Survey: Israelis in the U.S. become more like American Jews


The longer Israelis live in the United States, the less critical of Israel they are likely to be, a new survey suggests.

The Internet-based survey of nearly 1,600 people divided respondents into two groups: those living in the United States for less than 10 years, and those living in the country for more than 10 years. Whereas 64 percent of the under-10-years group strongly agreed that when Israel is criticized they feel the need to defend it and show its positive side, the figure was 75 percent among the over-10-years group.

When asked if they were to talk about Israel to an American non-Jew, 67 percent of the under-10-years group said they would say positive things about Israel compared to 78 percent of the over-10-years group.

Though unscientific because all the respondents came from the lists of various Israel-related organizations in the United States, the results nevertheless suggest that Israelis’ political views become more like those of American Jews the longer they reside in the United States.

The survey was commissioned by the Israeli American Council and carried out by the Israeli firm Midgam, which asked respondents to complete an Internet questionnaire.

The survey found that the longer Israelis live in the United States, the more likely they are to be interested in Israel’s internal politics, believe that American Jews strengthen Israel, say that American Jews should publicly support Israel and take a candidate’s attitude toward Israel into consideration when voting.

Israelis living in the United States for more than a decade are nearly twice as likely as the under-10-years group to marry out of the faith (8 percent versus 4 percent), and their children are twice as likely to intermarry (17 percent versus 8 percent), according to the survey.

The survey also showed slight increases in synagogue attendance and day school enrollment among those in the United States for more than 10 years.

Crisis and opportunity — Reflections on the Pew report


Full disclosure: I have been thinking about the results of the Pew report for more than a decade. I understand that Pew didn’t release its results until last week, but these statistics and trends have been obvious to some in the Jewish community for a very long time. Four years ago, I made a major life change and became the president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles because of the revelations now appearing in the Pew report. It is what drives our board, our staff and me every day, and it is what has motivated our Federation’s major reimagination and transformation. It is at the core of our mission and our work.

Over the past week, there has been a great deal of reaction to the study’s findings, ranging from defensiveness to rejection with a smattering of thoughtful responses. The truth is that we can no longer afford to look the other way.  We must take a communal approach to building a Jewish community that will not just sustain but will flourish.

I love Judaism, the Jewish people and the State of Israel.  I strongly believe that being Jewish adds immeasurable value to me, my family and our world.

We have a crisis. The numbers and the trending in the Pew report speak out loud and clear. Our crisis is not in the Middle East. It is in America. It is a crisis based on our success. We have truly succeeded in becoming American and in assimilating into this great country. 

The resulting loss of engagement, however, impacts every Jew and every Jewish institution.

But this crisis also offers us an extraordinary opportunity.

What got us here won’t get us there

Marshall Goldsmith, one of America’s preeminent executive coaches, wrote an insightful best-selling book titled “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.” The book’s central tenet provides us with a solid piece of Torah.

We, as a people, have built great synagogues and great organizations. We have created enviable Jewish communities across the Diaspora.

It is clear that what we have built did get us here, but it is now equally clear that if we want to ensure a vibrant Jewish future, that infrastructure may not get us there.

I say this with caution. This is not a time for a knee-jerk reaction, and there are no “innovative” quick fixes. This is a time to take a break from our preoccupation with our history to take a long, proactive look at the future, the future we want for the next generations. They are the loudest voices in the study. These voices demand to be in our communal conversations.

We need to learn from Apple

Steve Jobs and his crew understood almost from the beginning that once a consumer is introduced to the power of technology, he or she would be hooked. Once hooked, it was up to Apple to continue to deepen the relationship between the consumer and that technology by listening to the consumer and being ahead of the competition in introducing both new products and new applications.

We need to see Judaism like new and evolving technology, and we need to be more like Apple. We need to create a two-way conversation with our consumers, and we need to reimagine our product line.

This analogy speaks directly to our Millennials and the generations to come.

There is another central change we need to make. We have promoted “episodic” Judaism based on lifecycle milestones and communal events. Our institutions have promoted powerful programs like PJ Library, Taglit Birthright and Jewish preschool.  Our Federation supports these important, highly successful programs. But what this study says loud and clear is that “episodic” Judaism is not enough.

We need to create a Jewish journey for every Jew, a journey that each Jew helps to create. Think of the iPod. Millions and millions of people use the same device to listen to their music but with customized play lists. They listen to their iPods alone, or they plug them into speakers and play for their friends in a communal experience.

We need to embrace our young people, not blame them

Our young people are redefining their Judaism. We need to be an active part of that redefinition process. It is up to the Jewish community to reach out, engage and embrace them. 

At the Federation, we are committed to not just engaging our young people, but engaging them in our reimagination and our transformation. They are not the problem. They are a part of the solution.

Many of our organizations have built models based on philanthropy first. We need to move away from “pay-to-play” Judaism. If young people are meaningfully engaged, they will become philanthropists. But we are pushing too many of them away by expecting them to give before they connect.

The challenge

Our future demands our attention. We need a strong, communal approach to build a rich, vibrant Jewish future. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has made the commitment to this process. Will you join us?


Jay Sanderson is president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

‘Gravity’ and the Pew study


I have one big answer to the depressing findings of the Pew poll, but you’re not going to like it.

The Pew Research Center’s landmark new survey of American Jews came out last week, and the American Jewish community reacted about the way Sandra Bullock does when her tether snaps in “Gravity.” Except our “Oy vey!” probably could have been heard in space.

The bottom line of the study: Jews are becoming less … and less … and less Jewish. We are drifting away from religion like, well, Bullock from that space station. 

The long-awaited Pew study, initiated with admirable foresight by Jane Eisner, editor-in-chief of the Jewish Daily Forward, found that only 32 percent of these Jews say their Jewishness is a matter of religion. Fifty years ago, that number was close to 70 percent.

“That is a big and significant number,” said Greg Smith, the Pew’s director of U.S. religion surveys, in a statement accompanying the report. “The generational pattern suggests that it’s growing, and that’s very important, because the data show that Jews of no religion are much less connected to the Jewish community, are much less engaged and involved in Jewish organizations and are much less likely to be raising their children Jewish as compared to Jews who describe themselves as Jews by religion.”

We all know many Jews who are bagels-and-lox, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” types — what you might call Brunch Davidians. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But Jewish law and practice is the scaffold on which Jewish culture and identity are built. Without Judaism, Jewishness disappears.

To add to the worries, the Pew study found that 71 percent of younger, [non-Orthodox Jews] are marrying out. Before 1970, the number of Jews with a non-Jewish spouse was only 17 percent. Intermarried Jews, Pew found, like Jews of no religion, are much less likely to be raising their children in the Jewish faith.

So, does this mean there won’t be any Judaism in the future? The short answer is: That’s up to us. 

There are three things we can, and must, do to stop the handwringing and reverse these trends.

First, we need to be very clear in our hearts why this matters. Each one of us who expresses concern has to be able to answer, clearly, this question: “So what?”

Now don’t skip ahead. Stay with that question. Why do you care that young American Jews are less and less Jewish, and if trends continue, their children and grandchildren will be even less so, or not at all? What is it that makes this religion, this culture, worth continuing? Funny how none of the discussions of the Pew study start with that question — because its answer is key to the solution.

Second, we must improve the experience of liberal Judaism. Not all synagogue services are boring, obscure and infantilizing, but too many are. Congregations that have innovated in their use of liturgy and music have been more successful in drawing people in than those that have not. This year, jewishjournal.com livecast the Kol Nidre service of Nashuva, the outreach congregation founded by my wife, Rabbi Naomi Levy. At least 60,000 people around the world watched all or part of the service, and judging by their comments, the experience was anything but boring. When you rebuild it, they will come.

That leads me to my one, big suggestion: conversion.

When I made this argument in the past, people looked at me like I was saying we should establish a Jewish state in Uganda. True, we have not been, for historical reasons, a proselytizing faith, but it’s time to rise above our history.

According to the Pew poll, 2 percent of Jews said they had formally converted to Judaism, 1 percent claimed to have informally. That’s 100,000 people. Say we double it. Triple it — or even add a zero. 

Can we?

Of course. We have the money and expertise to fund a creative and consistent marketing campaign aimed at conversion. Web sites and social media offer a low barrier to entry. Virtual engagement would be reinforced by actual outreach and education on the local level.

 This isn’t brain surgery — it’s branding, marketing and education. These are three things Jews happen to excel at. Jewish marketing ingenuity brought the world Polo, GAP and Levi’s. Jews turned pomegranates and hummus from foods to phenomena. Hey, three Jews — Plouffe, Axelrod and Emanuel — even sold America on electing a black president. We can sell the world anything. Why not Judaism?

If we don’t invite the rest of the world to experience the beauty, meaning and connectedness of Jewish life, we will never truly flourish. 

“Jews are losing such an opportunity to enrich their lives,” Rabbi Harold Schulweis once told me. “Converts are the most articulate and dedicated Jews I have met in a long time.”

The stories told by Jews-by-Choice reaffirm the opportunity to reach more like them.

“Judaism,” one once told me, “is the best-kept secret in the world.”

Meaning, connectedness, community and beauty — these are the essence of Jewish life, and they are what so many people long for. 

My suggestion: Put Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Lynda Resnick, Axelrod, et al. in a room and have them come up with a marketing plan for the world’s best-kept secret. Put Judaism out there, and just watch people gravitate toward it. 


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Can common sense save Judaism?


It’s funny how the American Jewish community has a way of getting all breathless and excited when a new study comes out, as is happening right now with the new Pew survey.

As if we needed all this sophisticated evidence to remind us that Judaism in America is in trouble, and that we must find ways to make it more attractive and relevant if we want a healthy, pluralistic Judaism to survive over the next century.

When it comes to the decline of Judaism in America, we have this habit of getting bogged down with research specifics and losing the big picture.

As I see it, here is the big picture: What Judaism needs more than anything is great ideas and leadership, not more research.

