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21st-Century Judaism – An Action Plan
First off, every Jew gets a T-shirt. That’s a gimme. Every Jew – from the last Yid still in Ethiopia to the biggest hedge-fund trader on Wall Street. T-shirts solidify community. They tell the world that “we are one.”

The drop in the world Jewish population is both a plus and a minus in this campaign to bring T-shirts to every Jew. On the one hand, the economies of scale on such a giveaway are not as good as they would have been before the Holocaust, Stalin’s purges, and rampant assimilation. On the other hand, this disadvantage is offset by today’s lower delivery costs.

T-shirts are merely the skin of 21st century Judaism. There is also the inner Jew to consider. We know from our high holiday liturgy that tefilah, teshuvah and tzedakah – prayer, repentance and charity – can avert the severity of the Divine decree. We don’t know what that means, but it is an imperative that people will take seriously if they know there’s a prize at the end.

Action Step 1: Tefilah (Attendance)
Everyone who comes to synagogue for services walks out with a goody bag – small plastic toys, a Pez dispenser, pencils, candy and other chazzerei from the Dollar Store. Synagogue regulars, those who attend, say, 10 times a year, will be invited to a special kiddush where they’ll be treated to a McDonald’s Happy Meal.

Action Step 2: Teshuvah (Action)
Each month, every congregant will commit in writing to how many mitzvot they plan to perform. As they perform these religious commandments they note them on a check-off sheet. At the end of the month they turn the sheet in to the synagogue. Those who have met their goal will receive a certificate for a free Pizza Hut personal pan pizza.

Action Step 3: Tzedakah (Money)
Anyone who writes a check, say, six times a year, will be invited to a free screening of the latest DreamWorks animation on a special movie night. Associating acts of charity with DreamWorks co-founder Steven Spielberg – director of "Schindler’s List" and the force behind the Holocaust Oral History Project and the Shoah Foundation – will encourage larger acts as the individual Jew comes to think that he or she could be another Spielberg, or Schindler.


Now some might say that a $10 donation isn't as important as a $1 million donation. That’s a fair argument. So to encourage bigger numbers, synagogues should adopt the “PBS Paradigm.” Tzedakah of at least $72 makes the donor eligible to receive a tote bag; $360 would qualify you for a coffee mug – one that says “Don’t Know Why You Feel Guilty” or  “Yiddisha Cup” or “Jewcy.” Your choice. A gift of $1,000 or more entitles the donor to a copy of Mandy Patinkin’s beloved CD, Mamaloshen.

 

Synagogue regulars will be honored with a McDonald's Happy Meal.


Toward a Broad-based Strategy Targeting Budget Challenges
Even if successful in bringing Jews closer to their heritage, these action steps will not solve the greatest problem facing synagogues today: The need for more money. Fortunately, public schools already provide a proven model that congregations can readily emulate: corporate partnerships.

Consider:

The long-established Jewish custom of accompanying each religious action with the eating of food provides an untapped opportunity for savvy companies. Vending machines for snacks and drinks have brought schools as much as $100,000 a year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures' Health Policy Tracking Service. Imagine what they could do for Temple Emanu-El or Congregation Beth Shalom.

A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that of the snack foods sold in school vending machines, candy (42 percent), chips (25 percent) and sweet baked goods (13 percent) accounted for 80 percent of the options. Of 9,723 snack slots in all the vending machines surveyed, only 26 slots contained fruits or vegetables.

On balance, this menu is healthier than the average kiddush spread which, while it has a higher percentage of sweet baked goods, is not balanced by the presence of fruits or vegetables, which generally aren’t eaten.
 

 

Synagogue gift shops provide the perfect location for the kind of convenience store that Westside High School in Omaha set up. Through its exclusive beverage deal with Pepsi, the school has brought in more than $800,000 over seven years. Imagine what the sisterhood could do with that kind of money


Corporations can also fill another need by providing free classroom materials. Maxwell House pioneered this religio-commercial partnership years ago with its time-honored (and free) Haggadot. This marketing idea was so successful that, in many Jewish families, the idea of switching to a Haggadah that you have to pay for and which uses English that people can actually understand amounts to apostasy.

Now it’s time to stretch the religious school education director’s budget by introducing Proctor & Gamble’s "Changing," an educational booklet which teaches girls how to use Always brand sanitary pads. The booklet would certainly be useful in a unit about niddah, or the menstrual cycle. A lesson on Israel would come to life with the screening of a Hershey Foods video called “The Chocolate Dream Machine,” that teaches vocabulary and geography while making product references and showing how chocolate is made.

These are necessary steps to ensure a viable Jewish future, and should be taken in great haste. Who, after all, doesn’t love Israel? Or chocolate?


Copyright © 2007 by David Holzel


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