I have spent quite a bit of time reading through the new Reconstructing Judaism website. I listened to Reconstructionist Movement president Rabbi Deborah Waxman’s talk and read her JTA op-ed. My take? Sigh. Shrug.
So much time and energy were expended on this Reconstructionist rebranding. In the final analysis, “Recon” was retained but changed to a gerund, and an eco-friendly green leaf logo was revealed. That’s it. Nothing else has been changed. Nothing. Not the mission, not the vision. Explanations of what the movement is about are links to essays and articles written one and more years ago. Nothing current. Name change, but no game change. Yet another shallow endeavor. Yet again, an echo chamber — mostly — within the movement cheering on the effort as if it were somehow profoundly insightful and vitalizing.
I find it odd for our rebranding to have a logo of separated leaves and a motto that starts with “deeply rooted.” The historical Jewish symbol of the Tree of Life has leaves with conjoining branches, conjoining branches with a unifying trunk, a unifying trunk with grounding roots. The new logo, individual leaves of different sizes and hues but no connection, seems utterly rootless. It is as if the roots were cut off notwithstanding the mention elsewhere of texts and tradition. I also find it disappointing that the motto continues with “boldly relevant” when nowhere does the movement spell out relevant to what. Yes, there is some discussion of a meaningful life, but no deeper expression in Jewish terms.
By announcing the organizational name change from Reconstructionist Judaism to Reconstructing Judaism, the movement leadership openly admitted what it has been up to for some time: renouncing the premise of Mordecai Kaplan’s Reconstructionist venture. It is no longer about Judaism as the civilization of the Jewish People, the ever emergent interwoven spiritual-religious tapestry generated in every era by its diverse Jewish populations concerning matters of living, from language and food to culture, liturgy, sancta, literature and thought, to the whole dynamic of being a Jewish human connected to his or her People, the greater world and God. No, Reconstructing Judaism promotes people who identify in some way with “Jewish” amorphously to do Jewish.
Certainly, the Reconstructionist leadership is to be commended for recognizing the problems to Jewish life modernity raises. But serious, Godly solutions require a depth and breadth of purpose, an intellectual and spiritual integrity, a gravitas celebrating the dignity of being, leading to what Kaplan envisioned as “salvational behavior” beyond the personally idiosyncratic “doing Jewish.” The Reconstructionist movement now misses the mark.
Well, since hardly anyone is paying much attention, the rebranding is something of a nonevent. So, I sigh and I shrug, and I am sad.
Rabbi Jerry Seidler is spiritual leader of Adat Chaim, an Egalitarian Conservative synagogue, and a member of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association.