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Posts Tagged ‘assimilation’

Dust Off The Windows (Part Three)

Monday, April 14th, 2014

In my previous column I continued to focus on the dusty windows that obscure our Jewish vision. I noted the inexplicable hatred and persecution that has plagued us throughout the centuries.

In every generation there are those among us who try to convince us it is our distinct Jewish appearance, customs and observances that have alienated us from our non-Jewish neighbors.

But how can these people explain the fact that Muslims, Hindus, monks, nuns, and priests who wear special garb do so generally undisturbed, even commanding respect?

Take a look at the yarmulkes worn by the pope and the cardinals of the Catholic Church. And the pope has a special hat, a mitre, which is quite similar to what was worn by the high priest of our holy Temple.

So how is it that we who introduced religious head coverings to the world should be treated with such disdain and brutality?

In our obsession to blend in with the nations we keep shedding more and more of our Jewishness but, paradoxically, the more we try the more we try to be like others, the more we are resented.

In vain did Ezekiel the prophet call out in days of yore that no matter how much we scheme in your hearts to be like all the other nations, we will never be considered the same as them. And he warned us of the terrible consequences of renouncing our heritage, our covenant.

Sadly, despite the admonishments not only of Ezekiel but of all our prophets, we have yet to learn our lesson. We continue to assimilate with fury – an assimilation compounded by our Jewish illiteracy. The great majority of our people have no knowledge of the Torah, the Prophets, or the Talmud. If you were to ask them just for the titles of our sacred books, not even a description of the contents, they would stare at you blankly.

Hashem, who knows the past, present and future, created in His infinite mercy windows for us. Windows through which we would be able to see what our minds reject and our eyes cannot envision. We have forgotten the message, yet it is easily accessible if we’d only look through the windows.

These windows prominently showcase the message of all our Yom Tovim but we refuse to look. In our pursuit of money, assimilation and good times we allow dust to settle on our windows until we can no longer see through them.

I started to write this series of columns between the weeks of Purim and Pesach. Even small children are aware of the magical story of Purim. Queen Esther was prepared to sacrifice her life to save her people from Haman. They know Mordechai was determined to awaken every Jew. But what really happened in that story?

Years before Haman’s ascent, King Achashveirosh called for a great celebration in honor of his marriage to the evil Vashti. All citizens of the empire were invited, including the Jews. Mordechai warned his brethren not to attend. The food would not be Jewish food. The atmosphere would be a desecration of G-d’s Name.

The people chose to ignore Mordechai’s warning. They had their own rationalizations to justify their participation. “It is not good for us to stay away…to refuse an invitation from the king. Persia is our host country. We have a good life over here. We have good relationships with the Persians.”

So they went and took part in a banquet that quickly became a nightmare of unspeakable drunkenness and debauchery.

Nine years down the line Haman was elevated to his position as second to the king. He convinced the king to annihilate all the Jews, pointing out that the Jews had forsaken their covenant. “It’s time to attack! When they abandon their G-d they become putty in our hands.”

Avigdor Lieberman Warns US Jews ‘You Are Facing a Catastrophe’

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

American Jews are facing nothing less than a demographic catastrophe, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman asserted on Tuesday in a speech at the Jerusalem meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.

He quoted recent surveys that show that there are 6.1 million Jews in Israel and slightly less than 5.5 million in the United States, not including those who claim affiliation or identity with Judaism.

Lieberman emphasized that no Jew – whether in the Diaspora or in Israel and whether Reform Conservative or Orthodox – “is illegitimate and should be placed outside of the tent,” but he added. “There is a significant rise in those who have little or no Jewish content in their lives, marry outside the faith and are not raising their children Jewish.”

He pointed out, “The intermarriage rate has reached a high of 58% for all Jews, and 71% for non-Orthodox Jews, a huge change from before 1970 when only 17% of Jews intermarried.”

Attachment to Israel is markedly higher among older Jews, with only 32% of respondents under the age of 30 sharing the idea that “caring about Israel as an essential part of what being Jewish means to them.”

Lieberman then put the cards on the table and categorically stated they are stacked against the Diaspora.

“For many years, Israeli officials have called on our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora, like many of you gathered here tonight, to donate your time, energies and funds to Israel,” he said. “However, I turn to you today and say that, while we are enormously and forever grateful for your assistance, we believe it is now time to concentrate on the challenges facing your own communities, especially those emanating from the dangerous trends in the Jewish community demonstrated in the recent survey.”

