It was nice to be able to read a book about “doing Jewish” during the recent Jewish holiday period. Zack Bodner has put together his JCC programs for Judaism and bound them up with newer Jewish themes.
Even though I am old, I will try to be as fair to this book as I can.
I have written many acrostics through the years, but none as meaningful and exciting as Bodner’s. I will analyze a few of them, but some of his footnotes need revision, in my opinion.
As he shifts from asking “Why be Jewish?” to “Why do Jewish?” these are some questions Bodner asks: How does one live a more meaningful life? How might one feel more connected to others, to the world around us, to the past and the future? In an era when we can choose our own identities, why might we choose to identify as Jews?
After giving a compelling answer to that question, he goes on to explain what “Jewish Peoplehood” is and why he believes we are in the throes of an evolution to the next era: Jewish Peoplehood 4.0. He also provides a road map for how to be Jewish in the 21st century – which includes a proposal for “the next big Jewish idea!”
Insisting that taking action is what matters most, Bodner proposes a creative new framework for “doing Jewish” based on an acronym from the Yiddish word “tachlis” – which means “getting down to brass tacks.”
As he moves forward with TACHLIS, Bodner emphasizes how his Judaism made him proud of his heritage and that he enjoyed the non-Jews appreciating Jewish comedians, foods, movies and words – because they were “ours.”
However, he had to face limitations. “We couldn’t eat pepperoni pizza in the house; and my father wouldn’t let us own a German shepherd or a German car either,” he writes.
But his father was quite Jewish, as evidenced by the following limitation: “On certain days of the year, we couldn’t go to school because of Jewish holidays.”
Bodner then takes a big jump from citing limitations practiced by Orthodox Jews, creating a platform which we “do Jewish” Jews can reach. In his words, “Judaism has to be rooted in our values and be multi-layered, thoughtful and intentional. It has to reach us where we are and engage all Jews in a way that speaks to them.” He continues, “It has to offer many portals of entry and be accessible for everyone, no matter what their starting point. Finally, it has to be action-oriented, as Judaism is so much more fulfilling when one embraces ‘doing’ it.”
That’s it! Bodner offers each of us a challenge, contained in the acronym, TACHLIS. The “T” is for Tikkun Olam. We have to do all we can to help the poor and needy. We should be traveling to other countries, including Israel, to be educators, to help people learn what to do so they can construct their lives now for the future. He stresses that Jews “do” Tikkun Olam because Judaism calls on them to act in that manner.
“A,” he states, means “arts and culture.” So “food, music, literature, art, film, language, humor, and collective customs” make up a group’s culture, as do museums, JCCs and Jewish books (if people still read them.) Wonder who knows what the “Kuzari” (he mentions it) is and who wrote it! There are many other Jewish books, I believe, that make more of an impact. He argues that music and films “can form a sudden bond over a shared, sublime moment.”
Now he goes to “C.” “Community” is what we must search for – since it gives life meaning, can pull you up from the depths, being with others at camp creates a bond of its own. Bodner reminds his readers about the “Havurah Movement” where families prayed, ate, studied and enjoyed entertainment together. However, the “Havurah” could not keep itself together because there were those moved by it, but there were no extended and extending Jewish roots to raise the members up.
Bodner wisely quotes Micah Goodman, a philosopher from Israel, saying that “modern life in the Western world, which induces people to become increasingly preoccupied with themselves, hampers their ability to feel they belong to anything, and therefore, threatens their sense that their lives have meaning.” With Zoom, there is no need to pray together, no need to study together, no need to enjoy together.
“H” is for holidays and rituals. He makes sure his readers know that these are the backbone of Judaism, even including a Jewish calendar. Bodner is realistic. A member of JCC, he knew about the Holocaust but did not know there was a Holocaust Memorial Day. Non-traditional Jews know about Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Hanukkah and Passover. I think Purim should be included. Bodner notes that they know nothing about the other holidays of the year.
“L” is for learning. Bodner lists all kinds of ways to learn and now with Zoom, there are even more. Jews are supposed to be very educated - but today are they Jewishly educated?
“I” is for Israel and “S” is for Shabbat, the two concepts at the heart of being Jewish today.
As I see it, TACHLIS is Bodner’s 613 mitzvot in the fashion he suggests they should be. Bosner writes well and in an informative manner, with the hope that he will influence you, the reader. In any case, it’s a worthwhile read!
Why Do Jewish? A Manifesto for 21th Century Jewish PeoplehoodZack BodnerGefen Publishing, 2021241 pages, $18