We didn’t need research, for example, to tell us that the best way to connect with Israel is to visit Israel, and that young people love things that are free. The Birthright Israel program was a great idea, not a great study.

The most successful Jewish organization in history — Chabad — didn’t need pollsters to tell them that showing unconditional love for their fellow Jews is a really compelling idea.

Imagine if Chabad had done focus groups asking secular Jewish men if they were interested in having black-hatted rabbis with beards accost them on the street and urge them to put on tefillin

As advertising legend Bill Bernbach once put it, “We’re so busy measuring public opinion that we forget we can mold it.”

What will drive the success of future Jewish initiatives is not a sexy finding from a research study, but common sense, creativity and brilliant execution.

We don’t need research to tell us that people generally love to laugh, hate to be bored, want meaning in their lives, want to be successful, have happy relationships, feel a sense of belonging, fall in love, eat good food, listen to good music and so on.

The challenge for the Jewish community is to take these fundamental human truths and creatively and organically marry them to the Jewish tradition so that more people will be interested in Judaism.

Piece of cake.

Let’s take one simple truth: It’s better to have a restaurant with 20 items on the menu than two or three items.

The problem is that most Jewish “restaurants” of today — the synagogues — feature too few menu items, which usually revolve around religion (prayer and Torah) and holiday events.

Religious practice is an essential component of Jewish identity, which I love, but it is not the only one. And let’s face it, not everyone loves “religion.” Thank God, we’re lucky that the Jewish buffet is so rich. If we want to succeed with the new generation, we’ll need to tap into these riches. 

I’d love to see synagogues transform themselves into centers of Jewish celebration that serve up the whole Jewish buffet in all its glory: culture, history, music, philosophy, art, literature, poetry, comedy, Jewish meditation, mysticism, self-improvement, social justice, etc., in addition to prayer, Torah study and everything else they offer now.

If the goal is to build Jewish identity, shouldn’t we put the odds on our side by creating as many connections to Judaism as possible?

Let’s look at just one item on this buffet that consistently gets ignored: telling the stories of our people.

When is the last time any synagogue did an event on the history of the Persian Jews, or the Moroccan Jews, or the Polish Jews, or even the Chinese Jews?

We’re always talking about building Jewish peoplehood, but how are we expected to do that if we don’t teach and celebrate the fascinating stories of the Jewish people?

I don’t buy the argument that synagogues should limit themselves to their individual communities. Every synagogue — including the Orthodox — should serve up, in their own way, the full buffet of Judaism to attract as many Jews as possible. That’s not just good for outreach, it’s also good for members.

To build Jewish identity, we ought to focus on things that are uniquely Jewish. Few things feel more uniquely Jewish to me than learning the stories of our people and their contributions to humanity.

Stories build loyalty. The more I know about my past, the more stories I hear about my ancestors, the more I learn about other Jews, the more I feel I belong to an extraordinary family that I don’t want to break away from. I’m now part of a people, part of a grand story, part of a shared destiny. That’s peoplehood.

Even the tikkun olam movement, as noble as it is, can dilute Jewish identity if it is not solidly grounded in the Jewish experience. As Jonathan Tobin wrote in Commentary in response to the Pew study, “Simply being a good person or fighting for good causes makes you a nice human being but not necessarily a Jew.”

If all this sounds like common sense to you, it’s because it is — just as sending kids to Israel for free was a great idea based on common sense, and just as taking advantage of the whole buffet of Judaism to attract the new generation is also common sense.

Now, if we can take all that common sense, sprinkle in some creativity and serve it up with great leadership, the only research studies we’ll ever need are those that will measure our success.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

How to inspire a Jewish future in America


Last week, the Pew Research Center released the first national demographic study of Jewish Americans in more than a decade. Like all such studies, there are disagreements at the edges about the accuracy of some of the results, but the study’s most significant findings have been generally accepted.

The big news is that one in five self-identified American Jews does not identify as Jewish by religion (one in three among younger Jews), and that even among Jews by religion, the intermarriage rate since 2005 is 55 percent. Looking only at the non-Orthodox, since 2005 more than 70 percent of the marriages have been intermarriages.

The big question now is how funders and Jewish organizations respond to this data.

By itself, the news that one-fifth of America’s Jews do not see themselves as Jewish by religion might not be disastrous. After all, there are many Israelis who identify with the Jewish people who call themselves “secular.” The problem is that the Pew study found that unlike Israeli “chilonim,” most of whom see themselves as integral members of the Jewish people and actually perform more than a few Jewish rituals as a matter of course, American “Jews of no religion” are unlikely to raise their children as Jews, be attached to Israel, give to Jewish causes or see being Jewish as important in their lives.

One Jew of no religion who was interviewed for the study described himself to Slate this way:

“Six months ago I told a friendly Pew pollster that I consider myself Jewish but not religious, that my wife is not Jewish, and that my daughter is being raised ‘partially Jewish,’ in Pew’s terms. And as an intermarried Jewish nonbeliever, I think it’s time we anxious Jews stopped worrying and learned to love our assimilated condition — even if it means that our children call themselves half-Jewish and our grandchildren don’t consider themselves Jews at all.”

In short, most Jews of no religion have both feet out of the Jewish community — or at least are on their way to the exit sign.

The astonishingly high intermarriage rate among recent marriages outside of Orthodoxy is so important because according to the Pew study, nearly all children of two Jewish spouses are being raised as Jewish by religion, while only 20 percent of children of intermarriages are being raised exclusively as Jewish. Some of these couples are Jews of no religion and others are headed for the exits anyway. Others might be seen as having one foot within the Jewish community and one foot out.

So what to do?

Without offering firm policy recommendations, which should be carefully developed, here are initial principles:

* We should recognize the big picture. In the aggregate, the many programs developed by Jewish philanthropists and organizations after the 1990 population study that first showed alarming intermarriage rates have failed to stem the tide of assimilation. (It will be interesting to see whether the Pew study supports the contention that Birthright Israel increases Jewish identity and participation.) There is likely nothing that can be done to attract Jews heading for the exits, and the programmatic efforts should focus on those who at least have one foot still within the community.

* Based on the Pew study, at least in America, Judaism will endure across generations almost exclusively in families that identify with Judaism as a religion. (It is less clear to me what level of observance or participation generates a “tipping point.”)   The reasons are less clear, but I imagine that part of the answer stems from the famous Ahad Ha’am saying, “More than the Jews have kept the Shabbos, the Shabbos has kept the Jews.”

Or, as Rabbi David Wolpe wrote in his thoughts about the study:

“As a countercultural tradition in America, Judaism asks a great deal of its adherents. Judaism is a behavior-centered tradition. It is primarily enacted in a language strange to most American Jews [Hebrew] and requires an extensive education to understand its fundamentals. … That which is continually diluted will eventually disappear.”

* Along these same lines, we should measure the likely success of programs based on whether they offer the intensive and immersive education needed to give participants an understanding of the power and beauty of Jewish values and practices. Anything less will fail to give participants sufficient motivation to make the commitment of time, energy and money needed for engaged Jewish life. Programs that attempt to “meet people where they are” can only be justified if they actually succeed in attracting Jews to more substantive ongoing programs.

* Every business owner knows that it costs less to retain a customer than to attract a new one. While economic considerations may not be the only relevant ones, it is far more cost effective to invest in Jews who are closer to the core of the engaged Jewish community, whether they are children or young adults. The study tells us that these, too, are Jews at risk of assimilation. Investment in these young people is our community’s best chance for increasing retention of an energizing nucleus that has the potential to reverse the trends painfully evident in the study.

We all prefer good news to bad. This has caused some commentators on the Pew study to celebrate the number of Jews regardless of their commitments or argue that the answer is to be more “welcoming” of those who are heading for the exits.

There are no easy fixes. The only way to retain the next generation will be to inspire them to desire and love substantive Jewish life. If enough Jews can be so inspired, the Jewish future will be far rosier than the snapshot offered by the Pew study.


Yossi Prager is the executive director-North America of the Avi Chai Foundation.

Engagement trends are negative, but Jewish funders see validation in Pew study


If you’re pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into Jewish identity building, what do you do when a survey comes along showing that the number of U.S. Jews engaging with Jewish life and religion is plummeting?

That’s the question facing major funders of American Jewish life following the release last week of the Pew Research Center’s survey on U.S. Jews.

The study — the first comprehensive portrait of American Jewry in more than a decade — showed that nearly one-third of Jews under age 32 do not identify as Jewish by religion, that American Jews are intermarrying at a rate of 58 percent (71 percent if the Orthodox are excluded) and that most intermarried Jews are not raising their kids as Jews.

For many of the Jewish world’s biggest funders, the answer to this question is clear: Stay the course.

“We’ve known about these issues and many of us have been working in our own ways to address them,” said Sandy Cardin, president of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, which with more than $2 billion in assets is one of the Jewish world’s largest foundations focused on bolstering Jewish identity and community among young people.

“We haven’t done it yet, and by no means is success assured, but I do think as a community we have identified significant ways to address these challenges,” he told JTA. “It’s too soon, I think, to see the immediate impact of what many of us in the community have been doing over the past five to 10 years.”

The logic to this approach is relatively straightforward: The findings in the Pew survey mostly upheld the assumptions upon which major givers in Jewish life already have been operating. In their view, the survey validates their own philanthropic priorities — even if they disagree about what to prioritize.

“This new study reinforces the idea that we need an energizing nucleus which is literate in Hebrew, and which is engaged in intensive and immersive education and committed to Jewish life and Jewish institutions,” said Yossi Prager, executive director in North America of Avi Chai, a major investor in Jewish education.

Andres Spokoiny, CEO of the Jewish Funders Network, drew a different conclusion: “Those that were investing heavily in Jewish culture and alternative venues for Jewish identity were right,” he said.

