If you drive north on 95 to Providence, you will see a 14/48 ft billboard on the left side of the highway (opposite the U-Haul building). Is it confusing? Does it challenge you to stop and wonder? This is one of the boldest and cleverest advertisements for a Jewish organization I have ever seen. If you follow the link it will take you to a very snazzy website about the Jewish Community Day School of Providence where my children attend. http://jcdsri.org/toojewish/ We may feel uncomfortable seeing a billboard that so publically displays Jewishness. Perhaps that is why so many American Jews avoid doing things that will appear “too Jewish.”
It all began when Head of School Adam Tilove was getting frustrated having the same conversation with parents every year: “Do you like the Jewish preschool for your kids?” I asked. “I love it!” he told me. “Are you going to send them to Jewish Day School?” I asked again. “No,” he told me, “too Jewish.”
“Too Jewish to do what, exactly?” asks Tilove. “What does it mean for someone or something to be TOO Jewish? What we are saying is that Jewish is awesome! Jewish means ethical, inquisitive, joy, creativity, and pride. How can you be too ethical? Too inquisitive? We want people to challenge their assumptions about what Jewish Day School can offer their children. We are doing it by facing the fear head on and turning our perceived weakness into our strength.”
I love this ad because it get’s literally right in your face and challenges you to check preconceived notions about what it means to be Jewish today. Perhaps the very reason that this billboard makes us uncomfortable is because it feels “too Jewish” for such a public display. We are not accustomed to putting ourselves out there like this from fear of anti-semitism and not wanting to stand out as being different. We are approaching the “Hap… Happiest time of the year!” when American Jews are reminded everywhere we turn that we are a minority and we are in fact different. Our grandparents and great-grandparents worked hard to fit in and become American so that they could survive and make a better life for their children. Judaism went from a rich and compelling way of life into a few visits to synagogue on the holidays. The majority of American Jews are aging and we are now below zero population growth. We can no longer afford to keep Jewish life hidden and disconnected from the greater world. We are charged with the task of being “a light unto the nations.” Judaism must have a message important enough that it inspires and heals everyone we interact with. How can we move beyond the narrow vision the previous generations. How can we rebuild our Jewish lives in a way that does not turn its back on our current reality. God challenges every one of us in every generation to remake Judaism in our image in our most ideal vision for society.
In light of this, I hope you will join me for the annual free “Evening of Jewish Renaissance” 7pm November 14th JCC @ 7pm. I will be leading a musical Havdalah to kick off a night of diverse learning opportunities, discussions, workshops, and interactive experiences that will expose you to the many facets of Jewish culture. I will be teaching a two-part series with Farmer Steve Sherman, who is working with TY students and adults on integrating Judaism and agriculture through work on our mitzvah garden. My session that night will be on “Animal Care in Jewish Tradition,” but don’t just come for my workshop! Check out authors such as Dion Nissenbaum of the Wall Street Journal and parenting expert Carla Naumberg, well-known Israeli innovators, Music, wine-tasting, Israeli martial arts, medical ethics, Jewish peoplehood, and much more. A complete listing of the 35 sessions and registration should be on the JCC website soon. Please don’t miss this opportunity to connect with the greater Jewish community and discover how “too Jewish” can actually sometimes be a really good thing!
Rabbi Aaron Philmus
Rabbi Aaron brings a traditional style and approach of prayer to the conservative synagogue. He has a background in ecology and Jewish education and teaches Torah through agriculture and wilderness skills, and plays guitar as a way to bring music to the synagogue. He’s a naturalist who believes that everything stems from nature, and he understands the plight of others who are less fortunate, and how to use the land to enrich ourselves.