I'm a modern Jew, trying to live in a way both authentically Jewish and culturally liberal. I enjoy ubiquitous technology and freedom of thought. My daughter can be a rabbi, a scholar, an artist, or something else entirely, unfettered by restrictions. But are we modern, liberal Jews still going to be around in a few decades? If my granddaughter will still be a Jew, what kind of Jew will she be?
I feel a kinship to them for two reasons: one, they are Jews, and like them I am religiously observant (though in a way they don't recognize as observant); and two, I speak Yiddish. Because of this kinship, I have spent time with and developed meaningful friendships -- and some adversarial relationships -- with a number of Hasids, read a considerable amount of their contemporary literature, and devoted quite a bit of thought to the question of what liberal Jews can learn from Hasidim. I have done this while trying (in my Yiddish writing) to defend liberal Jewish ideology to Hasidim.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if liberal Judaism's ideologies and cultural institutions were to enjoy success and relatively ensured longevity, just like the Hasids, while keeping to our own liberal, Jewish values? At times I have thought that we should emulate Hasidic success by copying Hasidic strategies As a strange contemporary Jewish type - the Yiddishist - I have thought that we should, like the Hasids, retreat into an isolated community and talk Yiddish to each other. And I have thought that that might also be a solution to the difficulties of the other Jewish ideologies I identify with. If Conservative Judaism is most successful in scattered enclaves outside of New York (mostly college towns), why not found a Conservative enclave in the middle of nowhere? If we care enough about what we believe in, shouldn't we be willing to retreat behind the walls to keep out what will wash away our way of life?
The reason why this wouldn't work is obvious. We liberal Jews are modern, and we find value in that. Every interaction between Jewish and non-Jewish culture is not a source of anguish but the normal material of our life. It would be weird for us to choose to interact only with Jews, even if they were liberal Jews. That would take away our modernity.
So we can't build walls - or rather, if we are to be consistent with our ideologies, we can't. What should our survival strategy be? We can't set out to win the demographic war, as our lifestyle doesn't lend itself to strategic procreation. Perhaps (as many contemporary Jewish organizations seem to believe) we should make Jewish life as attractive as possible. Let's send young people to Israel, and maybe on the way to their paid vacation they will find meaning in Zionism. Let's try and create entertaining Jewish events which will pull in the disaffected and unaffiliated.
Such a strategy, however, becomes caught up in itself. If we are always reaching out with a Jewish liberal modernity, when do we start reaching in? What is it, after all, we want to preserve?
This is the most important lesson the Hasidim can teach us, even if we are unwilling or unable to build walls. Their way of life is successful, picturesque, rich, and in many ways meaningful, but its approach is one we cannot take. It is not for the obvious reasons that we are not Hasidic, and their ideology is not ours - that goes without saying. It is because of what their success teaches us about how movements can work: in spite of, not because of worries about survival.