Lieberman was being kind. He could just as easily have said, “You American Jews sit as armchair generals for Israel, undermine our government’s struggle by deciding how we should deal with the Palestinian Authority and the Arab world while you don’t see that the ground in the Diaspora is crumbling under your feet.”

In more diplomatic language, he said, “Above all discussions on Iran and the Palestinians, your discussions with the Israeli Government and the Jewish Agency should be focused on saving future generations.”

Lieberman stated that education is the key to fighting “assimilation, intermarriage and disengagement” but that “Jewish children are being kept from the Jewish classrooms because of the exorbitant and prohibitive costs of Jewish education in the United States.”

“On my last visit to New York, I met with a Russian Jewish family in Brooklyn,” Lieberman told his audience. “They told me that for their three children to attend good Jewish schools it would cost them around $100,000. They simply could not endure such costs. They are not alone. This situation is being replicated across the Jewish world, whether in the United States, Russia, France, Argentina, or elsewhere. If this situation persists, we will lose another six million Jews in a generation or two.”

He said that most Israeli diplomats abroad shun local Jewish schools and instead send their children to learn at international schools because the standard is higher.

“Sadly this is also reflective of the general Jewish population in places like the United States, where only around 12% of Jewish children attend Jewish schools, and when the Orthodox children are removed from the equation; it drops down to no more than a few per cent,” he added.

Lieberman proposed the creation of a global network of Jewish schools with a superior standard, and he committed the Israeli government to budget $365 million a year in matching funds for the project.

He also is looking forward to massive aliyah “The creation of an international network of Jewish schools is only the first part of my vision,” Lieberman declared. “In addition, my goal is to bring an additional 3.5 million Jews from the Diaspora in the next ten years so that the Jewish population in Israel will exceed 10 million.”

Jews are undoubtedly a major influence in American life, but the number of Jews who are Jewish “in name only” spells a dismal future for the Diaspora.

One of the most self-serving ways to deny the future is to accept the definition of a Jew as anyone who considers himself Jewish. That kind of identity is temporary, at best.

Jewish institutions and organizations maybe boasting larger numbers, but the meaning of Jewish is becoming emptier.

What Lieberman essentially told the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem Tuesday was, “Wake up. It’s later than you think.”

Netanyahu Says His Son and Non-Jewish Girl only ‘Study Together’

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

The son of Benjamin Netanyahu simply is only “studying” with his non-Jewish Norwegian girlfriend and is not dating her, sources in the Prime Minister’s office told the Shas Haredi party.

Earlier this year, a picture of Yair and Sandra Leikanger, 25, who both study at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, showed them together, and he recently visited her in Norway.

Prime Minister Netanyahu now denies the earlier report that he told the Norwegian Prime Minister in Davos last week about the relationship, which was headlined in Norway’s newspapers.

Aryeh Deri, head of the Shas party, told an Israeli radio station after the initial report, “I know friends of mine who invest tens of millions and more, hundreds of millions to fight assimilation in the world. If God forbid it’s true, woe to us…. It is no longer a personal matter — it is a symbol of the Jewish people.”

Whether Prime Minister Netanyahu has carried out damage control or the couple really has nothing going on between putting theirs together to study, the shock waves are enough to convince Yair to find another study partner, or, if h really s dating Sandra, to start her on the road to an Orthodox version.

JTA contributed to this report.

What Are We Negotiating About?

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Everyone is talking about Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The basic assumption is that peace talks are supposed to bring peace. It is common knowledge that peace is expected to solve the following problems: security; demographics; Palestinian nationalism (that competes with Israel over the same piece of land); international pressure (particularly from the U.S.); and, to some, economics. But even a superficial analysis of the aforementioned “problems” reveals that none of them are motivating Israel’s “peace” talks.

Peace cannot be defined as the goal of a state. Peace is the result of the proper definition of a state’s goal and the achievement of that goal. If peace is our goal, it can be achieved more easily in other locations (Australia or Uganda, for example) by surrendering our sovereignty or by assimilation.

Security for Israelis cannot possibly be the problem we are trying to solve. The more we progress in the peace process, the more our national and personal security deteriorates. Suicide bombers were not blowing up buses and restaurants, and missiles were not crashing into Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, prior to the diplomatic process. Our cumulative experience proves that our desire for security should distance us from any diplomatic process. If we continue to sacrifice our citizens for the so-called sake of peace, security is not what is motivating our participation in the peace process.

