Forum for the Future: Pitching to Parents
by Sarah Lefton

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Age: 38

Profession: Founding Executive Director, G-dcast

Jewish Childhood & College Experiences: President of my Reform temple youth group; member of regional youth group board; URJ camper; religious school student at Tree of Life Congregation, Columbia, South Carolina. In fourth grade my teacher Ruth Bazerman (z”l) told us, “If you don’t learn something new every day—you’re dead!” She scared the daylights out of me—in a good way—and it may be why I’m so dedicated to learning above all else in my Jewish life.

Perspectives on Engaging 20s and 30s: These days my husband, our three-year-old son, and I live in San Francisco, and you’ll catch me regularly on Shabbat at two places. The first, the Mission Minyan, is comprised of a wonderfully weird group of people with different Jewish backgrounds and traditions from whom I’ve learned everything from French songs to Danish blessings to far-out Talmud insights to how to cook the perfect roasted chicken (in a cast-iron pan of course). And, although I don’t personally believe that an all-volunteer model is the optimal way to run a community, I seriously value that all of my learning happened organically, in people’s homes, and without dues or fees—although I gave plenty of sweat and the occasional kiddush sponsorship.

The second, the Kitchen, is a great new indie community bringing age and observance-diverse people together for Shabbat services, big communal meals, plus offbeat holiday gatherings. Services feature “Camp Kitchen” for the kids, with storytime and puppets and snacks, and it’s nice spending Shabbat with not only younger and older friends but also so many other parents of young children.

The bottom line, though, is that there isn’t a place where my husband and I can realistically daven and learn in a serious way at the same time. I know things get better when kids turn school-aged (Sunday school, camp, model seders, etc.), but right now I often feel isolated. Serious Jewish learning opportunities usually happen during dinner and bedtime hour, when I can’t leave the house. And it’s hard to bring our son to services because he really just wants to run and yell and play. We do it from time to time, but my husband and I end up playing tag team, one of us davening while the other chases the kiddo. It’s hard to connect spiritually when you’ve got one eye down the hallway wondering if your kid is pulling off his diaper.

There’s a missed opportunity for the “establishment” to create Jewish daycare centers, services with childcare for babies and tots, Torah study that happens online after the kids are in bed, and—I can’t resist saying—our own version of the over-the-top free church carnivals put on in the park for Easter! Plus, there’s a huge baby boom in San Francisco right now and not enough affordable preschool spaces for everyone—another opportunity!

As a serial entrepreneur, I believe in seizing opportunities (though right now, parenthood has a way of sucking the extra energy out of me). In 2006, for example, I started G-dcast—a fun, light, multimedia, online introduction to Torah—to give young adults like myself an easy way into Torah study. Surprisingly, it caught on with young kids and their congregational educators even more than with my peers. Now we create some videos for younger audiences and others for adults.

Are we in a Jewish renaissance? I’m not sure. Jewish culture has obviously had a bang-up 10 years, thanks to so many of my peers in the arts world putting out daring new Jewish music, writing, film, and ideas. In comparison to when I was 25, this age group has an embarrassment of riches—Birthright trips, huge singles-scene Shabbat onegs, Moishe Houses, etc. I also see an uptick of interest in spirituality and traditional davening as well as Jewish meditation, yoga, and travel. But each generation defines its own flavor. Our parents had chavurot, we have minyanim—both share the essential content of community, connection, and culture. What appears missing right now is a centralized conversation about global affairs, politics, and Israel. Our community today seems very polarized and living in its own pockets of politics, social concerns, and religious observance. There don’t seem to be many places where Jews of different stripes hang out. That said, history has a way of shaking us out of one world and into a new one. We’ll see how long this particular status quo lasts.

The essentials of Jewish life are fairly well established. We’ll keep arguing about the details and tweaking the trimmings, but as long as we keep learning, praying, doing mitzvot, and gathering in community, I think things will be just fine.

I do think we could get better at making parve desserts, though. There’s really nowhere to go but up.

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