Rabbi Steven Leder grew up in St. Louis Park, and it’s been a long time since he’s lived here by his own admission. But when he returns next week for the Jewish Federation of Greater St. Paul‘s Spring Fundraising Event, he will be bringing a message that all members of the community need to hear.
Leder will speak at the event on Thursday, April 26, at Mount Zion Temple to discuss, “You Matter: Threats and Opportunities in the Jewish Community.”
“It’s about seizing the opportunity that America presents the Jewish community,” Leder said. “I think the country is in a funk, and it’s easy to miss the powerful and unique opportunities that America presents the Jewish community.
“The real dichotomist tension here is that we are simultaneously the luckiest Jews who ever lived and the Jews most likely to miss the opportunity being presented to us in America to further Judaism itself.”
One of the things that Leder will be speaking about is a field of sociology called, “Third-Place Theory,” and how Judaism fits into that.
“First and second place are always family and work,” he said. “The real battle is for third place. Tell me what’s in third place in your life, and I can tell you something about your values. Judaism; we’re fighting for third place. If we don’t win, something else will.”
Leder said that all religions face that fight for third place, but he doesn’t differentiate between making Judaism stronger and making Jewish connections.
“It’s a religion of relationships. Isn’t that what the minyan is about? Isn’t that what a chavurah is about? The seder table?” he said. “I’ll take a secular renaissance, too. Jewish film, Jewish art, Jewish poetry, Jewish music. I’ll take a secular revolution and renaissance. If that’s third, I can live with that.”
Leder said that he is hoping to inspire people to take themselves and the role each of them can play very seriously. But he also had plenty to say about Jewish leaders.
“I don’t think that most leaders are inspiring. In fact, to the contrary, most are quite boring. I think that boredom is the greatest threat to Jewish continuity in America. Not anti-Semitism, not assimilation, not intermarriage. Boredom. People will look elsewhere, and it’s not to Jews or Judaism.”
Rob Jacobs, St. Paul Jewish Federation CEO, agrees that strong connections – relationships – are central to Jewish life. “One of Federation’s most important jobs is helping people connect to Jewish community,” said Jacobs. “That is why we continue to expand our focus on engaging children and young adults, connecting people to vital Jewish community resources and promoting new outreach initiatives.
Jacobs says that Spring Event attendees will be able to help St. Paul realize the opportunities that Rabbi Leder discusses by supporting Federation as it builds stronger connections, empowers social entrepreneurship, and helps community members find the Jewish life they want to lead in St. Paul.
The Spring Event is Thursday, April 26, at 6 p.m. at Mount Zion Temple. More information and tickets can be found here.