“Given that a lot of Jews define themselves as secular or atheist, it’s critically important that while investing in traditional venues in Jewish life, it’s important to explore and find and foster venues for encouraging Jewish identity through non-traditional ways — through culture, through arts,” Spokoiny said. “I think that’s a key message.”

Mark Charendoff, president of the Maimonides Fund, said the study demonstrates a remarkable failure to achieve many of the central goals adopted by the Jewish community in the wake of the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey, which showed what many considered alarmingly high assimilation rates.

“As a community, we made a decision a couple of decades ago to focus on Jewish continuity and Jewish identity, and we don’t seem to have moved the needle by even one degree,” Charendoff told JTA. “I would love to tell you I think it’s a wakeup call, but I don’t think anyone’s waking up.”

Jewish foundations need to get on the same page to develop a comprehensive strategy to begin to reverse the negative trends, he said.

“Donors by and large are focused on particular efforts and not focused on the field as a whole,” Charendoff said. “There needs to be more coordination, more resources. We’re only going to have that impact if there’s alignment and not 10,000 people doing God’s work but without regard to what their neighbors are doing.”

Whether the Pew study will prompt a systemic response, or even an attempt at one by Jewish funders, remains to be seen.

Next month, the Jewish Federations of North America will convene its annual General Assembly, which draws fundraisers and leaders from federations throughout the United States. Jerry Silverman, the umbrella group’s CEO, told JTA that this year’s confab is not the place for beginning a communitywide conversation about the Pew study results.

This year’s G.A. will be held in Jerusalem and focus on the Israel-Diaspora relationship. The Pew study will not be on the agenda, he said.

“You really need to bring together thinkers and thought leaders who can really think this through. I don’t think that’s the G.A. population,” Silverman said. “That’s not the forum to think this through.”

Chip Edelsberg, the executive director of the Jim Joseph Foundation, which has awarded about $280 million in grants for Jewish education and engagement since 2006, said his foundation needs more time to delve into the Pew data to figure out what changes are necessary, if any, to their strategies for engaging young American Jews.

“It will certainly animate our discussions and have a bearing on the foundation’s decision making, because it is actually good data,” he said.

Michael Steinhardt, the mega-philanthropist behind Birthright Israel, Hebrew-language charter schools and a host of other Jewish community programs, said the results of Pew are hardly news: Separate community studies over the last few years have made the trends clear.

“We should not need the Pew study to give us a reality check,” he said. “The question is what to do about it.”

Steinhardt says he isn’t optimistic that the Jewish community will respond effectively.

“Nothing’s a galvanizing event for the Jewish community,” he said. “I don’t see the community thoughtfully dealing with it.”

Reform leader Rick Jacobs slams Israeli gov’t discrimination against non-Orthodox


Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said American Jews should no longer acquiesce to Israeli state-sanctioned discrimination against women and non-Orthodox Jews.

“I would fight passionately for the right of Orthodox Jews to pray freely at the Kotel or anywhere else, so I can’t understand why we acquiesce when the rights of non-Orthodox Jews are denied by the Jewish state,” Jacobs said to wide applause in a speech Tuesday at the closing plenary of the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, where Jacobs served as the scholar in residence. “This is a moment that calls for Israel and the world Jewish community to address equality for all streams of Judaism by the government of Israel.”

Jacobs cited the case of activist Anat Hoffman, head of the Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center, who was arrested last month at the Western Wall for leading a women's prayer service while wearing a tallit prayer shawl — an act that contravenes an Israeli law that has survived Supreme Court challenges.

“Yes, the Israeli Supreme Court has the authority to restrict the prayer of women and non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall. But why is this holy Jewish site run like an Orthodox synagogue? Why can’t there be space and time for both egalitarian prayer and for more traditional forms of prayer at this holy place?” Jacobs asked. “So long as Israel remains the only democracy that legally discriminates against the majority of Jews who are in the non-Orthodox streams, the Zionist dream of the ingathering of the exiles in a Jewish state for all Jews cannot be fully realized.

“It is time to end this discrimination once and for all,” he said, adding, “When women are subjected to discrimination at the Kotel, it feeds other forms of discrimination by the ultra-Orthodox against women — on buses and in other public facilities.”

Jacobs also called on American Jews to ensure that Israel not become a partisan issue, saying the Jewish community's traditional bipartisan consensus on Israel must be restored following a divisive U.S. election campaign.

“The pro-Israel community must be large enough to include the IDF veteran campaigning for peace on the college campus, the AIPAC activist lobbying members of Congress, the human rights activist protesting unlawful seizure of Arab homes in Jerusalem, the West Bank settler and the Jew who protests the lack of religious freedom in the Jewish state,” he said.

Approximately 3,000 people attended this year's GA held in Baltimore Sunday through Tuesday.

Rabbi Gary Greenebaum takes national leadership position; Survival of Jews in Iran is a paradox, pan


Rabbi Gary Greenebaum takes national leadership position

Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, a key figure in Los Angeles civic and ecumenical relations for the last 16 years, has been appointed national director for interreligious affairs by the American Jewish Committee (AJC).

As director of AJC’s Los Angeles chapter and Western region since 1990, Greenebaum has worked closely with leaders of the city’s varied ethnic and religious communities to further mutual respect and understanding.

He plans to project the same skills and goals on the national scene in his new post, succeeding David Elcott, who has joined the Israel Policy Forum as executive director.

“I realize now more than ever how strongly religion affects American society,” Greenebaum said.

Greenebaum played another crucial role when Mayor Richard Riordan appointed him president of the Los Angeles Police Commission in 1993, in the wake of the previous year’s riots, sparked by the acquittal of police officers involved in the Rodney King beating.

“I think that my appointment to the Police Commission and my work there helped alleviate a sense among African Americans that Jews didn’t care any longer about their community,” he said. “I also believe that we have established a tremendous relationship with the Latino community over the years.”

In a different arena, Greenebaum and his chapter have spearheaded Jewish communal relations with some 45 countries represented by consulates in Los Angeles. In recognition of this work, he was recently awarded the National Order of Merit by the French government.

Greenebaum, 57, will retain his family residence in Los Angeles and expects to spend one week each month in New York.

Among highlights of his California tenure, Greenebaum recalled taking several delegations of Protestant and Catholic leaders to Israel and the 2003 AJC mission to Salt Lake City to meet with top Mormon leaders.

“Gary is a wonderful judge of people,” said Sherry A. Weinman, president of the Los Angeles AJC chapter. “He knows exactly when to lead with his rabbinical side and when with his statesman side.”

Debbie Smith Saidoff, who serves on the national AJC board of governors, praised Greenebaum’s sensitivity in dealing with representatives of other faiths.

“Gary is a multidimensional leader of great insight, but he is never afraid to speak truth to power,” she said.

In his new position, Greenebaum will work closely with Jerusalem-based Rabbi David Rosen, AJC’s international director of interreligious affairs.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Survival of Jews in Iran is a paradox, panel shows

On Oct. 20, the Women of Vision chapter of the Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization, presented a panel discussion on “The Jews of Iran: Will This 2,700-Year-Old Community Survive?” to a standing-room-only crowd at the Museum of Tolerance.

At present, 25,000 Jews live in Iran, 15,000 of them in Tehran, making Iran’s Jewish population the second largest in the Middle East, outside of Israel. In the years following the 1979 revolution, approximately 75 percent of the Iranian Jewish population fled the country, some to New York but many more to Los Angeles, which now boasts the largest Iranian Jewish population in the world.

Speakers at the conference included Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, as well as Hamid Sabi, former chairman of the Iranian Jewish Centre in London. They were joined by Tel Aviv University professors Meir Litvak, an expert in Shi’ii and radical Islamic movements, and David Menashri, director of the Tel Aviv University’s Center for Iranian Studies; television producer and poet Roya Hakakian, author of “Journey From the Land of No” (Crown), about growing up as a Jewish teenager in post-revolutionary Iran; Shirin Taleh, a relatively recent immigrant to Los Angeles from Tehran, where she was a Jewish preschool and kindergarten schoolteacher; and Israel Radio personality Menashe Amir, who hosts a regular program listened to by Iranians the world over. The panel was moderated by Sharon Baradaran, a professor in UCLA’s Israel studies department.

The conference presented a complex look at the recent history of Jews in Iran. Amir made clear that over the last century, the condition of Jews in Iran had gone from bad to better (under the shah) to worse, prompting Baradaran to ask whether the better times under the shah were more of an aberration than had been thought.

Hakakian and Sabi both spoke of the role of Jews in the revolution and post-revolutionary period, time of great intellectual ferment and hope. Hakakian, in particular, still hopes a democracy will emerge in Iran, and she is encouraged by reports that average Iranians are losing interest in Iranian government-produced Palestinian propaganda and are showing interest in Israel.

By contrast, Litvak was vocal in pointing out that Iran only tolerates Jews living under Muslim rule — not as people living in an independent state. Iran has become the world leader in Holocaust denial, Litvak explained, as part of a political strategy to undermine support for Israel’s existence.

The panelists agreed that today’s Iran presents a paradox. In many ways, as Hakakian, Sabi and Taleh made clear, life for Jews in some ways has never been better. They are a “protected minority,” allowed to drink wine for their rituals, while Muslims are not allowed alcohol; Jews may allow men and women to mix, while Muslims cannot.Nonetheless, Jews are barred from government jobs, and under Muslim laws, their rights in criminal and civil courts are not equal to other Iranian citizens.

Iranian Muslims consider Jews “filthy” and impure. Yet Jews in Iran have the right to passports and to travel abroad and could leave if they choose.

Litvak suggested that Iran’s Jews have little future living as a minority in Iran and will not likely be able to improve their place in society. Kermanian recommended that the remaining Jews of Iran leave as soon as possible, in case conditions should change.

Menashri suggested that all Iranian Jews should move to Israel, while Hakakian argued that Iran’s Jews should remain and will flourish under a future regime. Taleh believes that there always will be a Jewish Iran, as long as parents teach their children about Judaism.

