September 29, 2005
Face It: Judaism Is Not Hip
This Rosh Hashanah I am praying to escape the tyranny of hip. Hip is infiltrating Jewish life like a migrating plume of acrid smoke meandering its way through our collective body and soul.
I know hip well. I know its insidious nature. I have seen its effect and its damage. I was surrounded by hip. I was taken in by hip. I yearned for hip. I searched for hip. I saw people's lives and identities consumed by hip. Twenty years of my professional life were spent in the palaces of hip.
I was an advertising agency copywriter and creative director. I was trained to be one of the manufacturers of hip. I would sit in offices and create hip, and then watch all those people lust after the creations. I reveled in hip.
And then one day, it all came crashing down.
There was no earth-shattering event. It was just a moment of realization.
In the ad biz, you win awards for creating hip images. That's all hip is. An image. A fleeting image. You can't really describe hip. You can't put your finger on what it is. What's hip today is not hip tomorrow. You often here people say, "She's the hippest person around."
What does that mean? Nothing.
Absolutely nothing. When I happily left the ad agency business, I used to tell people, "It's the ultimate liberation. I no longer have to direct my energies into the shallow, ridiculous waters of hip."
I found salvation from hip in the Jewish world. It was a world of content. Meaning. Real connections to people, the earth, the heavens. It gave me roots into the universe in a way hip could never do.
It was such a refreshing departure from where I had been that I was determined to bring my professional skills into the Jewish world -- as well as into other nonprofit organizations.
For years, it allowed me to escape even hearing the word "hip." Then, hip began to seep out into a few Jewish crevices and corners.
Today, hip is everywhere in the Jewish organizational world. Federations want to be hip. Hillels want to be hip. Israel wants to be hip. Chabad wants to be hip. Aish HaTorah wants to be hip. Synagogues want to be hip. Day schools want to be hip. Jewish publications want to be hip. And the Jewish foundation world is clamoring to create and fund hip.
It used to be that Hollywood was going to be the magic bullet that would save the Jewish organizational world. Now Hollywood has been replaced by hip. At least Hollywood was concrete. It meant a person. Spielberg. Streisand. Seinfeld. But can someone please define or concretize hip?
What is this all about? If Judaism's image -- its brand -- has become tarnished, is hip going to save it? Is this the point to which we involved Jews have arrived?
Hip is powerful. As a marketer of Jewish life, I am watching our leaders grapple and bow down to its power.
I am not denying that we have a problem in Jewish life with the products we offer and the images we create. Most are lackluster at best.
But if we think that hip is the solution, we are demeaning the essence of Judaism. We are trivializing its soul. We are convoluting Judaism as much as "haimish" has convoluted it for the past few generations.
Haimish was always an excuse for not being professional. As long as the organization was haimish, it believed it had fulfilled its mission.
Much the same mistake is happening with hip. If the organization is hip, if the offering is perceived as hip, then today the organization believes it is fulfilling its mission.
Hip is not about meaning. Hip is not about depth. Hip is not about the soul. Hip is not about connection to human beings and the world.
Hip is about shallow. Hip is about self-absorption. Hip is about today, this minute. Hip is not about the past and it is certainly not about the future.
This Rosh Hashanah, Jewish organizations need to realize that Judaism is not hip. It's never going to be hip. It is not supposed to be hip. Judaism has too much depth to ever be hip. Judaism must be perceived as the antidote to hip. The products Judaism offers must be the escape from shallow hip. They must be the refuge, the other road, the real thing.
If we believe that the Jewish masses are looking for hip, there are plenty of places they can fill that need. They can go to the Gap. Now, that's hip.
During the coming High Holidays, grant us justice and kindness. V'hoshiyainu -- save us ... from the tyranny of hip.
Gary Wexler is the owner of Passion Marketing for Issues and Causes based in Los Angeles.