Demography is also not the problem. The average Tel Avivian no longer has fewer children than her neighbor in Ramallah. According to the American-Israel Demographic Research Group, if the current birthrates continue in conjunction with a proactive aliyah policy, Israel’s Jewish majority will upgrade from today’s 66 percent to 80 percent by 2035. In other words, even without a diplomatic process, the Jewish majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea – including the Arabs of Judea and Samaria – will be 80 percent in the next 20 years or so.

Palestinian nationalism was artificially constructed in response to Zionism. When this land was under Arab sovereignty – Jordanian or Egyptian – the problem did not exist. If Israel would disappear off the map, God forbid, Palestinian nationalism would disappear with it.

On Feb. 18, 1947, British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, certainly not an ardent Zionist, addressed the British parliament to explain why the UK was taking the question of Palestine, which was in its care, to the United Nations. He opened by saying that “His majesty’s government has been faced with an irreconcilable conflict of principles.” His described essence of that conflict: “For the Jews, the essential point of principle is the creation of a sovereign Jewish state. For the Arabs, the essential point of principle is to resist to the last the establishment of Jewish sovereignty in any part of Palestine.”

There isn’t really Palestinian nationality; there is the Arab nation that does not accept Jewish sovereignty over any part of Israel. Thus, solving what is really the non-existent Palestinian problem will not solve the fundamental conflict: Arab opposition to any Israeli sovereignty. This is also the reason that a Palestinian state has not yet been established and will never be established, despite the fact that never in history has a state been offered to any group on a platter more silver than what is being offered to the Palestinians. They simply do not want a state.

International pressure is also not a problem, for it always increases in direct proportion to Israel’s participation in diplomatic processes. Before the Oslo Accords, there was a major question mark hovering over the legitimacy of the PLO and its leaders. No such question mark existed over the right of the Jews to have their own state. Today, after twenty years of diplomatic processes, the situation is reversed. We recognize them, but they do not recognize us. The Americans, however, are not willing to demand recognition of Israel as a condition for negotiations.

And then there’s the supposed economic problem. The diplomatic process will not solve it. On the contrary, as we learned the hard way, the Oslo Accords consume 10 percent of our annual state budget: approximately one trillion shekels since the accords were signed. Over the past years, Israel is approaching the status of an economic superpower – not because of the diplomatic process, but despite it.

So if it is not peace, not security, not demography, not Palestinian nationalism, not international pressure and not economics, what exactly are we negotiating about? What are we trying to achieve?

The person who provided the most precise answer was none other than Ron Pundak, an architect of the Oslo Accords, who recently told Tel Aviv University lecturer Tomer Persico:

“I want peace so that there will be Israeliness. Peace is not an end in and of itself. It is the means with which to bring Israel from one era into another, to the era that I consider to be normal statehood: “Israelization” of society instead of its “Judaization.”

Do you understand? We bury thousands of victims of terror, chop off entire sections of our homeland, uproot our settlements (displacing our inhabitants), bring missiles into Tel Aviv, negate our legitimacy, rob 10 percent of our State budget every year – all this and more damage – not for peace and not for any of the regular excuses. We do all this to tip the scales in the internal struggle over the identity of the state of Israel: Will it be a Jewish state or the state of all its citizens?

Seems exaggerated? Please reread the quote from Pundak, an architect of Oslo.

If so, you may ask this: Why does the Likud continue to lead this process? The answer is that the Likud has not yet built a faith-based leadership alternative to the Left’s vision of a state of all its citizens. Because the Likud has not yet created a different horizon for Israeli mentality, it is necessarily dragged down the Oslo path, implementing, as always, the most extreme hallucinations of the radical Left.

Jewish Federations Chiefs Call for Free Jewish Preschool

Friday, October 25th, 2013

The leaders of the Jewish Federations of North America are calling for free Jewish preschool for every Jewish family in America.

Jewish Federations CEO Jerry Silverman and board chairman Michael Siegal said free Jewish preschool would “dramatically widen the pipeline of families entering Jewish life through this critical early gateway.”

The idea was one of four proffered by Silverman and Siegal to “intensify — and make affordable — the most effective vehicles for engaging people in Jewish life,” they wrote.

The two also called for tripling the percentage of Jewish kids attending Jewish summer camps, to 30 percent; more follow-up with alumni of Birthright Israel trips; and intensive investment in Jewish programming in parts of the country where Jewish density is high but Jewish engagement is low.

Asked in an interview with JTA if he has a road map to deliver free Jewish preschool to every Jewish family in America, Silverman said, “It’s an idea. These are four concepts and ideas. Our goal is to unpack these, take a look at these, take a look at the models that are already out there and see what this idea could really turn into. And once we unpack it we will be able to really see what is reasonable and what is executable. But we think it’s in the right direction.”