— Tom Teicholz, Contributing Writer

From Agony to Acceptance — Documentary Delves Into Intermarriage


When Holocaust survivor Leah Welbel learns that her American granddaughter is about to marry a Christian, she cries out, “When this happened in my old hometown, my family used to sit shiva. Here they expect me to open my arms. I can’t do it.”

Leah’s agony in the documentary, “Out of Faith,” is deeply rooted in the memory of her 33 months at Auschwitz-Birkenau. But the same dilemma of rejection or acceptance is faced by other American Jewish families, half of whose children and grandchildren opt for interfaith marriages.

The film, which will have a special screening on Sept. 12 at the Laemmle Sunset, is rich in the human drama of family relationships and sharpened by the Holocaust experience, while tracing the trajectory of the American arc from immigration to assimilation.

Leah, deported from her Slovakian hometown at age 16 and in her mid-70s when the film was made, is the classic indomitable Jewish matriarch. Voluble, feisty, humorous, a born survivor, she ably made her way, first in Israel and then in Skokie, Ill.

She taught herself the intricacies of the stock market and prospered, even as she continued to labor over her gastronomic specialty, potato sandwiches. And she hasn’t spoken to her grandson, Danny, in six years, since he married a non-Jew.

Now her granddaughter, Cheryl, has announced that she will marry Matt, a Christian, and Leah tries a different tack. If she pushes Cheryl hard enough, Leah figures, maybe the new bride can persuade Matt to convert to Judaism.

Though raised in an Orthodox home, Leah is not particularly observant, not even lighting candles on Friday evenings. But by allowing her grandchildren to marry non-Jews, she insists, “I feel like a traitor … we’re finishing the job Hitler started. We’ll become extinct like the Mayas.”

Always in the background hovers her older husband, his eyes alternately dead or haunted, who worked in a Sonderkommando shoveling Jewish corpses into the crematorium. He says little but wonders, “Where was God in Auschwitz?”

Leah’s son, Michael, also married a Christian, but his wife, Betty, converted to Judaism. Not an unmixed blessing, Michael observes, since “she became more Jewish than we are. We had to reel her back in.”

A friend has a different attitude.

“If I didn’t let my son marry a Catholic, I would have lost a son,” she says.The different viewpoints toward intermarriage are reflected by the film’s producer, L. Mark DeAngelis, and director Lisa Leeman.

DeAngelis, a 36-year-old Chicago lawyer, businessman and now founder of Eliezer Films, grew up in a secular home. When Leah, a family friend, invited him to accompany her on a trip to Auschwitz some five years ago, he accepted and found both a subject for his film and a new attachment to Judaism.

“I started wondering why, when I dated a non-Jewish girl, it bothered me, which seemed almost like a racist thought at the time,” he said in a phone interview.DeAngelis has no doubt about his viewpoint now. “If our community is to have a future in this country, Jews must marry Jews. Only that way will their kids have a shot at staying Jewish,” he said.

He is now launching an outreach campaign, “Keep the Faith.”

Leeman, a veteran Los Angeles filmmaker and editor, represents, in her words, “the classic American story of assimilation.”

Her father, she said, was “a New York Jew,” her mother, a Protestant of Scandinavian descent from Idaho. Neither parent was religious and Leeman thought little about her identity until she attended a meeting of the Conference of Christians and Jews.

“At some point, participants were asked to divide into Jewish and Christian groups, and instinctively I chose the Jewish one,” Leeman said.

As the product of an interfaith marriage, Leeman has a tolerant — or ambivalent — attitude on the topic.

“I can understand that any ethnic group, Jewish, Chinese or Mexican, wants to pass on its culture and heritage to future generations,” she said. “But are they willing to do it at the price of family strife and estrangement?”

The web magazine, InterfaithFamily.com, interacts with about 20,000 Jewish visitors a month, says managing editor Micah Sachs. The webzine is not a professional counseling service, and most questions are referred to a hometown list of rabbis and social workers.

Yet, over time, Sachs and his colleagues have accumulated some pragmatic suggestions, particularly for parents struggling with a child’s interfaith relationship or marriage.

  • Your child is not rejecting you but making a personal choice.
  • Opposing or condemning your child’s love for a non-Jew is almost always counter-productive. While parents should not hesitate to stress their own attachment to Judaism, understanding and welcoming a non-Jewish partner works out better in the long run.
  • Do not insist that the non-Jewish partner convert to Judaism, unless it’s his or her own decision.
  • Your situation is not unique. Depending on the definition of who is a Jew, slightly more or slightly less than 50 percent of Jewish newlyweds between 1995-2000 married non-Jewish partners. Some 33 percent of these mixed households raised their children as Jewish. However, in families with two Jewish spouses, 96 percent raised Jewish children, according to the National Jewish Populations Survey.

“Out of Faith” will screen at 7:30 p.m., Sept. 12, at the Laemmle Sunset 5 Theatre, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, to be followed by a discussion between the audience and the filmmakers.

Admission is free, but a $10 donation is suggested. For information, contact Kim Fishman at (310) 907-5852, or e-mail outreach@outoffaith.net. For background on the film, go to www.outoffaith.net.For more information on “Out of Faith,” visit, www.Jafah.org.

Orthodoxy Has Chance to Reshape Role


A window has opened to the Orthodox community. We are being invited to help reshape the social dynamics of the American

Jewish community. With courage and vision, we need to act on this opportunity by understanding the important changes that have occurred over the last decades and rethinking the way we engage the broader Jewish community.

Never before in the history of U.S. Judaism has there been openness to Orthodoxy as sincere and real as that which we see today. I am not referring to openness in terms of individual Jews embracing Orthodoxy. For many practical and philosophical reasons, such individuals will always be relatively few. Rather, I am referring to the openness of non-Orthodox and interdenominational institutions to learning from the experiences and insights of their Orthodox brethren.

To wit, numerous hallmarks of Orthodox life have been adopted by other movements. Conservative and Reform day schools are growing in number and size. We are seeing broad adoption of the more participatory and Chasidic worship style. Non-Orthodox women’s groups have discovered the mikvah’a (ritual bath) use as a form of spirituality, and the new hip name for adult education institutes outside of Orthodoxy is kollel.

This phenomenon presents the Orthodox community with an unprecedented chance to engage with and contribute to the wider community in far-reaching and significant ways. But it is one that we can seize only by moving beyond our traditional parameters regulating interdenominational contacts, which have long since outlived their purpose and usefulness.

Today, Orthodox rabbis have practically disappeared from interdenominational boards of rabbis. In some communities, the Orthodox Rabbinical Council actually forbids its members from joining interdenominational boards.

Interdenominational study groups or even social action groups are practically unheard of. The vast majority of Orthodox synagogues would never consider having a joint Simchat Torah celebration, Shavuot night learning program or a Tisha b’Av ceremony with a non-Orthodox congregation.

Historically, there is strong precedence for such reticence about interdenominational involvements. In 1954, even Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik strongly discouraged Orthodox rabbis from pursuing matters of “spiritual religious interest” with non-Orthodox rabbis, while in 1956, an influential declaration signed by a dozen outstanding Orthodox luminaries, including Rabbi Moses Feinstein, prohibited membership in interdenominational groups.

But it is at the peril of American Judaism that we ignore the vital and fundamental differences between the 1950s and today. The concern that drove the rulings of 50 years ago is no longer relevant. The 1950s and ’60s were years of enormous struggle for American Orthodoxy, as children of Orthodox parents continued to leave Orthodox life in great numbers, and the culture militated hard against Orthodox Jews retaining their traditional observance.

The attraction of Conservative and Reform Judaism was very great in these circumstances. What Soloveitchik called an ideological battle, with the future of Orthodoxy at stake, was being waged against non-Orthodox movements. In this context, we can readily understand how any activity or association that implied Orthodoxy’s recognition of Conservative or Reform rabbis as peers would have signaled to the Orthodox community that all denominational options were equally acceptable.

In Soloveitchik’s words, “Too much harmony and peace can cause confusion of the minds and will erase outwardly the boundaries between Orthodoxy and other movements.”

Today, however, the Orthodox community has become a stable — indeed growing — presence successfully retaining its youth. The ideological battle is, for all intents and purposes, over.

Additionally, even as denominational lines continue to exist within the Jewish community, the only line that is thick and red divides those who ignore rising Jewish apathy and those ready to combat it. In the 1950s and indeed into the 1970s, intermarriage was statistically negligible. Today, standing as it does at nearly 50 percent, intermarriage is the greatest threat to the entire Jewish community.

Indifference toward one’s Jewish identity, the frequent precursor of intermarriage, is widespread among America’s Jews, as is evidenced by the paltry rates of synagogue affiliation that turn up in study after study. Anyone willing to fight for Jewish survival is a de facto ally.

Several years ago, I joined with non-Orthodox colleagues in creating a retreat program for our synagogue’s teenagers. One retreat was dedicated to the theme of interdating and intermarriage. The discussions were passionate and serious, and the openness to sharing and listening was breathtaking. The Orthodox teens made a palpable impact on their peers, and all it took was the courage to engage.

The window is open, and it may represent our last, best chance to effectively counter the trends that have been eroding both the quality and quantity of Jewish religious life in the United States.

The only question facing us is whether we help each other through by sharing resources, ideas and comradeship or hobble through by withholding spiritual capital in the name of an ideological battle that effectively ended a generation ago.

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky is the rabbi of the B’nai David-Judea Congregation and the president of the Southern California Board of Rabbis. This column appears courtesy of www.edah.org.

 

Day School for Reform Jews, Too


The idea that a significant number of American Jewish children would come to attend Jewish day schools would have seemed unimaginable no more than 40 years ago, and the notion that thousands from Reform Jewish homes would attend such schools would have seemed even more fantastic. After all, the public school was the major institution that facilitated the entry of upwardly mobile immigrant Jews and their children into American life throughout the major part of the 20th century.

