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Rabbi Denise Eger Headshot

Kitsch Judaism

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Far be it for me to be a Scrooge-like person and say "Bah Humbug." But I have to say, I don't really like this increasing trend of kitsch Judaism. Somehow everywhere I turn these days someone is trying to attract Jews to Judaism by irreverent, or seemingly humorous and even obnoxious ideas. These have somehow become the new normal. From menurkies that one lights on this once in lifetime confluence of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving (including the ridiculous Thanksgivingukkah -- how do you even pronounce it?) to the top Sexy Rabbis list, to names of worship services like Shabbat Dabba Dabba, I am troubled that the beauty and solemnity of our tradition is being reduced to a joke.

Believe me, I am no stuffed shirt. I crack jokes all the time and I believe that Judaism should be warm, loving, inclusive, inspiring, diverse, hopeful and, at times, fun! I also think that there are many self-righteous religious people who can't smile, so full of themselves, or even catch the puns in the Bible. I am not one of them.

But I do wonder if we have crossed a line in demeaning the sacred, holy nature of our Jewish holidays and our disregard for the unique treasures of Judaism if everything is watered down to some kitschy expression of Jewish life.

Humor definitely has a place at the table. And most of all we should be able to laugh at ourselves. But of late kitschy Judaism is a constant diet of how we present Jewish ideas, Jewish thought, Jewish life. Where is the room for a thoughtful, meaningful, joyful Judaism that has respect and honor for our traditions even as they are evolving? Where is the respect and honor for rabbis who work so hard to bring engagement and prophetic ideals to the Jewish people? Not Just the top 50. Or the sexiest.

Where is the self-respect of Jews who maybe don't know every little detail of the Shulchan Aruch but are open to creating a meaningful expression of Judaism for our times?

They say laughter is the best medicine. But laughter is only part of the prescription. You need knowledge, spiritual exercise, ritual practice, learning, singing, and yes Jewish penicillin. But there is so much more. Laugh yes, but let's also include some learning and focus on the way our Jewish heritage, ethics and values teach us to hold our heads up and seek the holy in all life. This is a sacred a special journey! Perhaps we could treasure it more.