The Jewish Federations has changed its plans for the upcoming General Assembly in Jerusalem to make room for discussion of ideas to address the negative trends in American Jewish life evident in the Pew Research Center’s recent survey of U.S. Jews. The survey showed American Jews assimilating at faster rates than ever.

Silverman and Siegal offered little in the way of specifics.

On Birthright follow-up, the two authors issued a call for Birthright’s “gatekeepers to share this vast database of alumni contacts with us so that we have a mechanism to engage them in Jewish life.”

Silverman told JTA, “If we’re supporting this as a community and as philanthropists, then let’s make sure that we’re staying in some way and in some form and in the right way connected with these young people so they know there’s varying entry points into the community and into Jewish life.”

On the subject of Jewish camp, Silverman did not identify a particular strategy for increasing enrollment but told JTA that the Foundation for Jewish Camp, which he led for five years before he assumed the helm of the Jewish Federations, is working on a number of strategies for increasing market demand for Jewish camps.

On the subject of dense Jewish communities with low Jewish engagement — Silverman cited Denver, San Diego and Phoenix — the Op-Ed called for “Jewish Development Zones” that would develop the free Jewish preschool model, build an excellent Jewish summer camp, support existing Jewish youth programming, and develop programs for Birthright alumni and young Jewish singles.

“These ideas that Michael and I have written about are not set in stone,” Silverman told JTA. “These are ideas to question, to debate, to challenge. But we think they’re pretty solid because let’s start with low-hanging fruit instead of creating from afresh.

“We are very open and hungry to listen to dialogue that occurs. There may be another idea that comes out that’s better, so be it. We felt we needed to put our seeds in the ground to say OK, here’s what we see, here’s what we think. Let’s start the dialogue and put something on the table.”

Israeli ‘Start-Up’ Magnet for American Non-Jews

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

Israel’s reputation as an incubator for Start-Ups has attracted non-Jewish Americans who have settled into successful careers, The Christian Science Monitor reported.

The new immigrants have a downside because some of the non-Jewish entrepreneurs have married Israeli girls. Although their children are Jewish according to Jewish law, the chances of their growing up in a Jewish tradition is low.

The Monitor related the story of Port Huron, Michigan native Cameron Peron, who “left the US in 2005, feeling it had largely lost its entrepreneurial spark.”

Armed with a degree in international business and marketing from the University of Arizona, he met an Israeli girl in San Diego and moved with her to Tel Aviv. They are married, and he is the vice president of marketing at Newvem, a cloud-optimization and analytics firm that works with Amazon Web Services and Windows Azure.

The main reason I’ve chosen to stay here is because of the start-up scene,” he told the Monitor. “There’s a special kind of approach to business, creating something out of nothing. The drive to build something, to make it happen against all odds … I didn’t see that in the US.”

Keeping Jews Jewish

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

I recently attended the wedding of a wonderful ba’al teshuva couple whose parents are Conservative Jews. One of the honored guests was their parent’s Conservative Rabbi. Although the mesader kedushin (the officiating rabbi) was Orthodox, the Conservative rabbi was quite involved with various Halachic minutia throughout the course of the evening (…none under the hupah). Without getting into details, I have to say that I was impressed. The rabbi was very knowledgeable in Halacha and insisted that it be followed. If one did not know that he was a Conservative rabbi, one could have easily thought he was Orthodox… and not especially left wing either.

I happen to know that this rabbi came through the ranks of the Conservative movement. He was not one of those Orthodox “sellouts” who took a Conservative shul for the money. He came from a committed Conservative home and his primary Jewish education was through the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) where he was ordained. His shul is fairly large and I would guess consists mostly of non-observant (by Orthodox standards) Jews.

This got me to thinking about the origins of the Conservative movement. I fully believe that the founders’ intent was to ‘conserve’ Judaism… from the inroads of Reform that was sweeping the country in those days. Those founders wanted to produce a rabbinate that was in harmony with American values and American culture… in order to better relate to the melting pot mentality of those days.

Although the movement has since undergone changes whereby questionable theologies have become acceptable… I do not believe that was part of the original equation and did not become so until the late Mordechai Kaplan advanced his radical ideas about the nature of God and the Jewish people. Although radical views are not required in Conservative Judaism, they are now accepted or at least tolerated.