For the overwhelming majority of these Jews, loyalty to this school system was an absolute article of faith. And for Reform Jews, as for others, devotion to the public school system was a sign of fidelity to the United States. During most of that period, the exclusive norm for Reform Jewish education was the after-school or weekend religious school.

Much has changed since those years. Reform Jews, like so many others, have embraced practices and displayed attitudes regarding a number of areas of Jewish tradition that would have been unthinkable decades earlier. The reasons for these changes are many. Foremost among them is that the American Jewish community is no longer predominantly an immigrant one, and traditional barriers that formerly discriminated against Jews have all but been completely destroyed. Jews have become full and accepted participants in every sector of American life.

On one level, this means that the public schools are no longer required in order to facilitate Jewish entry into American society. On a deeper level, we would point out that public expressions of ethnic pride and religious commitment are applauded in ways that would not have been possible in earlier decades. The complex shoals of an ethically unsure American landscape and an excessively individualistic American society where traditional roots of identity are shallow and where traditional religious-moral values are frequently called into question are the new challenges facing American Jews. Many Jewish parents, and we include ourselves, feel that an intense exposure for our children to the ethical-cultural-religious-national heritage that is Judaism constitutes an invaluable and unparalleled resource for educating and preparing our children for participation in a pluralistic and constantly changing and expanding world.

Viewed from this perspective, Jewish day school education does not reflect a lack of allegiance to the United States. Nor need such education embody a narrow particularistic exultation of Jewish tradition.

Instead, Reform day school education indicates that a significant number of liberal Jewish parents now regard our tradition as a precious source that will allow our children to anchor and explore their personal and communal identity as Jews in a meaningful way. Such education permits many of us as parents to express our confidence that the values and teachings of Jewish tradition that our children will learn from a liberal Jewish perspective in such schools will cause our children to contribute as Jews to the American public square in an authentic liberal Jewish voice.

The creation of an ever-growing network of more than 20 North American Reform Jewish day schools that educates thousands of Reform Jewish youngsters — as well as the decision made by hundreds if not thousands more Reform Jewish parents to send their children either to Jewish day schools under community auspices or to Solomon Schechter schools — indicates that a growing number of Reform Jewish parents resonate to the motifs and concerns we have outlined here.

We recognize that most Reform Jewish parents will unquestionably continue to send their children to afterschool Hebrew and religious school programs, and we affirm the worth and importance that must be assigned these schools. Indeed, initiatives at our Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) Schools of Education in both Los Angeles and New York are helping congregations reimagine their congregational schools and the educational leadership required to guide these schools to meet the challenges confronting today’s children and their families.

At the same time, we are delighted that increasing numbers of Reform Jews are choosing the day school option for their children, and we would urge more to do so. Our hope is that larger numbers of Reform and other liberal American Jews will regard an intense encounter with Judaism as a desirable option for their children in a multicultural world, and that these same parents will understand that such an encounter does not represent a retreat from the larger world.

In an open American society that thankfully embraces Jews so warmly, we do not believe that there is any simple panacea to the challenges that confront the creation of a vibrant Jewish community. Nevertheless, we would submit that the insight provided in the Talmud is a recipe for meaningful Jewish life and ongoing Jewish commitment and values.

If we educate our children in schools that allow for optimal exposure to Judaism, we will foster their maturation as knowledgeable and serious liberal Jews.

We know already that such day schools succeed. A number of studies shows that graduates of liberal day schools over the past 20 years play a disproportionate role in the leadership of every sector of our community – Hillels, synagogues, Israel advocacy groups and federations.

We are confident that more such day school children, along with others, will one day be the guarantors of a Reform Judaism that is vital and inclusive, a liberal Judaism that will address and attract broad numbers of Jewish adults and their children, and that will inspire both Jews and non-Jews in the highest and most humane values of our tradition.

Article reprinted courtesy The Jewish Week.


David Ellenson is president and professor of Jewish Religious Thought at HUC-JIR. Michael Zeldin is professor of Jewish education at HUC-JIR, Los Angeles, and was recently appointed director of Day School Initiatives.

Do We Have Anything Left to Give?


Do the Jews have anything left to give to America?

This question was on my mind recently, after I was on a panel at Brandeis-Bardin Institute to discuss the Jewish influence on American culture. The popular view on this subject is invariably, "Just look at all the Jews who run Hollywood and the media; look at the humor, the attitude, the Yiddish terms, etc. Jews are everywhere."

This is true, but when you start to look beneath the surface, you see a more complicated picture, one that suggests the waning influence of Judaism and the need to re-examine the Jews’ role in America as we begin the 21st century.

Culture is easy to steal. What was clearly "Jewish" at the turn of the century is now just as likely to be called American. Of course, America didn’t just steal it, we gave it away, with the gusto of a grateful people desperate to fit in.

And who can blame us? After 2,000 years of getting beat up everywhere we went, we discover this all-you-can-eat freedom buffet called America, and what do we do? We eat, and we cook and we have lots of people over.

Culture was the perfect Jewish thank-you gift to America. Movies, music, humor and literature are entertaining, relatively harmless and easily appreciated. They’re also easy to co-opt. That’s why the Gershwins, Bellows, Berles, Spielbergs and Streisands are at least as American as they are Jewish.

That’s not to say culture was all we gave; we’re not that homogeneous or disciplined. For every Woody Allen directing a film, there was an Abbie Hoffman directing a civil rights march.

But in the explosive areas of morality and politics, there was always a collective care in the Jewish community not to offend our gracious hosts. We may have planted the seeds of Jewish morality, but in the field of culture, we grew a forest.

This 100-year cultural love fest between the Jews and America has been a source of rightful pride, but it has left us with a nagging question that many Jews have difficulty answering: Do we have anything "Jewish" left to give?

We have trouble answering this question, because we’ve developed an instinct to equate everything Jewish with everything American. In other words, if our cultures are now so intertwined, then everything else — including our values — must be as well.

The American values of freedom, tolerance and diversity? They’re Jewish. The Jewish values of freedom, tolerance and diversity? They’re American.

It’s a simple, convenient formula that lets us feel Jewish and American without offending either side (even in our activism to defend Israel against terrorism, we never miss the chance to equate it with America’s war).

But there is a catch. In our zeal to equate America and Judaism, we have lost sight of some important differences. If we can learn how to internalize and share these differences without feeling like disloyal or ungrateful Americans, we will deepen both our Jewish identities and our contribution to our adopted country.

There are three areas where Judaism differs with America. As the historian Stephen Whitfield explains in his book, "In Search of American Jewish Culture" (University Press, 1999), America focuses on the individual, the here and now and the pursuit of pleasure, while Judaism focuses on the community, the past and the pursuit of meaning. In a nutshell, America is about freedom, while Judaism is more about what to do with that freedom.

Judaism respects the individual, but it places a higher value on connecting the individual to the community. Judaism is active in the present, but it elevates the lessons of history, the beauty of tradition and the power of considered thought (read one paragraph of Talmud and you’ll see that Judaism does not promote a short attention span). And while Judaism certainly doesn’t shy away from pleasure, it puts a higher priority on the value of leading a meaningful life.

In a litigious society that reveres the legal loophole, Judaism goes beyond the letter of the law to its spirit. It’s not enough to be right, we must also be good. Our Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) picks up where the U. S. Constitution and Bill of Rights leave off. Judaism is not obsessed with rights; it’s obsessed with obligations.

All this to say that yes, Judaism still has plenty to share with America. The good news is that America is ready to hear the Jewish message — we live in an open, multicultural, emotional country that doesn’t mind being moved and challenged. And after being such wonderful guests for so long, we’ve certainly earned the right to make a bolder contribution.

The not-so-good news is that Jews have become so American that all we’re giving back to America, it seems, is more of itself. This is a shame.

If more Jews had the chutzpah to assert and live up to our differences, we might add an exciting new dynamic to our relationship with America (and isn’t asserting one’s difference part of the American way?). Ironically, the Jews and America are now in the same boat: We both could use a little more Judaism.

For our Jewish leaders worried about "Jewish continuity" and "Jewish pride," they ought to educate and encourage Jews to become the unapologetic messengers of Judaism and its distinctive values. Instead of spending $6 million to count the Jews, they could spend that money to make Jews count.

And they ought to realize that a Jewish identity shaped by a negative, crisis mindset — against assimilation, against intermarriage, against anti-Semitism — is not as nourishing and lasting as one driven by the empowering questions: What values am I for and what values can I share?

In the 20th century, we were geniuses at sharing the value of our culture. In the 21st century, we can be geniuses at sharing the culture of our values. That would be good for America, and it certainly would be good for the Jews.

David Suissa is founder and CEO of Suissa Miller Advertising and founder/editor of OLAM magazine. He can be reached at editor@OLAM.org.

Where Lies the Real Cause of Anti-Semitism?


When we ask ourselves whether anti-Semitism is essentially one thing or many, just as when we ask ourselves whether or how it will cease — when we ask, in
other words, what must change to make it cease — are we not really asking whether the real cause of anti-Semitism is to be found in the Jews or in the world?

Before anyone protests that even to inquire whether the Jews might be the cause of anti-Semitism is an abject capitulation to the anti-Semites, I would remind you that the belief that they are the cause of it has been traditionally shared by anti-Semites with Jews.

Why are the Jews like the fruit of the olive tree, ask the rabbis in the Midrash. “Because,” they answer, “as all liquids mix with each other, but the oil of the olive does not, so Israel does not mix with the gentiles…. And as the olive does not yield its oil unless it is crushed, so Israel does not return to God unless it is crushed by affliction.”

Being chosen and set apart exacts a double price. It makes an envious and indignant world persecute the Jews, and it makes a pedagogical God allow this to happen. Historically, this is the normative Jewish point of view. Classical Zionism, too, viewed the Jews as the cause of anti-Semitism.

