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President's Column by President Jay Hirsh

How Will You Participate In Creating a Vibrant Jewish Community?

Unlike my grandparents, or even my parents, I’ve had choices about what synagogue to join, and even whether to affiliate at all. Over the years, my wife Sandy and I observed holidays at home and joined synagogues in Santa Monica and Tucson. When we joined Beth Am in 2001, my family was engaged in Judaism, but mostly for participating in activities designed for short-term personal enjoyment. I would enjoy attending the Purim carnival with my children, building a sukkah, picking out latke recipes at Chanukah, and leading our extended family’s Passover seder. More recently, I’ve become more reflective about the meaning of my Jewish heritage and how this has shaped my ethics and anchored my sense of social justice.
 In seeking inspiration, I recently read the book Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life — in Judaism by Sarah Hurwitz. Hurwitz served as head speechwriter for First Lady Michelle Obama, a senior speechwriter for President Barack Obama, and chief speechwriter for Hillary Clinton on her 2008 presidential campaign. While she is neither a rabbi nor a Jewish academic, she chronicles her own engagement efforts to understand and participate in Judaism through consultation with rabbis and Jewish academics. Her journey gave her fresh insights about what it will take to remove perceived barriers to Jewish community engagement:

  • Address the basic lack of Jewish literacy. Even learning the basics can be a serious challenge. We need to support people as they push through feelings of intimidation and embarrassment.
  • Create an environment for approaching Judaism with curiosity, openness and persistence. Questioning, debating and interpreting have always been a part of Judaism, and this is a strength.
  • Embrace that there is no one right way to be Jewish.
  • Recognize and support that figuring out how to be Jewish is a lifelong process.
  • “Do Judaism” meaningfully by finding opportunities to understand the Jewish thinking and traditions behind Jewish experiences.

I believe that Beth Am and the Reform movement can, and do, attempt to address these aspects of practicing Judaism. As we look beyond the pandemic, and toward the future of our synagogue, how will you participate in creating a vibrant Jewish community? Please share your thoughts with me at


Sat, May 15 2021 4 Sivan 5781