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That which transpired during these past few weeks should have shaken us all. To be sure, traumatic events have been pounding away at American Jewry for years now - as a matter of fact, from 9/11 on. But few of us have taken them to heart. Something was happening and is happening in the world, but we choose not to see or hear. It's easier to attribute everything to natural causes because then we can go on our merry way and indulge in business as usual.
From 1654, when the first Jews arrived in North America, until 1840, when the first Orthodox ordained rabbi, Rav Abraham Rice, settled in Baltimore, American Jewry was led by chazzanim and baalei batim (private individuals) who had better than average Torah educations. These men did their best to fill the void in rabbinical leadership that characterized American Jewish life until the last few decades of the nineteenth century.
I was an avid reader and fan of The Jewish Press long before becoming a writer in its pages. Our publication recently celebrated its milestone 50th anniversary and I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on the paper's unprecedented impact on American Jewry.
It may sound like the starkest of contradictions, but Abigail Pogrebin's Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish (Broadway Books) is as depressing as it is addictive.
Most American Jews are orthodox. No, that's not a misprint, nor is it a sign that I've taken leave of my senses. In fact, the bulk of American Jewry is very orthodox. The problem is, they're very orthodox in their liberalism, not their Judaism -- and therein lies the answer to all the costly studies, surveys and polls commissioned by Jewish organizations in their never-ending quest to understand why Jews are assimilating themselves out of existence.