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April 24, 2014 / 24 Nisan, 5774
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Three Ways to Save American Jewry from Extinction

Today’s model of outreach is fatally flawed seeing as it necessarily forces a choice on non-affiliated Jews to choose between the Jewish and mainstream worlds.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and the late Michael Jackson: "Stop creating a divide between the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds."

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and the late Michael Jackson: "Stop creating a divide between the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds."

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By now you’ve heard about the Pew Research poll, published this week, that concludes that American Jewry is on its way to oblivion. No need to wait for Hassan Rouhani of Iran to drop a bomb on us. We’re doing an incredibly fine job of destroying ourselves, thank you very much.

What all this shows is that what my friend mega-philanthropist Michael Steinhardt and I have been saying for years is unfortunately correct. Despite the untold billions that have been sunk into Jewish communal outreach for the last half century, it has barely made a dent in the rate of assimilation.

Here are three ways to give mouth-to-mouth to our dying community.

1.     Stop creating a divide between the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds.

Today’s model of outreach is fatally flawed seeing as it necessarily forces a choice on non-affiliated Jews to choose between the Jewish and mainstream worlds. So, a student at University who hangs out with his non-Jewish friends is encouraged to stop going only to mainstream University events and come instead to Hillel or Chabad. I’m not knocking that. We need Jewish organizations that invite Jews in to classes, religious services, lectures, social events, and debates. But far more effective is not forcing the choice on them in the first place. Bring Judaism instead to where they are at. On campus, do colossal events that bring Jewish values, teachings, and wisdom to all students so that young men and women are not forced to choose.

Last week, in collaboration with Rabbi Yehuda Sarna of Hillel at NYU, our organization, This World: The Values Network, staged a huge event of over 1000 Jewish and non-Jewish students that had me moderating a discussion on genocide between Elie Wiesel and Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda.

In a similar manner, bring Judaism to the culture via TV shows, plays, and music that are mainstream and intended for all audiences. Some examples include the new Shlomo Carlebach-based musical ‘Soul Doctor,’ produced by Jeremy Chess, that is currently running on Broadway, the music of Matisyahu, and the TV show I hosted on TLC called ‘Shalom in the Home.’ Like the Kabbalah movement, bring Judaism and Jewish values to everybody instead of just focusing on the Jews. We are not a proselytizing faith, but that is no excuse not to make the Jewish people a light to all nations.

2.     Fix the broken and boring Synagogue service.

The overwhelming number of Jews who still step into a Synagogue do so for three days of every year and then swear they will never come back. Sometimes I think we should ban secular Jews from High Holy Day services and shift their attendance instead to Simchas Torah and Purim. But since that’s not going to happen, let’s take the focus off of cantorial recital yodeling, which makes congregants into spectators, shift the teachings away from dry sermons, and focus instead on having services engage the heart and mind. Carlebach-style services that make people sing real spiritual melodies rather than listening to opera is the way to go. Rabbis putting out moral questions between each of the seven readings of the Torah on Saturday mornings is a means by which to influence congregants to apply the lessons of the Torah to their everyday lives, making Judaism relevant rather than aloof. And don’t forget a fantastic Kiddush with fine single malt whisky. Can’t afford it? Build less elaborate buildings and have a more elaborate cholent and sushi.

3.     Make the Rabbinical and Jewish day school teaching professions fashionable again.

You basically become a Jewish day school teacher or a Rabbi after your fifth rejection from Harvard Business School. There is no social clout in it and you get paid in cholent beans. How do we change all this? By having AIPAC, Federation, Birthright, and other prestigious Jewish organizations respect Rabbis at their major conventions rather than having them say the blessing on the bread. How do we ensure they can make more money? Take the ten smartest Jewish hedge fund managers and have them create a fund open only to Jewish activists where there money will be managed by the smartest people in the world so that a teacher in cheder will have enough money to marry off his children without having to moonlight as a bar bouncer. The more money Rabbis and teachers make, without putting strains on the communal purse, and the more clout these professions enjoy, the more talent we will attract to those professions that are supposed to be inspiring our youth.

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About the Author: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 29 books, including The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.


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37 Responses to “Three Ways to Save American Jewry from Extinction”

  1. Cody Flecker says:

    This all makes sense for a Rabbi like Boteach who is in love with President Obama and his Jewish hating minions, but Judaism is not that kind of religion. What is the Rabbi going to preach next, that we have a Kumbaya session at every service? The Jewish religion is a serious well meaning religion that is thousands of years old. If it was OK for our ancestors, it will be OK for us. Once we bring modernity into our service, we will lose out to Christian fundamentalism.

  2. I dunno, Cody Flecker. I am officially NOT in love with President Obama, and I don't know anything good about Michael Jackson, and frankly, I opened this article expecting to be annoyed by Rabbi Boteach, who I understand to be someone with an enormous taiva for attention. But I thought his three points were pretty good — four if you count the one about getting non-observant Jews to go to shul on Simchas Torah and Purim instead of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And those of us who DO send our kids to Jewish day school should be happy about proposal #3, as it might lower the tuition we pay in the scrillions of dollars in addition to the real estate taxes we already pay so that our non-observant brothers and sisters, along with the rest of the world, can educate their children for free.

