AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week A marriage of hip and Jewish that emerged in the late 1990s has redefined religious identity for irony-loving 20- and 30-somethings from New York to Los Angeles and beyond. They flock to all-night multimedia celebrations of Jewish holidays; fill nightclubs where Jewish storytellers are the headlining act; start magazines, journals and Web sites – all while wearing a wide array of irreverent clothing. Among the edgier items is a bra made out of yarmulkes. Traditional Jewish leaders who for years have been wringing their hands over declining religious observance among young people and rising intermarriage rates are hardly rejoicing at the trend. For them, it is a superficial fad as welcome as a Hanukkah bush. But the young entrepreneurs spearheading these new ventures say their elders should look beneath the kitsch. There, they say, is the modern-day answer to the question that has vexed Jews for generations: how to keep the religion alive. “Our mission is to promote Jewish literacy and to empower people to take it on their own terms,” said Amichai Lau-Lavie, 36, president of Storahtelling, whose shows are an explosion of traditional ritual and contemporary performance. He sometimes goes onstage dressed as a woman, Hadassah Gross, a Jewish motivational speaker whose motto is “a little bit of irreverence is very good for battling irrelevance.” “We use edu-tainment. We make them laugh. It’s 95 percent humor, culture, radical fun, and 5 percent meaning. If they want more, they’ll come back next time,” Lau-Levie said. This is what vibrant religious life looks like in one corner of American Judaism: A T-shirt that says “W.W.B.D.?” above a sketch of Barbra Streisand. A man in drag teaching Torah. A Web site called Mazal Tov Cocktail, a self-described “encyclopaedia of Jewish radical culture” represented by a flaming rag inside a bottle of Manischewitz. The significance of this debate within the community cannot be overstated. Jewish groups have spent millions of dollars researching how they can prevent young people from abandoning their faith – which studies have found they are doing in steadily increasing numbers. Community leaders have started programs ranging from free Israel trips to singles dances to hip cafes for the younger generation. But these efforts, while achieving some success, haven’t come close to the popularity of the outlets young people have devised for themselves. Storahtelling is booked around the country. “Heeb,” the quarterly magazine most identified with the trend, printed 25,000 copies of its latest issue. It’s also trying to diversify into other media and continuing to sponsor sold-out literary events that have expanded from the United States to London and Berlin. “What we’re doing is creating Jewish experiences where there otherwise weren’t (any),” said Heeb editor Josh Neuman, 33, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it led to Jews marrying more Jews. I wouldn’t be surprised if it led to Jews becoming more Jewish. But it’s definitely not the goal. This audience feels so comfortable because people feel they’re not being manipulated for some larger agenda.” No one disputes that these events are attracting young people who previously had little or no contact with the Jewish community. However, traditional leaders say it is difficult to see what the happenings provide other than a good time. The IKAR worship community in Los Angeles was formed last year by 31-year-old Rabbi Sharon Brous, who also is involved with Reboot. The group is religiously traditional, with worship in Hebrew, but rejects the conventional synagogue approach, partly by making volunteer work and social justice advocacy a central activity. “We wanted to provoke a cultural shift,” said Brous, a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary, who organizes members partly using the model of MoveOn.org, the liberal political group, holding house parties to discuss religious and social issues, and coordinating events through the Web. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!