Here is Leo Pinsker’s “Auto-Emancipation,” published 14 years before [Theodore] Herzl’s “The Jewish State”: “Among the living nations of the earth, the Jews occupy the position of a nation long since dead…. If the fear of ghosts is something inborn and has a certain justification in the psychic life of humanity, is it any wonder that it asserted itself powerfully at the sight of this dead and yet living nation…? The misfortunes of the Jews are due, above all, to their lack of desire for national independence….”

Zionism understood the Jews’ misfortunes differently from rabbinic Judaism, which made it more optimistic about overcoming them. And yet there is in all self-blame a peculiar sort of optimism that helps to explain why, starting with the biblical prophets, there has been so much of it among Jews. For if you are the cause of your own suffering, you have the ability to rectify it, as you do not if it is caused by something or someone outside you.

Imagine that in its early years, Zionism had declared proudly and defiantly: “Do not blame the Jews! It is not their fault that they have become the scapegoats of a sick mankind, which has projected onto them, and will continue to project onto them, all its fears, hatreds and phobias.”

Such a Zionism would also have had to say: “Because mankind will always have fears, hatred and phobias, there will always be anti-Semitism, which no Jewish State can put an end to. On the contrary, such a state will simply become anti-Semitism’s new focus.”

How many followers would a Herzl who said this have attracted? If anti-Semitism has a single cause — the Jews — it is a dragon that can be slain. If it has many causes — as many as the world has fears, hatreds and phobias — it is a hydra: Cut off one head and it will grow another. Is that, then, what we are asking when we ask whether the new anti-Semitism is or is not just the old one all over again — whether we are fighting a dragon or a hydra?

I have two friends who I wish were at this conference (on “Anti-Semitism in the West”). They have thought more passionately about anti-Semitism than anyone else I know personally, and they disagree about it so sharply that we’ve missed a chance to see some sparks fly by not having them.

They are the scholar and critic of Jewish literature Ruth Wisse and the novelist A.B. Yehoshua. Wisse rejects the notion that the Jews have caused anti-Semitism, except insofar, perhaps, as they have not been militant enough in combating it. Jewish self-blame, she thinks, is a habitual introjection of anti-Semitic attitudes that turns the anger of Jews inward at themselves, rather than outward at their enemies.

Anti-Semitism is hydra-headed, and its latest form of hatred of Israel should be viewed not primarily as another round of “discrimination against Jews or even persecution of Jews,” but as “a political instrument to oppose liberal democracy by harnessing ancient prejudice to brand-new fears.”

The battle for democracy — the one form of government under which Jews have always prospered — and the battle against Israelophobia, Wisse therefore argues in a book she now is writing, are one and the same, since Israel is “democracy’s fighting front line.”

Yehoshua is writing a book, too. In it he maintains that the ultimate reason for anti-Semitism is the Jews themselves. Although this does not, needless to say, excuse or justify prejudice against them, the Jews have throughout their history, Yehoshua believes, baffled and exasperated the world. They have done this by taking two ideas that were their contribution to civilization and by which civilization subsequently organized itself — the idea of monotheistic universalism and the idea of national particularism — and fusing them in a way that has subverted both, thus ironically making them in the world’s eyes the symbolic enemy of humanity and of the nation alike.

It is this fusion or confusion, Yehoshua argues, that has enabled the Arab states to turn a political and territorial conflict with Israel into a successful anti-Semitic campaign, since Israel’s failure to distinguish clearly between religion and nationality — that is, between Jewishness and Israeliness — makes it an anomaly among democracies and exposes it to charges of racism and discrimination.

I don’t wish to comment in these brief remarks on the intrinsic merits of either Wisse’s or Yehoshua’s position, each of which draws on a broad hinterland of thought. I would merely point out that if we ask ourselves the question put to this panel, “Has the sovereignty of Jews in the State of Israel and the flourishing of Jews in America permanently changed the context for the analysis of anti-Semitism,” Wisse says “yes” and Yehoshua says “no,” while if we ask, “Do the Jews have the power to put an end to anti-Semitism,” Wisse says “no” and Yehoshua says “yes.”

Yehoshua’s “yes” is based on the conviction that if Israel and Diaspora Jewry would pursue the Zionist revolution to its logical end, they would finally disentangle the Jewish confusion of religion and nationality that has rankled mankind for over 2,000 years, leaving us with two discrete identities — a Jewish religious one and an Israeli national one.

Since such a Judaism could no longer be suspected of supranational allegiances and such an Israel could no longer be accused of undemocratic practices, Type 6 anti-Semitism would fade and — in the absence of a cause for Type 7 — anti-Semitism would pass at last from the world.

Wisse would object to this strongly. She would counter, I suppose, that Judaism without Jewish nationhood would not be Judaism, just as a non-Jewish Israel would not be Israel, and that Yehoshua’s approach simply demonstrates the illusion of thinking that, short of disappearing themselves, the Jews can make anti-Semitism disappear.

We have, then, two opposed analyses. Yet, curiously, they converge on one belief, which is that a vigorously democratic Israel in an alliance of values and interests with democratic forces around the world is the best way of combating contemporary anti-Semitism. And while you needn’t doubt that if they were at this conference, Wisse, who is on the political right, and Yehoshua, who is on the political left, would be fighting tooth-and-nail over just what such an Israel and such a Jewish politics entail, they would fully agree on the need for defending and promoting them.

This is encouraging. It suggests that however differently we may answer the questions put to this panel, our operative conclusions may turn out to be similar. It is a little as if two oncologists, after arguing how and whether a new malignancy in a patient is related to a previous one, found themselves agreeing on the broad outlines of its treatment, if not on the specific drugs or techniques of surgery to be used. The history of medicine indeed tells us that successfully combating an illness need not depend on identifying its root cause.

“Why the Jews?” will go on being asked, not because the question is resolvable or because we cannot act without answers to it, but because our anguish in the face of continued anti-Semitism makes us ask it. This anguish is especially great for those of us who have believed, and go on believing, that Zionism and Israel were the most appropriate and farsighted of all Jewish responses to modernity, a heroic effort on the part of the Jewish people to rejoin the family of man.

That this effort is now widely represented, so soon after the Holocaust, as a new argument for excluding the Jews from humanity’s ranks is a bitter blow. One could easily be driven to despair by it. That is why it is important to keep in mind that, nevertheless, we know what needs to be done.


Hillel Halkin, a journalist and essayist who publishes often in Commentary and The Forward, is the author of “Letters to an American Jewish Friend” and “Across the Sabbath River.” The column above is excerpted from a speech given at a recent international conference in New York, “Old Demons, New Debates: Anti-Semitism in the West.”

A-door-able Art


In these patriotic times, everyone — from the fashion industry to the jewelry industry — is capitalizing on the American flag motif.

So it should come as no surprise that someone believes that Jews will want to display the flag too, in the most unlikely of places: religious articles.

Judaism.com is offering the USA Mezuzah case, a pewter- or gold-finish scroll-holder, featuring the Stars and Stripes of the American flag. “For those who love America as much as they love Jewish tradition,” the Web site advertises.

“The USA Mezuzah expresses our sentiments as American Jews,” writes Shlomo Perelman, president of Judaism.com “The American flag symbolizes the freedom to live without fear — One nation under God. By attaching a mezuzah to the doorposts of our homes, a Jew protects the lives and property of those who dwell within. The USA Mezuzah demonstrates our commitment to Jewish tradition while affirming our allegiance to this country that we love,” he adds.

Designed by American artist Robin Kimball as a response to the events of Sept. 11, the 4-inch by 1.5-inch-wide mezuzah is made from a cast of polymer clay, will hold a 2.75 inch scroll and sells for $49.95. (10 percent of all sales will be donated to the United Jewish Communities Relief Fund for relief of Sept. 11 victims.)

Perelman says he expects that other products that blend American patriotism and Judaism will soon hit the market.

Up next: Flag phylacteries?

Together in Nature


For the eight Israeli and nine American teens in the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership program, Project Hevrei Teva, the scene was right out of the movie "Deliverance," only this scene, a campground in Sequoia National Park, was real life, and a real bear was standing before them.

None of the Israelis had ever seen one before. Project leader Josh Lake, head of the Shalom Nature Institute, which helped develop the month-long program, calmly directed the teens to stand together and start waving their arms high in the air. Suddenly, the absent-minded bear stopped slobbering over the teens’ backpacks and looked around; something had spooked him. The next thing they knew, the bear was hightailing it for the woods.

"It must have been our stench," laughed Lake, describing the scene. By that point, the teens had gone for nine days without a bath, and the smell likely would have scared just about anybody.

Bears weren’t the only big animals the Israelis would see for the first time on this trip, and going without a bath for so long wasn’t the only sacrifice the Americans would make either. But when the idea of Project Hevrei Teva was being cooked up a year and a half ago in Israel by the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, that wasn’t even on the agenda.

The original idea was to bring American and Israeli teens together to study the connections between nature and Judaism, pairing Israeli scouts (Tsofim) with Camp JCA Shalom campers.

Given the situation in Israel, the group settled on a month-long program in the States, with two weeks devoted to the road — camping, kayaking, white water rafting, hiking — and two weeks at the Shalom Nature Institute in Malibu. At the Institute, they constructed a garden with the flora of Israel (which happens to be the same as in Southern California).

What nobody could have foreseen at the time was the byproduct of this pairing: the connection, not between nature and Judaism, but between the two groups of teens, of understanding and empathy.

"It’s been a fantastic exercise in partnership and cooperation," Lake said, as he watched the teens build the garden together, high on a bluff overlooking Camp JCA Shalom.

"When the Israelis came the first day, they asked, ‘Where’s the security? There’s no security here.’ Our teens were like, ‘What are you talking about?’ The Israelis said, ‘Every time a leaf snaps we think it could be a terrorist.’ "[One of the things] the Americans found out was how nervous the Israelis are about security," Lake said, "And the Israelis found out when you go to the mall, you can walk right in without having your backpacks checked. It’s been a tremendous education."