I don’t know the theology of this rabbi. But it wouldn’t surprise me if he believed in Torah MiSinai. In any case, I think one can fairly say that Conservative rabbis like the one at the wedding are observant and see themselves in many ways like kiruv professionals for their members. Not that they are able to get their members to observe Shabbos. But that they try and get them to be as observant as possible without alienating them from the shul.

Oddly enough, this is the philosophy of Lubavitch. Although their primary focus is on making as many Jews as possible religious Lubavitchers, they do things one step at a time and often do not succeed beyond merely making non observant Jews merely Lubavitivch friendly. They will say that we all fall short of perfection and that we should all try and improve in our observances… even those of us who are shomer Shabbos!

I think the Conservative rabbi sees himself and his role in the same way. I further believe that he would be overjoyed if any of his congregants become Orthodox via Chabad or any other Orthodox Kiruv group. Indeed he was effusive with praise for this young couple who were going to spend their first year of marriage in Israel with the husband spending time in a yeshiva.

I realize of course that not all Conservative rabbis are like this. But I’ll bet that there are a lot more like him – that actually live up to the original Conservative credo of trying to conserve Judaism.

I bring all this up in light of an editorial by Forward editor Jane Eisner. She too was critical of her own columnist Jay Michaelson for considering Haredism to be the single biggest existential threat to “fabric of American Jewish Life”…. And castigated him for demonizing and alienating one group when there is another threat that is “just as potent.”

Her point was that the many unaffiliated Jews are increasingly opting out of their Judaism. From the Forward article:

As the UJA-Federation of New York’s recent population survey highlighted, the growth of the “unaffiliated” has equally profound and worrying consequences for the future of the Jewish community. Compounded by the shrinking middle — that mixture of Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Jews who are, with some notable exceptions, throwing a party fewer and fewer people want to attend — we have a community that is ceding ground to an extreme form of Judaism largely because many of its members don’t care enough to maintain any other form.

The statistics that Ms. Eisner quotes in her editorial are illustrative of the problem. The trend is towards the growth of Orthodoxy and the shrinkage of everything else. It isn’t too hard to predict the future of heterodox movements.

But instead of being triumphalist, I think we Orthodox Jews are better served by reflecting on this massive attrition by so many Jews from Judaism… and seeing if there is anything we can do about it. To my mind it is tragic that we are losing so many Jews to an assimilation that sees any and all religion as archaic and useless.

It is all too easy to write everybody else off and say, “That’s life”! We can’t really do anything about it. Let us therefore concentrate on ourselves – to make our lives holier and re-build Judaism’s numbers by our own propagation. Thankfully there is Chabad and other Kiruv organizations that do not feel this way. But the people they reach are all a drop in the bucket compared to attrition numbers.

Which brings me back to the Conservative rabbi I mentioned at the beginning of this article. The fact is that if there was some way we could work together with people like him, I think our attempts at outreach would be far more successful. Altruistic Conservative rabbis like him I am sure would be eager to do that.

I am convinced that any and every non-observant Jew that becomes Orthodox would be a success story for him – if he were in some way involved with an Orthodox Kiruv movement – even it were nothing more than steering teenagers to NCSY and through them they became observant, that would be considered a victory for him.

I’m not saying that it will be easy to accomplish that. I realize there are restrictions involved because of issues having to do with validation. These issues are real. Virtually all the Gedolim of previous generations, including Rav Soloveitchik, forbade any religious collaboration with heterodox rabbis for fear of giving them tacit recognition.

One may argue that conditions are different now and since these movements are in decline there is little danger of our legitimizing them in any meaningful way. And that the benefit of reaching out far outweighs a now archaic public policy. But it is way below my pay grade to over-rule these giants.

That those on the left wing of Orthodoxy have done so – even if for these very reasons does not make it right. Besides – joint public prayer ceremonies and the like do not really do all that much for outreach anyway, in my view. There is a difference between working with them behind the scenes – and standing in a public arena and thereby by inference endorsing them.

I believe that we should work with them. Those who are sincere about mitzvah observance, like this rabbi, desire to keep Jews – Jewish. And they now realize that their past leniencies like permitting their members to drive to shul on Shabbos was a big mistake. And exactly counterproductive to their goals of preserving Judaism. They have instead created a path out of it… and their movement is now in serious decline.

I don’t know how to co-operate with them in ways that will not violate the will of the rabbinic giants of the last generation. But I’m sure it can be done. The devil – I know – is in the details. But at this point in time – it is worth taking the time to figure it out. There is too much at stake and the time is short. Before long there will be no Conservative Jews to work with. If not now, when?

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