by Lawrence Bush

Window pingWOKE UP THIS MORNING, as the blues songs say, with a rambling mind. And despite the frost on the ground, my thoughts were optimistic. So I fired up the computer, and here goes:

 

THOUGHT ONE: There’s a future for liberal Jewish life after all.

Just as Jewish Orthodoxy broke down and fed Jewish secularism and Jewish radical movements a century ago, so could modern Jewish Orthodoxy become a feeder for the renewal of American Jewish identity in the years to come.

The 2013 Pew survey on Jewish identity indicated a disturbing decline in Jewish observance and identity-fervor among American Jews (see Rabbi Richard Hirsh’s analysis in Jewish Currents by clicking here), set against a growing strength for Orthodox Judaism. Yet the Pew poll also indicated that fewer than half of Jews raised in Orthodox homes over the past half century have remained Orthodox. Granted, those who left in droves were predominantly baby boomers, who were drawn, at least in part, by the liberation movements and social tumult of the 1960s and ’70s. In contrast, 83 percent of Orthodox respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 today still identify as Orthodox. There is no reason to believe, however, that there will not be future waves of Orthodox desertion that will expand that number beyond 17 percent. At least some of these refugees from Orthodoxy will become leaders, resource people, and sources of renewal and innovation for secular and liberal religious Jewish communities. (We’ve only recently published a book by one such refugee, Susan Reimer-Torn’s Maybe Not Such a Good Girl.)

 

THOUGHT TWO: A shopping mall could become a forest. A parking lot could become a meadow.

The growing dominance of on-line shopping could result in the expansion of American green space.

In 2007, a year before the financial meltdown, no new shopping malls were built in our country, for the first time in half a century. A mall that opened in 2012 in Salt Lake City was, in fact, the first new one created since the recession began. Experts are predicting that some 15 percent of America’s 1,300-odd full-size shopping malls will go out of business within the next decade, and as many as 50 percent of them within twenty years. What is to be done with all that shopping mall real estate once Amazon.com has taken over the world? Writes Stephanie Clifford in the New York Times: “Designers in Buffalo have proposed stripping down a mall to its foundation and reinventing it as housing, while an aspiring architect in Detroit has proposed turning a mall’s parking lot there into a community farm. Columbus, Ohio, arguing that it was too expensive to maintain an empty mall on prime real estate, dismantled its City Center mall and replaced it with a park…  Even at many malls that continue to thrive, developers are redesigning them as town squares — adding elements like dog parks and putting greens [golf], creating street grids that go through the malls, and restoring natural elements like creeks that were originally paved over.”

The vision of the original mall developer, Victor Gruen — a Jewish socialist from Vienna — was of a planned suburban community, with housing, shopping, medical facilities, parkland, and so on. It seems time for local governments to begin to address what is to be done with the decaying malls at the edge of town — and for environmentalists to begin proposing green uses for all that real estate. (With lots of park benches, so that the unemployed workers from defunct shopping malls have a place to sleep… no, wait, I said “optimistic.”)

 

THOUGHT THREE: Yikes, it’s gonna be dark before 5:00.

While it’s going to get dark early tonight, in only seven weeks, just as Winter gets underway, the days are going to start getting longer, with a couple more minutes of daylight per day. Which means the Earth is still spinning around the Sun, all in its proper place.

Spread the light, gang.

 

Lawrence Bush edits Jewish Currents and Jewdayo.