Both groups of teens confessed that the connection between the two was hard at first, but has gotten easier, especially after two weeks of camping. Now as they build the garden, even the language barriers are breaking away: the Israelis are learning American slang, and the Americans are speaking in Hebrew sentences. When it comes to building the garden in the shape of Israel, with Israeli vegetation and good old American organic mulch, the teens are also working on a happy medium. "The Israelis are very opinionated; you have to compromise a lot!" said one Los Angeles teen.

"But it makes sense," said another. "They want to have a say because it’s where they live. They will ask you ‘Why?’ and question you about your choices [about the garden]. It forces you to make sure you know why you’re doing something and to back your reasons up better."

"At the beginning there wasn’t that good of connection," said a girl from Tel Aviv, "but now we’re doing better. Our English is improving — my English teacher will be very proud of me."

"I like the Shabbat ceremonies," said an Israeli boy. "In Tsofim, we don’t have a connection to the religious; it’s more fun and more beautiful the way you do it here."

"Yeah, everything is very good," said another. Of course, being far from home (for some, the first time ever), homesickness has been part of the Israeli experience, too. When given the opportunity to change into their scout uniforms for a photo, the Israelis whooped and hollered, spontaneously breaking out into Hebrew camp songs with giddy joy.

"I think it will be a shock for them to go back to Israel," Lake said, watching as the Israeli girls walked hand in hand across the great expanse of the future garden to retrieve their uniforms. "When you’re worried about your security, you’re not thinking about organic farming."

The Shalom Nature Institute is a department of the Shalom Institute, the resident camping arm of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles, a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. For more information, please contact Jonathan Fass, director of Jewish Education for the JCC. (323) 938-2531, ext. 2280.

A Second Wake-Up Call


It took nearly 10 years, but now the other shoe has dropped. In the early 1990s, the American Jewish community was jolted by findings of an intermarriage rate exceeding 50 percent during the previous five years. Now, a new survey sponsored by the American Jewish Committee (AJCommittee) sheds light on the profound social and psychological consequences of widespread intermarriage.

The new study indicates that American Jews are rapidly accommodating themselves to the new realities. Only 39 percent of the people questioned agreed with the statement, “It would pain me if my child married a gentile.” In the judgment of merely 25 percent, the best response to intermarriage is “to encourage the gentile to convert to Judaism.” Half claimed “it is racist to oppose Jewish-gentile marriages.” And 56 percent were either “neutral” or “positive” about marriage between a Jew and a gentile.

Equally startling were responses to questions about how rabbis ought to deal with prospective interfaith marriages. Fifty-seven percent want rabbis to officiate at interfaith weddings, side-by-side with gentile clergy; only 15 percent would like rabbis to refuse to officiate at any interfaith wedding.

What has caused this apparent wholesale abandonment of long-standing Jewish norms? Certainly, trends within American society at large play an important role. Marriage between individuals of different religious and ethnic groups has become the rule, rather than exception, and is widely regarded as a symptom of growing tolerance within our society. American individualism as applied to religion, moreover, encourages people to “follow their bliss,” making up their own rules as they go along. And the new “pluralism,” which celebrates blurred boundaries, now teaches that multiple religious or ethnic allegiances are better than one.Undoubtedly, American Jews are influenced by all of these social trends. But the AJCommittee data also make plain that many respondents are reacting not only to changes in the wider culture, but to the reality of intermarriage close to home. Among members of this sample who have a married child, nearly two-thirds claim at least one of their children is currently intermarried. Given the ubiquity of intermarriage, few American Jews with unmarried children can confidently expect all their offspring to marry Jews. The AJCommittee data suggest that American Jews are coping with these painful realities by defining the problem away. Rather than risk friction with intermarried children, they have come to accept interfaith marriages, and they turn to their rabbis for help in keeping relations with their offspring free of tensions – at any cost.

This conclusion seems inescapable in light of an otherwise puzzling pattern of responses to the survey: Jews over age 60 were considerably more tolerant of intermarriage than were younger Jews, even though the latter are presumably more in touch with current cultural trends. One can only assume that the resistance of the over-60 population has been weakened by the actual incidence of intermarriage within their own families and in the families of their peers.

For those of us who are unwavering in our commitment to endogamy as a Jewish religious imperative and strategy for ethnic survival, the findings of the AJCommittee survey are undeniably heartbreaking. Indeed, the news is so bad that one can only hope these grim findings may actually serve as a catalyst for increased Jewish unity among our religious leaders. For with a few exceptions, even the most ardent champions of outreach to the intermarried reject the views of amcha, of the Jewish masses. Rabbis of all stripes regard the conversion of a gentile married to a Jew as the ideal Jewish choice. And only a small minority of rabbis who co-officiate at interfaith weddings do so without setting at least some conditions. On these issues, rabbis across the religious spectrum have far more in common with each than they do with their own congregants.

A unified campaign is also in order because the survey indicates that all sectors of the Jewish community are affected by intermarriage and its social consequences. True, Orthodox Jews are consistently the most likely to oppose accommodation, but even in the Orthodox camp resistance is eroding. Moreover, while the incidence varies considerably from one group to the next, intermarriage hits home within every religious stream.

We are all in this together, and we had better engage in the battle of ideas quickly and forthrightly. Ten years ago, Jewish communities mobilized to fight for “Jewish continuity” by redoubling their efforts to strengthen Jewish education. Unfortunately, this campaign was not matched by an explicit confrontation of intermarriage. Rabbis, religious educators, and communal leaders may have believed that improvements in Jewish education and positive Jewish experiences would deter Jews from intermarrying. Perhaps they were reluctant to talk about the vital necessity of inmarriage because they feared alienating the swelling population of intermarried Jews and their families and friends. But unless we are certain that all the past rules of Jewish survival ought to be suspended because “America is different,” we had better engage in this cultural battle – and a battle it is when large numbers of Jews regard opposition to intermarriage as “racist.” It is inconceivable that for fear of giving offense, we are not articulating the Jewish case for inmarriage at time when growing numbers of our people are embracing views antithetical to Jewish values and interests.

Fortunately, the AJCommittee survey offers evidence that a pro-endogamy message will not fall on deaf ears. For with all their open-minded views on this issue – and perhaps their despair about how to cope with intermarriage occurring all around them – more than two-thirds of the people in the AJCommittee sample nonetheless agree with the statement, “The Jewish community has an obligation to urge Jews to marry Jews.” (This figure, we should note, holds steady for all age groups.) Despite their personal accommodations to the reality of intermarriage and their desire to have their rabbis make interfaith marriages kosher by officiating at ceremonies, American Jews still want their communal institutions and leaders to affirm the tradition-al ideal. Here is the foundation on which to rebuild communal consensus on what Jews until recently long took for granted, namely, that a Jewish marriage is a marriage of two Jews.

Dropping Out


Elliot Maltz had a Bar Mitzvah two years ago, but he says his Hebrew school experience was “really boring” and “discouraged me from future practice.”

Maltz, a West Hartford, Conn., 15-year-old who spends most of his free time playing sports, says being Jewish is important to him, but “since I cannot really see its positive effects, it does not make me excited.”It has become a truism for many American Jews that the Bar Mitzvah is more a farewell ritual than a welcoming ceremony.

But now, amid national efforts in renaissance and outreach, Jewish organizations are looking for ways to reach the Elliot Maltzes.What is at stake, say educators, is keeping teens in the community and showing them how Judaism can make their lives meaningful at an age many believe is key in cementing lifetime values and behavioral patterns.

Adolescence is “a stage of life in which young people are beginning to make really important decisions for themselves and create their own affiliations,” said Robert Sherman, executive director of San Francisco’s Bureau of Jewish Education, which ranks outreach to teens as one of its top three priorities. The other two are family education and professional development for Jewish educators.The challenges in engaging teens are significant, with Jewish involvement – at least for non-Orthodox teens – dropping steadily throughout the high school years.

A recent study of 1,300 Jewish teens and their parents in Massachusetts – one of the only studies looking at a cross-section of teens, not just those who are active in Jewish life – confirmed that Jewish involvement steadily drops after the Bar Mitzvah.

According to the study, 86 percent of Jewish seventh graders participate in Jewish activities compared with 56 percent of 12th graders.

The study, conducted by Brandeis University, defines Jewish participation broadly – from participating in a youth group to attending a Jewish summer camp to using a Jewish community center at least once a year.Although focused on one state, the study, say researchers, likely reflects the experience of most non-Orthodox Jewish teens in America.

Some of the key findings of the Brandeis University study, which has not yet been published, include:

The drop in Jewish involvement is simultaneous with increasing amounts of time spent on homework and part-time jobs;

Girls are more likely than boys to express interest in going on Israel experience programs, and they participate at higher rates in formal Jewish education;

Most report they did not enjoy Hebrew school as much as regular school. (The majority of participants in the study, like most Reform and Conservative Jews, attended congregational schools rather than day schools.) Approximately 25 percent said they never enjoyed being in Jewish school, and approximately 30 percent said they seldom enjoyed it, although the majority said they sometimes, often or always enjoyed regular school.

Parental opinion strongly affects teens’ attitudes on intermarriage: 73 percent of teens whose parents say marrying Jewish is not important also believe this is not important, while 78 percent of teens whose parents say marrying Jewish is very important believe it is somewhat or very important to marry someone Jewish.

The Holocaust, anti-Semitism and “being ethical” are the most important aspects of being Jewish, say teens, while volunteering for Jewish organizations, observing Jewish law and contributing to Jewish organizations rank the lowest in importance. Israel ranked somewhere in the middle.

“There’s no question that the data we have is depressing. We have lost one third of the population before age 13 and another large chunk by the time they graduate high school,” Len Saxe, one of the researchers in the study and director of Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies told the North American Association of Jewish Youth Professionals, after presenting the findings at the group’s recent conference.

