The Biscayne Times

Aug 17th
Aventura’s Jews Are a Cultural Mix PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jay Beskin, BT Contributor   
June 2017

So why is Orthodoxy on the rise?

IPix_JayBeskin_6-17t occurs to me that Jewish communal life works exactly the opposite of Social Security or Medicare. Those government entitlements work by taking money from young working people in the form of taxes and using it to take care of old people, who are presumed to need assistance.

What keeps the young folk buying in to this lopsided arrangement is the prospect that one day, however far off in the distance, they too will grow old and retire. When that happens, the system will finally operate for their benefit.

In religious communities, everything seems to be built the other way round. Young people, starting out, do not have extra money on hand for philanthropy. It becomes difficult for them to afford synagogue membership, much less private religious schooling for their youngsters.

The solution is: the old people give from their savings. These pensioners nearing the end of their lives have already raised their children and don’t have high expenses, once their medical needs have been met by the government. They’re thinking about giving back to the community, and they worry about the young people. How will they study about their heritage? How will they learn to value the treasures of ethics, culture, and wisdom handed them by prior generations?

And so the same old folks, whose medicines and retirements are being paid by the younger workers, turn around and donate money to the temples and parochial schools. Is that irony? Or is that symmetry? Hard to say. I can see some readers coming down on one side and some on the other. Maybe the older readers get more of a kick out of it.

This leads me to a series of observations about Jewish religious life in the country at large, and in Aventura in particular. There was no scientific process involved in creating the population breakdown of Aventura, and even less in picking the sorts of Jews who gravitated here to provide a significant slice of the local population.

Yet my intuition tells me that somehow we’ve captured a perfect cross section of the Jews in America. Just as test marketers for new products try them out on the residents of Columbus, Ohio, and Peoria, Illinois, under the premise that they represent microcosms of the American citizenry at large, I see in Aventura the American Jewish world reproduced in miniature.

Here we have Jews of every religious denomination, every age group, every country of origin, and almost every socioeconomic class outside of the very poor. When you greet a Jew on the streets of Aventura, there is as much chance he’ll tell you he’s from Buenos Aires as Brooklyn. By whatever evolutionary process, we seem to have captured all the colors of the spectrum. And I cannot help but wonder if examining our little slice may give us an insight into the elusive future that everyone, from sociologists to charitable organizations, is trying to predict.

Looking around our little burg has convinced me of a shocking conclusion. Well, perhaps, not a fully baked conclusion, but definitely a hunch. Namely, that almost a quarter of a millennium into the experiment known as the United States of America, the advantage goes to the Orthodox.

Yes, we have two Conservative synagogues and a Reform temple. And yes, they do have some young members with children in youth groups and day schools, but every newly opened Jewish place of worship seems to be Orthodox. They may be Sephardic (Spanish and East African descent) or Ashkenazic (European descent), and some may add the word “modern” to modify the Orthodox denomination, but there does seem to be a definite trend, with the Chabad on NE 185th Street the newest addition.

It would be difficult to overstate just how startling a proposition this is for a person like me, who grew up Reform in Chicago some six decades ago. At that time, the Orthodox were viewed as old-fashioned and going quickly out of style. A lot of the members in Conservative and Reform congregations told tales of growing up Orthodox, but leaving it in search of relevance. A trend watcher then might have been forgiven for assuming the decline of Orthodoxy was irreversible.

Certainly the children thought so. Orthodox kids waited anxiously until they could reach the age and courage level to stalk out the door. Conservative and Reform kids looked upon their Orthodox peers as an anachronistic curiosity, the guys who were on their way out the door, but who had not yet gotten the memo.

If we were asked at that time whether Orthodox synagogues, much less Orthodox schools, would exist 60 years later, we might well have predicted their total disappearance from this country. Perhaps some cloistered enclave in Israel might survive as a curiosity, a social museum piece. But surely our rapidly modernizing United States would leave these outdated practitioners well behind.

Not so any longer. They have not only caught up, they seem to maintain an edge. What happened? What is happening?

Mind you, I still meet the occasional person who’s rejected the Orthodox upbringing and moved to the less exacting denominations. But for every one of those, I meet five or six going the opposite direction. It seems worth studying this trend, and seeing if will be short-lived, just as the trend from my youth of people headed for the exits has tapered off.

I’m no sociologist, but I do like to ask my friends what they think of this phenomenon. Some see it as an escape from the outside society, which is veering off in unfamiliar directions. If gay marriage and transgender bathrooms seem “off” in some way, and you’ve given up on trying to change the culture, you might want to find a comfortable pocket of likeminded people. Others say the larger society is not troubling to them, but that the very openness to different modes of living is inspiring them to search for their own religious identities.

As for Aventura itself, the one type we haven’t attracted is the radical separatist, the guy who wants to don some outlandish garb to tell the world to peddle its cultural wares elsewhere. Everyone here is respectful of everyone else, and it is terribly important to me that we preserve that mutual regard. Let us value our beliefs and practices while respecting the beliefs and practices of our neighbors.

This is why Aventura attracted all kinds in the first place. You are welcome to worship here, my friend, where la vida is always una aventura.


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