Strengthening an ancient faith: Jewish groups experiment with new ideas

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 4 2013 9:22 a.m. MDT

In this Sept. 13, 2007 file photo, an Indian Jew blows a 'Shofar', a musical instrument used in Jewish religious ceremonies made from the horn of a Ram during the 'Tashlikh' ceremony during Rosh Hashanah, the two-day Jewish New Year that commences Wednesday at sundown.

Gautam Singh, Associated Press

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The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, commences Wednesday at sundown. At the birth of their new year, American Jews are working to buttress their congregations with innovations such as rethinking the bar mitzvah ceremony and offering financial incentives for Jewish families to relocate to the South.

A front-page article in Wednesday’s New York Times highlights a movement called the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution that aims to change the way Jewish families prepare their children for the bar or bat mitzvah coming-of-age ceremonies.

“Families have been treating this rite of passage not as an entry to Jewish life, but as a graduation ceremony: turn 13, read from the Torah, have a party and it’s over,” Laurie Goodstein reported for the Times. “Many leave synagogue until they have children of their own, and many never return at all — a cycle that Jewish leaders say has been undermining organized Judaism for generations. …

“Thirteen Reform congregations across the nation have volunteered to pilot the change, and an additional 67 are on the runway. Everything is on the table. … Parents will most likely be expected to play a larger role and emphasis will shift from prayer to social action.”

USA Today reported Wednesday that Jewish congregations in Southern states like Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana are providing financial incentives to Jewish families who actively practice their faith and are willing to move south.

“In some places, the effort is taking an unorthodox turn — and working,” USA Today’s Alison Bath wrote. “In Dothan, Ala. — a city of about 67,000 near the Florida border — one group offers as much as $50,000 to Jewish families willing to move to the town and stay at least five years. …

“Jewish groups in other cities such as New Orleans offer job and housing assistance, free or discounted synagogue memberships and other enticements to Jews willing to relocate to their cities.”

Email: jaskar@desnews.com

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