The Aughts and Us

As the new year approaches, the first decade of the 21st century is drawing to a close. The Forward invited a dozen thinkers to weigh in on some moments, developments and trends of Jewish significance from the past 10 years.

The Aughts and Us
2000-2009: A Look Back at What a Decade Brought

American Jewry in Second Place

by Jonathan D. Sarna

Amid ongoing, year-long commemorations of 350 years of American Jewish life, a news item of immense historical significance passed practically unnoticed. On May 10, 2005, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics announced that the country’s population of self-identifying Jews had reached a grand total of 5,550,000. The closest parallel number for Jews in the United States (where the figures are admittedly less precise and more controversial) is 5,290,000. With this news, an era that began following the Holocaust, when America emerged as the undisputed center of world Jewry, came with little fanfare to a close. Israel overtook the United States as the largest Jewish population center in the world.

Jonathan D. Sarna, the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University, is serving this year as senior scholar at the Mandel Leadership Institute in Jerusalem.

Diaspora Online

by Rachel Sklar

Has it ever been easier for Jews to tell the world what we’re thinking? Never shy about expressing opinions, we now have social media for sharing, posting and kvetching. But social media is also a powerful agent of community, allowing members of our Diaspora to seek each other out — across the world or down the block (and, yes, maybe go for that old cyber-shidduch). Social media has made it easy to kibbitz (remember that Moses Facebook page on Passover, or the “Twitteleh” video?) and has become a critical tool for fundraising, help sorely needed in these tough times. P.S. Elie Wiesel is on Twitter.

Rachel Sklar is editor-at-large for

Realizing a Birthright

by Eric Yoffie

When Birthright Israel was launched 10 years ago to provide free trips to Israel for Jewish young adults, there were many skeptics, myself included. But we were wrong. Birthright has changed our perceptions in fundamental ways. It has demonstrated that at a time when commitment to Israel is supposedly withering, even the most disengaged young Jews have a yearning for connection to the Jewish state. And it has proven that despair over the future of our young people is unwarranted: We can, if we are serious, offer them experiences that change their life, foster Jewish identity and draw them into the Jewish people.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie is president of the Union for Reform Judaism.

You can read the complete article, The Aughts and Us, here.