Reboot is one of those hip "bring the cool Jews back to Judaism" organizations that funders favor. After all, the logic seems to be, if we big Jewish funders can brand Judaism the way hip young trendsetters brand themselves, young Jews will flock back home and fill synagogue pews and community centers! That Judaism itself needs far more than rebranding, that a new logo and our own version of Paris Hilton just won't cut it, is beyond, it seems, their rather limited ability to understand.
Never has this been been clearer than in a recent New York Times piece on Reboot, where we find this description of the havdala ceremony at one of Reboot's secretive, by-invitation-only retreats:
…On Saturday evening, attendees gather outside for havdalah, a ceremony marking the end of the Sabbath. Mr. Pollack described holding the hand of another Rebooter in 2005 and walking past a grove of trees to a large tent about 400 feet from the lodge. As he approached he saw a bright light. A large circle of votive candles had been placed in the center of the tent to resemble a campfire. Pillows were on the ground, with wine ready to be poured. He and the others were asked to write something on a piece of paper they wanted to get rid of, then throw it away.
“I remember walking into the tent and thinking ‘fire, glass and alcohol,’ ” Mr. Pollack said. “This was not going to end well.”
As prayers were set to begin, an elderly Jewish woman entered, her dress shimmering in the candlelight, her blond bouffant framing the accentuated makeup around her eyes. It was Mr. [Amichai] Lau-Lavie dressed in drag as an incarnation of Esther, the biblical Queen of Persia.
“Drag in its best is court jester,” Mr. Lau-Lavie said. “People are so ambivalent about religion, I thought this was a way to do it.”
Mr. Pollack watched in awe. “It was definitely comic,” he said. Indeed Mr. Lau-Lavie was a hit with many that year.
“He said something about God being a black woman,” Ms. Soloway said. “No one ever said this in temple. I felt like I wanted to follow him around all day. He was like Jim Jones, and I wanted to drink his Kool-Aid.”…
I had a brush with Reboot a couple years ago. On very short notice, I was asked to write a piece for Guilt and Pleasure, a quarterly magazine Reboot published. It grew out of salons started by a Canadian Jewish woman, Mireille Silcoff, who invited friends and random Jews she met to come and discuss issues of Jewish import. That became salons held across Canada and the US by like-minded people, and from this came Guilt and Pleasure, which was in part meant to be a facilitator for those salons. Silcoff was the founding editor.
I met my very short deadline, and the editor liked the piece. But Guilt and Pleasure did not publish. Even though all the copy was finished and ready to go, Reboot keep delaying. And then, many, many months later, after layers of excuses, Reboot officially killed Guilt and Pleasure.
Reboot wasn't committed to publishing a magazine that dealt with real Jewish issues on more than a surface level, and that did not engage in rebranding and pop-Judaism. It apparently felt it could get more bang for its buck having Lau-Lavie play drag queen for a select bunch of Jews-by-birth-but-not-by-active-affiliation.
Toward the end of the long wait period that preceded Guilt and Pleasure's death, I asked to be paid. Eventually, I was – but not before I got a contract from Reboot stating, if memory serves, that I made no claim of benefits like health insurance against Reboot or Roger Bennett, a Reboot founder.
My response was that I would not sign a contract that did not specify article rights, reprint rights, etc., or any other issue normally found in contracts given to freelance writers, and I certainly was making no claim of health or other benefits. I just wanted my cash.
Reboot sent me the money without a contract.
So you want to "save" Judaism?
Don't waste your time rebranding or 'rebooting.'
Instead, spend your time fixing and fulfilling.
Instead of wasting money on idiocies like Reboot, start an online accredited Jewish university, a secular university run just like any other university. Teach Jewish history, Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, and other Jewish subjects.
Make the tuition free or extremely nominal for everyone, unless the student wants actual college credits, in which case tuition can cost slightly more.
In a generation, thousands of Jews will have a much more sophisticated understanding of Judaism, and will in turn demand a much more sophisticated Judaism from their local communities.
Combine that with an American Jewish peace corps that promotes one year of community service (tutoring inner city kids, rehabbing houses for the for the elderly and poor, etc.) for all 18- to 22-year-olds, and America's Jewish community will be stronger and more vibrant because America's Judaism itself will have become stronger and more vibrant.
It isn't as hip as Reboot's logo, but it is real and it will bring lasting change. And it won't even take a drag queen to make it happen.