Judaism needs catchy slogans, better marketing

Judaism lite.

To some, that may sound like an insult, a criticism. To me, it's one of the most exciting innovations to come along in quite awhile.

For too long for too many, Judaism has been inaccessible, the province of those already in the know. Programs and lectures were about things you had to be familiar with to understand. Rabbis too often focused on big issues rather than spirituality in their sermons. Books were hard, if not impossible, to wade through.

Which is why what Judaism has needed and continues to need more than anything is better marketing. And yet that's something that many of us are reluctant to do, even find repulsive. Market Judaism like Coca-Cola? Some say that's not right.

Oh, but it is. Indeed, it is vital as Jews today are exposed more than ever to sophisticated images and messages, are bombarded by slicker and catchier pictures and slogans.

If Judaism doesn't keep up, it will fall behind. If Judaism doesn't speak the language of today's marketplace, it will lose market share. If Judaism doesn't grab its youth, there won't be any around to grab.

Judaism's got a great, beautiful message. But it's how you present it that means so much in today's world.

Israel still is resistant to this reality. The whole notion of public relations still has a very negative connotation in the Israeli mind.

Which is why in this, the rest of the Jewish world can show Israel the way. And is.

In recent years, Jewish organizations have been more receptive to and gotten better at marketing Judaism like Coca-Cola. The most impressive of these efforts has been the Shabbat Across America campaign by the National Jewish Outreach Program, which spends quite a bit of money each year in reaching Jews and getting them to celebrate a Shabbat.

They do it with graphically attractive newspaper and magazine ads and billboards and radio spots. Of course, they've been criticized for the amount of money they spend on marketing.

But if we are to keep Jews Jewish, make Jews want to be Jewish, we need to make Judaism attractive and enticing. And to do that requires engaging and well-done marketing.

Being Jewish must be fun. So must learning about Judaism.

Three books I've read recently make it just that.

The first book is by one of my favorite Jews, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. The book, "Biblical Literacy," does nothing less than present "the most important people, events and ideas of the Hebrew Bible.

And does it all in about 500 pages.

Now I know there are those out there who would sneer at that, who would cite the folly of thinking you can learn all that's important to know about Tanach in 500 pages. But they would be wrong.

This is a fantastic book, precisely because it covers so much ground so easily. The book is well-written and includes insights that really give you a feeling for the majesty of the Torah and for what it's given the world. You also get a sense of the great range of characters who populate biblical stories.

You read this book, and when you're done you have a pretty good familiarity with the most important ideas and people and events that form the core of not only Judaism but Western civilization. Which is not a bad thing to have under your belt, especially when it is acquired in such a pleasant way.

Judaism lite. Nothing better.

The same is true for another wonderful book, "The Story of the Jews: A 4,000 Year Adventure," by Stan Mack.

I love this book because what it does is start at the beginning of Jewish history and carry you all the way through to the present day.

And it does it all in cartoons.

That's right, this is an entire book of cartoons that starts with Abraham's discovery of God and, page by entertaining page, brings you to the present day, to Jewish life in America and Israel and elsewhere.

You cover an amazing amount of history in between. And yet you don't feel like you're learning stuffy dates and places because it's all told with a gentle wit that makes you smile.

You get facts, you get laughs, and when you're done you have a very good familiarity with all the highlights of Jewish history, have a good grasp of all that we've come across as a people.

Judaism lite. Nothing better.

The third book that takes the same kind of approach as the first two is something it's too late to use for this year, but there's always next year and the year after that.

In all my years of seder attending, I've never found a Haggadah I really liked, one that used language that sounded like people actually talk, that was clear in explaining what gets done and why and that was inclusive to all.

I have now. It's called "A Different Night," and it's by Noam Zion and David Dishon. What makes this Haggadah so wonderful is that everyone can find something in it that is meaningful to them. Kids, adults, men, women, those into social justice, those into spirituality, those into history, theology and so forth. It's a Haggadah very cleverly designed to help you do what a seder is designed to do — get people involved, get people talking, have people feeling as if they personally were freed from Egypt.

This Haggadah really does that, employing simple, accessible language, giving lots of creative suggestions for interacting and clever illustrations.

Judaism lite. Nothing better.

There really isn't. Read these three books and you'll not only find the experience pleasant, but you'll walk away knowing at least something about the most important things to know in the Bible, about Jewish history and about the Exodus, the moment when we became a people.

Along with more of these Judaism lite kind of books, I think the Jewish people need a slogan, you know, a tagline like those at the end of most commercials. Allstate — The Good Hands People. Avis — We Try Harder. Maxwell House — Good to the Last Drop.

Something like that.

And so I invite all readers to submit what you think would be a good slogan for the Jewish people. It has to be short, to the point, punchy, catchy.

Let's face it, our slogans need an update. "The Chosen People" is good, but it sounds kind of heavy. "A Light Unto the Nations" sounds outdated, not very today.

See what you can come up with. Send your ideas for a slogan for the Jewish people to: Jewish Bulletin, Slogan Editor, 225 Bush St., Suite 1480, San Francisco, CA 94104.

Start thinking. A slogan-challenged people needs your help.