What People are Saying About The Government of Israel and World Jewry Joint Initiative

Readers weigh in on the draft report – “The Initiative: Ways to the Jewish Future“:

Rabbi Charles Lebow writes:

Where should I start?

From the report: “This initiative is animated by the ambition to nurture Jews who are eager to integrate Jewish values and practices with universal thinking. This concept can be captivating to millions of young Jews.”

Do they really think that young Jews are “eager to integrate Jewish values and practices with universal thinking”? And if they would, do they really think that with this integration that our problems would somehow be solved?
What research has been done to confirm this?

I see nothing new in this report. The recommendations are about throwing more money into the same things that are already being done by the Jewish Agency (more shlichim, more trips, etc). Who says that getting more Jews in the Diaspora to love Israel will do anything to “secure a Jewish Future”? Are Jews who love Israel more likely to send their children to day schools? Are Jews who love Israel more likely to marry another Jew? Maybe the answer is yes, but I would like to see some figures to back up their assumptions.

Let’s take a step back for a second. The Israeli State that was founded on the premise that there is no future for the Diaspora has now changed its tune and wants to support a viable Diaspora community. The first question that needs to be asked is what should be the purpose (or purposes) of these Diaspora communities?

If we want to adopt the Babylonian model we see that the community became known for its great centers of Jewish learning. Yes, there was assimilation in Babylon but there was enough of a dedicated core to make sure that not only did the community survive, but created something of excellence that surpassed what was happening in Israel.

If the Diaspora communities are going to thrive they must have a purpose which contributes to the future of the Jewish mission. Right now the largest communities are looked at as a source of funding for non-essential projects in Israel and as a somewhat mediocre advocacy group for the government of Israel. We have to have a better raison d’être for the Diaspora.

Which brought this comment (scroll down) from D. Himelfarb:

And those comments are the same complaints….

We have no one to blame but ourselves and we should not screed against Israel for attempts to help us achieve what we are failing at ourselves. American Jewish communities must step up and take responsibility for ourselves. For those of us who are troubled by the implications of studies like Pew and the UJA New York Jewish Community Study, it is our responsibility to become active in our communities and change the status quo.

The purpose of the synagogue is to ensure the continuity of the Jewish people. We didn’t need studies to tell us that, especially in liberal Jewish synagogues, we are failing to fulfill our purpose and have been failing for a decades. The studies force us to look in the mirror and face a reality that is worse than we wanted to admit. We have not been teaching our children and grandchildren why Jewish matters and why it should matter to them. It’s time for frank talk about how our Jewish organizations can fulfill their purpose. It’s time to stop wringing our hands, to stop blaming others, to stop lamenting our failures, even if they are personal.

Someone on the board of every Jewish institution must, at their next meeting or sooner, stand up, declare that they have failed to fulfill their purpose, and challenge everyone who has volunteered to take on a fiduciary responsibility to commit their ongoing activities to planning and implementing steps to perpetuate our people. If we value our enlightenment and our openness and our acceptance of others and the equal role of women in society and our pursuit of social justice not to mention our heritage then we should want to make sure that it is something that not only survives but thrives into the future. Because the alternative is that liberal Judaism will be greatly diminished in the future with smaller numbers and a weaker voice and less relevance on an unstoppable downward spiral.

Let us all commit ourselves to taking responsibility for engaging with our communities and our institutions to enact changes that will teach children and parents alike that American Judaism is in trouble, its survival is threatened, that they have no choice but to impact the Jewish future for better or for worse. Let’s give them the education they need to fuel the desire to create a thriving Jewish future, and let’s give them the tools they need to do it.

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Writing yesterday in The Times of Israel, Yehuda Kurtzer, the President of The Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, says:

“Some of this is perplexing on its face, such as the belief that Israeli Jewry has embodied so well and so writ large a true understanding of the confrontation between Judaism and modernity that its teenagers can self-style as the “role models” that American Jewish kids need on college campus. This is the first type of negation of American Jewishness – the belief that only if exposed to the authenticity of Israeliness will American Jewry realize its inadequacy and repent of its ways.

But it is not merely the content of this approach but the structure of the initiative itself that is problematic, and that threatens to wreak enormous havoc on the very community it is seeking to “repair.” By running the initiative itself, the Jewish Agency is ironically borrowing an American Jewish model – the Federation! – in its belief that a centrally organized approach can work more effectively than seeding its money in the open market. Meantime, this model has actually undergone massive revision here in the US, and the Jewish Agency has not caught up.”

Read Kurtzer’s complete essay, Let us help you help us, here.

The complete draft report, The Initiative: Ways to the Jewish Future, is available for download.

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