When Did Jewish Communal Service Become the Marines?

I’m not sure at which meeting exactly this occurred, but during one or another Jewish organization meeting, my eyes were suddenly opened and a great insight was revealed. You see, when I entered the rabbinate, Jewish education and Jewish communal service, the language was pretty intuitive. We measured value based on goals, objectives and outcomes. Since I’m a Jewish educator, it’s obvious: measure success the way we measure any other educational success.

At the particular meeting in question, language that had begun to appear at the periphery of my professional life now completely replaced the old lexicon. The entire meeting seemed to reduce our holy work in the field to: “campaign”, “strategies”, “operations”, “tactical work” and “technical work”. It took me sometime–perhaps years from the introduction of these words until they completely took over–to fully grasp the importance of the change. Each of the new words that describe our field, our institutions and their work, are military words. We could just as easily have been in a meeting of the marine corps [not that I have anything against the marines].

That’s right, folks. When we engage in the meta-conversations about the work we do in our fields, while we talk a good game about working collaboratively, we have totally adopted the lashon, the language, of conflict and of warfare.

I don’t necessarily have an alternative to suggest. Not yet, anyways. But this is disturbing. What do you think?

2 responses

  1. Mike Greenberg | Reply

    While my experience is limited to that of a synagogue educator (Bar/Bat Mitzvah year), it seemingly is in response to the word that is being thrown around Jewish educational circles for the past few years – "decline."I wholeheartedly disagree with the use of that word – the correct word should be "refine." We are refining the way we educate our youth due to a variety of reasons – most prominently economics.People are watching their money much more carefully. It isn't that they don't "want" to send their children to day schools, belong to synagogues, etc – it's they cannot afford it. It goes for the other side too – synagogues cannot offer as many "financial" breaks as they had been doing in the past.


  2. Sara Shapiro-Plevan | Reply

    I find the language terrifying and not surprising evidence that the leadership of our community is out of step with the needs, interests and values of their constituency. In this generation, parents and children see Judaism as a religion of choice, not one over which we choose to do battle. We choose, we don't fight. The language used is a relic of organizational work and business in the 60's and 70's, when warfare was an active part of American life, or at least actively remembered by the great generation. Today, warfare is "over there" and even then is discussed in softer terms and new vocabulary. It is clear to me that we need a new language…refined as Mike stated, to include a generation who is now living Jewishly without the internal or external war that faced our parents and grandparents.


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