistic and idealistic, temperate and optimistic, pragmatic and visionary. This volume brims with the wisdom and confidence of an astute observer and innovative practitioner of Jewish life inviting readers to appreciate and even relish the opportunity of this moment in American Jewish history – that if we work hard, act authentically, and have faith we will indeed re-imagine a vital and vibrant Judaism for the 21st century.”
– Rabbi Irwin Kula, President, Clal: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership
“Jewish Megatrends collects some of today’s strongest Jewish voices in examining contemporary Jewish issues, particularly through the lens of “NextGen” engagement. The essays – ranging in topic from the emerging interests in social justice and food activism to the tension between “tribal” and “covenantal” Jews – presents some of today’s challenges as well as some of today’s most vibrant and creative initiatives. Schwarz’s essay-as-premise and its responses reflect a Jewish world that is recalibrating and transitioning rather than floundering, and testify to the wealth of options for today’s Jews to express Jewish identity and connect to core values, texts and tradition.”
– Esther D. Kustanowitz, Consultant, ROI Community of Jewish Innovators
“Sid Schwarz’s new book is a must read for those who seek to understand and harness the mega-changes reshaping the Jewish world.”
– Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President, Union for Reform Judaism
“The centerpiece of leadership is change. By definition, however, people resist change. True leadership is the ability to navigate this resistance and turn naysayers into an army of supporters. No one understands this betters that Rabbi Sid Schwarz, whose vision and drive has inspired many, across the Jewish denominations and beyond. In Jewish Megatrends, Rabbi Schwarz has gathered together an all-star cast of movers and shakers who have broken boundaries in their respective ways. Each contributes powerfully to a larger thesis that is important reading for all who take leadership seriously.”
– Rabbi Avraham (Avi) Weiss, Founder, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Yeshivat Maharat; Author, Spiritual Activism.
“Conventional wisdom claims that American Judaism is suffering an existential crisis with no end in sight as more and more young Jews opt out of Judaism. The powerful essays in Rabbi Sid Schwarz’s Jewish Megatrends counters this myth by providing a compelling and nuanced vision of what a meaningful Jewish future can look like and the change-agents that are working to realize this vision.”
– Rabbi Ari Weiss, Executive Director, Uri L’Tzedek
“Sid Schwarz brings together an inspiring cast of prophetic Jewish leaders to provide a tour de force through the transformative shifts taking place in American Jewry today. It is inspiring and empowering to witness such clear thinking and passionate visionaries working to transcend current paradigms and lead us into a bold renaissance in Jewish life. I find this work incredibly helpful for me as I forge my own path as a young Jewish leader, and I would encourage all committed Jewish professionals and lay leaders to absorb and process the vision in this book.
– Jakir Manela, Executive Director, Pearlstone Center, Baltimore, MD
“Rabbi Sid Schwarz throws down the gauntlet to Jewish community leaders seeking to engage the next generation in this perceptive book. Bravely, he invites thirteen of the brightest lights in the Jewish community to add their own frontline perspective and experience. The result: a thoughtful road map for the future of the Jewish people in North America based on wisdom, justice, community and purpose.
– Dr. Ron Wolfson, Fingerhut Professor of Education, American Jewish University; Co-founder, Synagogue 3000/Next Dor