  3. Edward Lobel says:

    I am not a fan of Rabbi Boteach, but to say he is a lover of President Obama is beyond any other lie you can come up with!

    The Rabbi ran for congress on the republican ticket and claims that eric cantor is the greatest of American heroes. The Rabbi is no lover of President Obama and you need to know that before you continue with your comments!

  4. Charna Carole Ball says:

    why is there a photo of michael jackson here?

  5. Uzi Biton says:

    I think there are some ideas here, this is what happen when Jews need to compete for attention of their children so they will not loose them to a gentile spouse or a gay one ….. – the best solution for Jews all over the world in my opinion is just to come home to live in Israel – they will never need any of this hoopla's in the first place – time to come home , Gallot is no longer relevant !!!!

  6. Cathatovitch says:

    Good but the Lubavitcher rebbe made very clear and successful campaigns. Don’t need add to what the Moses of our generation suggested and demanded. Might be a good article idea too.

  7. Gideon Jones says:

    It is sort of ridiculous (yet so typical) to look for external solutions in light of this poll when the poll itself provides the solution internally.

    Judaism in America is not dying out, non-Orthodox Judaism in America is dying out.

    The solution is simple: do what Orthodoxy has been doing. It worked for over 3000 years. It wasn't broken and trying to fix it has proven suicidal.

  8. Yes, let’s start with Jewish men NOT telling everybody what to do….especially Jewish women.

  9. Trudi Goodman says:

    Yes, let’s start with Jewish men NOT telling everybody what to do….especially Jewish women.

  10. Gideon Jones says:

    Unfortunately for those of us raised and taught by non-Orthodox Judaism, the poll actually shows the complete opposite. Jewish men are predominant in Orthdooxy (within the synagogue and law setting) and Orthodoxy is the ONLY stream surviving.

    So…its time to be revolutionary and be MORE LIKE Orthodoxy. Not, continue what go us here and trading traditional Jewish values and teachings for modern secular ones.

    It might feel better to impose our Western, liberal, secular values onto Judaism; but it is literally (as the poll shows) killing us.

  11. Gideon Jones says:

    Unfortunately for those of us raised and taught by non-Orthodox Judaism, the poll actually shows the complete opposite. Jewish men are predominant in Orthdooxy (within the synagogue and law setting) and Orthodoxy is the ONLY stream surviving.
    So…its time to be revolutionary and be MORE LIKE Orthodoxy. Not, continue what go us here and trading traditional Jewish values and teachings for modern secular ones.
    It might feel better to impose our Western, liberal, secular values onto Judaism; but it is literally (as the poll shows) killing us.

  12. Horseydoodoo Gideon. That thought process only works well if you have a penis. What about women and what they and their children might need?

  13. carolinkc says:

    What this survey failed to ask was what socio-economic group these “lost Jews” fell in. I speak from experience when saying that unless you live (maybe) in Borough Park, unless you are at least upper middle class, you have no seat at the table, in any denomination. Jewish Day schools have the same cost as any other upper “class” private day school. I don’t usually mention these things in front of goyim, but really those who consider themselves leaders of the xommunity

  14. I was wondering that too.

  15. I was wondering that too.

  16. Hank P. Young says:

    I was wondering that too.

  17. I think I remember that Jews were very assimilated when Hitler came to power. It feels the same now. I am Jewish woman living in a small city and in all my years (74) I never felt different until now. I’m not religious or affiliated but no one is more traditional than I and. I am learning what it’s like to be singled out.

  18. I think I remember that Jews were very assimilated when Hitler came to power. It feels the same now. I am Jewish woman living in a small city and in all my years (74) I never felt different until now. I’m not religious or affiliated but no one is more traditional than I and. I am learning what it’s like to be singled out.

  19. Judy Baskin-Nadler Fimbres says:

    I think I remember that Jews were very assimilated when Hitler came to power. It feels the same now. I am Jewish woman living in a small city and in all my years (74) I never felt different until now. I’m not religious or affiliated but no one is more traditional than I and. I am learning what it’s like to be singled out.

  20. Judy Baskin-Nadler Fimbres says:

    talk to me

  21. carolinkc says:

    I see my edit did not work, but to finish ….leaders and members of the community: look in the mirror, and do some soul searching instead of looking for an easy out for themselves. These poll numbers are not telling the whole story.

  22. Karen Caine says:

    Good article. I wondered about Michael Jackson too.

  23. Karen Caine says:

    Good article. I wondered about Michael Jackson too.

  24. Well, this doesn't resonate with me. I don't go to synagogue because I don't remotely fit in. The only Jews I met that were like me were the guys I met in the Las Vegas casinos I worked in. Most of these guys were from Atlantic City. I don't think there is much anybody can do about diaspora Jews melting away from their heritage and assimilating out of existence. Two hundred years–if that.

  25. Move to Israel they don’t want us we’re out of here.

  26. Move to Israel they don’t want us we’re out of here.

  27. Milton Barry Zaft says:

    Move to Israel they don’t want us we’re out of here.

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