Jewish teens are hardly being lost to the streets, however, with most reporting they spend a lot of time on schoolwork, part-time jobs and other activities perceived as helping them to get into college, said Saxe.”These kids are highly motivated and success oriented,” he said. “After B’nai Mitzvah, their job is to be successful in school and they work hard at it. Also, they take jobs that earn money and obviously this takes away from involvement in other things.”

However, he said, the findings also point to ways the Jewish community might better reach teens, mainly by creating part-time jobs for them in Jewish organizations and selling the importance of Jewish involvement to their parents, who – according to the study – do influence their children’s attitudes.According to Rabbi Art Vernon, the staff person responsible for teens at the Jewish Education Service of North America, Saxe’s research shows that Jewish programs have to be more sophisticated nowadays than in the past to appeal to teens.

“Kids are sophisticated consumers. They shop for what they want, like everyone else in America, and content is important,” he said.

Rye Humor


The Marx Brothers, The Three Stooges, Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Lenny Bruce, Jackie Mason, Woody Allen and, of course, Seinfeld. The history of American comedy is the history of America’s funniest Jews. But while being Jewish and funny has never been mutually exclusive, comedians in days of yore mostly kept their Jewishness offstage. Times are changing, and with multiculturalism comes a new brand of Jewish comedian.

Recently, The Journal caught up with three comics whose Judaism informs their act and whose career informs their Judaism. Cathy Ladman quips about her intermarriage; Mark Schiff brings his comic pals to perform at an Orthodox shul fund-raiser; and Larry Miller views stand-up as Talmudic discourse.

“People think Jews are funny because we’ve been oppressed, but I shake my head very quickly and very firmly at that,” Miller says. “I say, ‘No, comedy is intrinsically Jewish and something Jews are very good at and really right for. Because we’re people of the book, word and thought.'”

Jews don’t lift weights. They ask other people, ‘Would you help me pick those up, please?’

Every New Year’s Day for the past 20 years, comedian Mark Schiff has flown to New York to have lunch with his comic best buddies Jerry Seinfeld, Paul Reiser and Larry Miller.

“We have a club that meets once a year,” Schiff explains. “It’s called ‘The Funniest Men in America.'”

Schiff has known Seinfeld and Reiser since the three hung out together every night in the comedy dives of New York in the ’70s. Like his friends, Schiff went on to regularly appear on “The Tonight Show” (he was one of Johnny Carson’s favorite comics) and to create an act that kvetches about the irritating minutia of life.

He complains about parents, grandparents, his wife. He imagines a set of “unmotivational tapes,” dispensing such advice as “Get a bottle of whiskey and a pie and go back to bed.” He describes the frustrations of shopping at a supermarket: “I can never find people who work in these stores. I was in the meat department. I saw a guy in a white coat –blood all over the thing. I said, ‘Excuse me?’ He goes, ‘I don’t work here.'”

Schiff, an observant Jew, also makes comic observations about Jews. “There are no Jewish bank robbers,” he says. “The reason is that they’d have to say, ‘Put your hands up and get on the floor.’ But Jews can’t handle that. They’d say, ‘No, no, get up, you’ll get dirty.'”

Schiff decided he wanted to become a comedian at age 12, when his parents took him to see Rodney Dangerfield perform stand-up comedy in the late 1960s. “I was mesmerized by all the laughs, the love, the attention Dangerfield was getting,” says Schiff, who grew up in a Bronx sixth-floor walk-up where “Everyone was always complaining and yelling and threatening…I never felt heard when I was a kid. I never felt understood. And I had to find a way to be understood or go crazy.”

Stand-up comedy provided the outlet, and so did Schiff’s first Showtime special, “My Crummy Childhood,” in 1993. “My mother always used to say, “Do socks belong on the floor?'” he recalls, in his act. “I can’t wait until my parents get old and they come to live with me. I’ll say to them: ‘Do teeth belong on the floor?'”

Schiff began his journey to observant Judaism 12 years ago, when an Aish HaTorah Bible class convinced him that there was a better way to fill his inner emptiness than with the fleeting attention he received onstage.

Since then, he has joined two Orthodox synagogues, Anshe Emes and B’nai David-Judea, and he has convinced the Funniest Men to perform at an Anshe Emes fund-raiser. More recently, Schiff, a former staff writer on “Mad About You,” co-wrote an episode in which Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt observe Shabbos — sort of. In the episode, the characters meet an Amish man and are inspired to experience 24 hours without electricity.

“Words are important in Judaism, so I try not to slander anybody in my act,” Schiff says. But gently complaining about his wife is OK. “I don’t see it as LaShon HaRah. I see it as a bit of kvetching so I feel better.”

The Thirteen Wants


What can American-style liberalJudaism offer Israel? After the battle over the proposed conversionbill is settled, that question will remain. We can puff up our chestsand demand equality with Orthodoxy over who is a Jew. But,inevitably, every political victory in the Knesset will beshort-lived unless we find a way to talk to Israeli Jews about theirown lives.

“Equality,” “legitimacy” and “pluralism” areWestern-style fighting words that seem like special pleadings withoutmuch resonance to Israelis. These words, inherently adversarial, mayinspire American Jews to boycott and disrupt fund raising, but theywon’t give us what we want — a homeland where all Jews are welcomein peace.

Progressive Judaism has to answer the red-hotmilitancy of the Orthodox community with some fervor of its own. Thismeans selling not only the ideals of American democracy (courts,rights and justice) but the ethics and values of Judaism itself. Whatis it about Jewish life, American-style, that Israelis want?

Rabbi Judith HaLevy of Malibu Jewish Center andSynagogue, who recently returned from the Jewish Federation Councilmission to Israel, said that secular Jews there long for a liberalalternative.

“They know that by ceding the religious terrain tothe Orthodox, they’ve given up a piece of their inheritance,” shetold me.

We need to express a nexus of faith as powerful asthe Orthodox belief in the 613 mitzvot. Without such a statement, wesound like John Locke or Betty Friedan, enlightened democrats andcivil libertarians, but strangers. Meanwhile, Orthodoxy retains itsposition as “the real thing.”

I found an answer in, of all places, a 71-year-oldprayer written by Mordecai Kaplan. Rabbi Kaplan, arguably the mostprofound American Jewish thinker of our age, knew the troubles of aJewish people drifting apart. Born and educated Orthodox, Kaplan hadhis books burned and subjected to a herem(excommunication) when he tried to analyzeJewish tradition according to the John Dewey-style social scientificprinciples of his days. From his belief that Judaism is an evolvingcivilization, the Reconstructionist movement emerged.

Here is a slightly rewritten version of Kaplan’s1926 prayer, originally entitled “The Criteria of Jewish Loyalty” andalso published as “The Thirteen Wants.” See how many of them arestill relevant to you.

1) We want Judaism to help us overcome fear, doubtand discouragement of our mortality.

2) We want Judaism to guide us toward responsibleuse of God’s blessings.

3) We want the Jew to be a true light amongnations.

4) We want to learn (from the Jewish calendar) touse our lives to their best physical, intellectual and spiritualadvantage.

5) We want the Jewish home to be a center of love,virtue and holiness.

6) We want Jewish children to be raised for moraland spiritual growth and to revere their Jewish heritage.

7) We want the synagogue to be a house of sincereworship.

8) We want our religious traditions to beunderstandable and relevant to our present-day needs.

9) We want to participate in building EretzYisrael as a focus for the renaissance of the Jewish spirit.

10) We want Judaism to find expression inphilosophy, letters and the arts.

11) We want Jewish organizations to activatespiritual purpose and ethical endeavor.

12) We want to be part of the people of Israel,offering mutual help and cooperation in time of need.

13) We want the Jewish values of justice, freedomand peace to influence and inspire individuals, nations and theworld.

These 13 principles (paralleling Moses Maimonides’13 principles of faith) provide remarkably useful, cant-free goalposts for modern Jewish values. I’d give these 13 to anyone seekingto know what we believe.

Coincidentally, Rabbi David Teutsch, dean of theReconstructionist Rabbinical College, was in Los Angeles last week. Ispoke to him about what Reconstructionism might offer to IsraeliJews.

“Reconstructionism is probably the one liberalmovement that can readily adapt to Israeli society,” Teutsch said.”Reform and Conservative Judaism are synagogue-based. Israelicommunities don’t have synagogues as their focus; that’s why thosemovements have such a hard time taking root.

“Reconstructionism is based on the chavurah, smallstudy groups of friends getting together. It’s a natural forIsraelis, who know the language of the text, and who like to gettogether. We’ve got an intense outreach program going on in Israelright now. I think we’ll catch on strong.”

Teutsch conceded that liberal Judaism is waking uplate to Israel’s need for an alternative to Orthodoxy.

“We need to be involved in a massive reorientingof money and energy to Israeli society,” Teutsch said. “We stood bysilently while the Orthodox built schools and gained politicalstrength. We didn’t pay attention.”

Late as it may be, Israel needs us now.

Marlene Adler Marks is editor-at-large of TheJewish Journal. Her Skirball Cultural Center series, “Conversations,”continues on Dec. 7 with authors Jonathan and FayeKellerman.



SEND EMAIL TO MARLENE ADLER MARKS
wvoice@aol.com

November 14, 1997Music to MyEars

 

November 7, 1997Four Takes on50

 

October 31, 1997ChallengingHernandez


October 24, 1997CommonGround


October 17, 1997Taking Off theMask


October 10, 1997Life’s a MixedBag


October 3, 1997And Now ForSomething Completely Different


September 26, 1997An OpenHeart


September 19, 1997My BronxTale


September 12, 1997 — Of Goddesses andSaints

 

August 22, 1997 — Who is Not a Jew

 

August 15, 1997 — A LegendaryFriendship


July 25, 1997 — A Perfect Orange


July 18, 1997 — News of Our Own


July 11, 1997 — Celluloid Heroes


July 4, 1997 — Meet theSeekowitzes


June 27, 1997 — The Facts of Life


June 20, 1997 — Reality Bites


June 13, 1997 — The Family Man

+