"God said to Abram, Lech lecha ("Get yourself up and go") from your native land and from your father's house to the land that I will show you … and you will be a blessing … ."
The particular challenges and opportunities facing Jewish men today resonate with the most ancient of Jewish callings, but the lech lecha of today requires a road map that is informed by the past, not limited by it. Some of us may have been handed the richness of our faith with its customs, rituals and insights, and so can add our life stories to that of Avraham.
However, for many Jewish men today, this is not a given. We may have received little from our parents, or were antagonistic to what we experienced. Some Jewish men have been involved in secular men's groups but have stayed out of touch with their Jewish identity. Others are well-grounded in Jewish life, but have never explored being in a group of men, or have few or superficial relationships with other men. Still, others have had neither or very little of both.
A key to understanding the movement toward new forms of expression for spirituality and identity is to decide on what draws us together. For many, it is the opportunity – structured or informal – for deep sharing with other men and deepening the connection to Judaism.
For many who've been active in the secular men's scene, there is often a lack of connection with their Jewish heritage. But in all these situations, there is much searching over how to find contemporary, authentic expression of faith and tradition as male Jews, while acknowledging the confusion many Jewish men are struggling with today.
Along with weekly or monthly men's groups that have been in existence for a while, some men now meet to celebrate the new month – anywhere from two to 14 days after Rosh Chodesh – based on the tradition of kiddush levanah.
An evening of study or discussion about a particular issue is followed by a trip to a nearby park, where men can sing and exchange blessings or mark certain transitions, such as fatherhood, Bar Mitzvah, marriage, a new job or saying healing prayers for sick friends. This ritual adds a Jewish spiritual dimension to connecting as men.
A Chance to Grow
Building trust and learning how to relate to one another allow for the opportunity to push past competition, insecurities and fears. We must create these connections in a way that values what is rich and meaningful in the past, while allowing us to work together in creative, compassionate and insightful ways toward a healthy future.
I recall a story my grandfather told me of his stay in Israel, when he and my grandmother attended a local Orthodox synagogue. The mechitzah was the balcony, where the women gathered; the men sat below near the bimah. One Simchat Torah, the men were dancing with the Torah on the main level, circling joyfully around the chapel.
My grandfather became disturbed that his wife and other women were denied this opportunity, and so asked the rabbi whether there was a law against women dancing with the Torah as well. The rabbi paused and said, "Well, it's more minhag," whereupon my grandfather took the Torah upstairs to the women who reacted with shock and joy. In tears, they touched the Torah for the first time in their lives.
Like the charge to Abram to become all that he might – to grow into Abraham in a place he did not know and then be blessed – so we are asked to expand our self-image to more fully reflect the image of God in our lives. Only then can we chart a new course into unknown places, and come to know the blessing we inherently are meant to be.
Rabbi Shawn Zevit is a director of outreach and external affiliations and a senior consultant for the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation.