They're in conflict with their home shuls because they're taken for granted; they're too far outside the big Jewish centers to get the exposure needed to get noticed; they're outside the target market group (which, these days, is basically anyone under 40); and they're feeling more than a little rebellious about it all.
And that is where I find myself these days.
So let me make it perfectly clear:
While I am all for klal Yisrael, I am also aware that the sentiment doesn't often extend to those in our tribe who fall outside the norms that carry the greatest social capital: financial, religious, geographical and otherwise. If it did, there would be less talk and more real-life efforts to open the doors to Jewish communal life a lot wider for more people -- without making them feel like crap for not living up to the modern standards of a people who've supposedly "made it".
Yes, I know that on some level I've let down the side.
The side has also let me down.
So the way I see it, we're even.
While I am all for Israel's existence, I don't have, and don't know how to manufacture, a "relationship" with Israel, which is why so little of my work is actually informed by Israel's existence.
My Judaism is here where I live, and it's low-budget.
My Judaism represents where and what I come from as an American, which is working class and, as I get older, often struggling. That's why so many of my "social justice" songs talk about money and poverty and those who get left behind.
My Judaism is angry, honest and has the potential to implode my career because I dare to ask questions the well-dressed, highly-salaried powers that be would prefer not to hear. As part of that minority of working class Jews whose parents didn't exactly "make it" and who never connected to Jewish life, my voice simply is not as valued. My songs call BS on the economic realities of our time, and the injustice of being poor and homeless and forgotten, in a time when those who are materially comfortable would prefer not to see how precarious their position may actually be.
So you can count on me to write more songs about making the world more fair, not only for non-Jewish poor, but for I and my fellow Jews who struggle to belong in Jewish community because we're poor -- or not white, or gender non-normative, or whatever else makes it harder for us to get a foot in the door.
In our so-called Season Of Freedom, as we prepare to celebrate our ancestors' exodus from slavery, remember that there are Jews today -- American Jews, living in the midst of some very affluent Jewish communities -- who are still enslaved.
We are enslaved to a society based on a marketplace mentality that determines a person's value in terms of what they "produce", what they "contribute", and what they "earn".
We are enslaved because we are becoming more invisible as we age; because we are a paycheck away from complete disaster; because we couldn't have kids; or, if we did have kids, we can't afford to provide a Jewish education for them or even pay synagogue dues; because if we ask for reduced cost participation we have to go looking for it, asking for it, and feeling like crap as a result; and in the end, when we face a catastrophe -- grave illness, loos of job or home -- we're not confident that our fellow Jews will actually be there to help keep us from hitting rock bottom.
Worst of all, we an enslaved by the historic, communally-sanctioned silence that is required of those of us who struggle; and the utter class-blindness of those Jews who did their duty and got white-collar jobs with salaries and benefits and who cannot see a life outside that norm.
If we talk about it, we risk exposing our weakness to our enemies. If we talk about it, we risk embarrassing the highly-paid leaders because they've turned their backs on us. It will look like we're biting the hand who feeds us. Except that hand hasn't fed me all that much, and worse, has demanded that I feel shame for being poor (or, conversely, keeps sending me envelopes asking me to donate money I don't have to support their causes).
When you're dipping into your own tzedakah box to pay for food, there's something wrong with the economy.
When your tradition shames you for dipping into your own tzedakah box to eat, there's something wrong with the tradition.
Because telling the poor they have to contribute tzedakah when they don't have it is worse than a bad joke, it's outdated for our times, and can be downright cruel.
Explain to me where you pull tzedakah from when you have to beg for a food box at Pesach. Where's the balance in that?
Explain to me how you earn enough to pay all the bills without sacrificing your ability to qualify for Medicaid because you can't possibly earn enough to cover the difference, and without Medicaid you'll die for lack of affordable healthcare.
Explain to a single mother how she'll work, feed and clothe her kids and volunteer to teach in a religious school when she can't afford tuition, when she can't afford childcare and her kids come home to an empty house because she's working late.
Since I live in a place where Jewish life is already pretty non-normative, I'm working out my own ways. That means I often pray alone. That means I find ways to infuse my everyday acts with some vague sense of sacredness. More and more, it means I risk social censure for daring to say ugly truths about the inequalities that exist among our people, right here and now in 2018.
That means that this week's Torah portion, Tzav, makes clear to me that even our leaders should still have to take out the trash. It means they must shoulder the burden that comes with their positions of power and wealth, by either improving our ability to support ourselves (through high wages and better working conditions; and if they can't or won't then they should take up a helluva lot more of the slack in the meantime. Jewish leaders need to examine just how much of their comfort comes from social, racial and fiscal imbalances elsewhere in the world, and in the Jewish community -- even if it makes them wince (and frankly, it should).
And then they need to roll up their sleeves and help the rest of us take out the trash.