Laughter, Ritual, and the Pew Study

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To paraphrase the legendary Joni Mitchell, I have looked at the Pew Study results from both sides now. I can see how the disconnect with Jewish ritual can be disconcerting and I see how the community’s freedom to identify themselves openly as Jews is incredibly empowering. There’s been a lot of talk about how to interpret the study and where to go from here, but I wonder if we might already have the tools we need to bridge the gaps noted in the study, using some of the traits that the study said best identify the Jewish community.

Let’s take humor, for example. How can the Jewish community use humor to re-engage with ritual? Can the traditional rituals be redefined? Can we put fresh effort into creating new ones? What if we start small? What if we showed YouTube videos of parents trying to light the Shabbat candles and messing up the blessing? Blessing bloopers. Jewpers. Perhaps other Jewish parents may not be as nervous to take on some traditions if they were taught using humor and media. If Rachel Ray can make me believe I could make dinner in 30 minutes or less, I am pretty sure we could get parents to light a couple candles and just acknowledge Shabbat. We could expand this to other Jewish holidays. I mean, how many people take the time to sing all the verses of “Rock of Ages” at Chanukah? At some point, I just add in verses from the song “American Pie.” Let’s show each other it’s okay to enjoy ritual.

Please don’t misunderstand, I am all about kavod—but kavod means different things to different generations. And the Pew Study highlighted how important it is to speak to the different generations in their language. I am not saying a return to ritual may be for everyone, but for a lot of people, some playful cheerleading might help them be less self-conscious about exploring Jewish tradition and seeing what’s meaningful to them, where they might fit. If we, as a people, are more comfortable with humor, let’s use it to our advantage.

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