As a child of Holocaust survivors and a first-generation American, I never had a problem accepting my Jewish identity. I spoke Yiddish with my family, went to Hebrew School and in September 1963 celebrated my bar mitzvah. In November, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I mourned his death by putting on a yarmulke while I did my homework. All these Jewish feelings — all mixed up.
That December, I went to our Jewish Community Center in Northeast Philadelphia for a Sunday hootenanny, an Appalachian term for a folk-music jam session, and “Hootenanny” also was the name of a popular weekly TV show featuring the greats of the American folk-music scene. I met some other Jewish kids there, whistled the part in “Michael Row The Boat Ashore” and made a friend who taught me guitar. All through my teens I played in bands, wrote songs, let my hair grow and forgot about my Jewish feelings.
But they came back in a rush when I got to Israel in early 1971, just a few years after Israel’s miraculous victory in the Six Day War. It was a time of great pride for Jews everywhere. One eye-opening experience led to another. My Jewish heart opened, and I decided to stay a while. I soon found a Jerusalem yeshiva for the newly observant, where my music and newfound Torah inspiration came together in a groundbreaking Jewish rock band.
I had mazal to grow up in the era I did. It’s not the world our kids are growing up in.
With their senses numbed by technology and instant experiences, seduced by permissiveness and a self-centered culture, there’s no room left for Jewish feelings, no need for Jewish history or Israel. Odds are very few will find their way there.
Years ago, as development director of new media programming for an online Torah website, it became apparent how easily younger age groups master technology. Millennials literally live in cyber space. The time is right to create a Jewish communal framework within which our kids can use their facility with the online and wireless world to discover their essential Jewish heritage.
Compared with just a few years ago, when putting this together would have cost many hundreds of thousands of dollars for soon-to-be-obsolete equipment, it wouldn’t take much money for a room, some partitions, a few computers, cameras and microphones, a little lighting and some production software. Encouragement is free! Kids with iPhones and iPads might be tomorrow’s Spielbergs, Jewish MTV-style VJs, Jewish Web-radio talent, Jewish sports announcers, Jewish online marketers, Jewish Web-portal masters or video editors, programming developers, scriptwriters, set builders or lighting techs for any number of Jewish teen-produced Web-TV or Web-radio shows. Maybe they’ll just have a great time doing something in a Jewish context that will stay with them. Let’s serve as their resources and mentors and watch and learn from what they do.
I had mazal. I became the Rockin’ Rabbi!
Rabbi Avraham Rosenblum is a Jewish recording artist and producer, and an educational programming consultant. He serves as a board member and programming adviser for Jews for Judaism. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org.