Sabbatical *or* Gimmie a Break

Not mine, sadly. But an idea.

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of participating in a day of conversation convened by the Jim Joseph Foundation. As the Foundation is entering its 7th year, invited a small group of people (myself among them) to write short papers in response to the prompt: What “big idea” for supporting Jewish education would you propose the Jim Joseph Foundation fund? You can read all of the papers here

I might have misread the prompt, as I did not offer a particular project or programmatic idea. Sorry about that.

But my friend and colleague Rachel Levin offered what I thought was the best idea of the bunch: Sabbaticals for Jewish professionals. Citing research about the value of time off, Rachel suggested that the Foundation support sabbaticals, giving professionals time to read, reflect, write, rest, watch movies, whatever. Fully funded, institutionalized rest for hard working people sounds like a great idea.

But, I want to provocatively suggest something slightly bigger than Rachel did: I think a global sabbatical of the whole Jewish communal system might be in order. Shut down, for just a year. Or a month, or a quarter, the whole infrastructure of Jewish life: Federations, incubators, Foundations, schools, seminaries, start-ups, synagogues, whatever. Close them all down for a period of time. Give everyone, including the people all these organizations are supposed to serve, a break. Open the windows on the community and let in some fresh air, give everyone pause and a moment to reflect, and then we can get back to work refreshed and renewed with a new sense of perspective and, hopefully, purpose.

I’m interested in this as a kind of system-wide research experiment: what would happen to Jewish people if all of the expensive interventions and heavy infrastructure of the community simply suspended operations? What would happen to our communities? Our families? Would things fall apart, or would the institutional silence invite creativity and real innovation.

All of these organizations are already largely supported by philanthropic or charitable dollars anyhow, so it wouldn’t necessarily cost the Jewish Community a whole lot. But, perhaps, we do stand to gain.

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