Christian Zionists Make Their Voices Heard at Bucks Church LOCAL BRYAN SCHWARTZMAN | JE STAFF
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THE POUNDING of the drums and the wail of the electric guitar filled the church as Pastor Larry Serge sang the w ords, â€œBreathe on me, breath of God, breathe on me. I am alive, come alive, when you breathe on me.â€? While the band played in the Morning Star F ellowship Church in Quakertown, Bucks County, hundreds of people swayed with their arms raised. The Oct. 6 evening featured many of the hallmarks of regular Sunday services at Morning Star. Only on this night, many in the audience waved Israeli flags while three large screens displayed images from Israel. The night be gan with the singing of â€œHatikvah,â€? included benedictions from two rabbis and remarks from Yaron Sideman, Israelâ€™s consul general. Part revival meeting, par t pro-Israel rally, the â€œNight to Honor Israelâ€? was run by Christians United for Israel. The organization runs about 50 such events nationally each month, and about 10 each year in Pennsylvania. Itâ€™s a way for CUFI, which is based in San Antonio, Texas, to get its message out to grass-roots evangelical Christians: Being pro-Israel should be an outgrowth of your faith. â€œYou are the true, authentic friends of Israel and the Jewish people. We do not tak e our friends for granted,â€? the consul general told the audience. â€œIt is our collective responsibility to make sure this special moment in historyâ€? â€” the existence of an independent Jewish nation â€” â€œcontinues for at least 2,000 years more.â€? Christian Zionism has emerged as a major political and social force in recent decades, and CUFI â€” founded by Pastor John Hagee â€” is by far the largest organization of its kind. The groupâ€™s annual summit in Washington, D.C., regularly draws 5,000 people. The only pro-Israel group that runs a
â–˛ Christian Zionists lit candles for Israel at a Quakertown church.
bigger event is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. With the Jewish community failing to grow significantly, and many younger Jews professing limited attachment to the Jewish state, Christians are playing an important role nationally in pro-Israel lobbying. For years, there was a reticence on the part of many Jewish groups to embrace evangelicals. Many feared that Christian support for Israel was driven by a belief that the Jewish return to Zion will usher in the â€œSecond Comingâ€? of Christ, after which Jews will either accept Jesus or be sent to hell. Christian Zionist leaders have repeatedly denied this charge and stressed that their support for the Jewish presence in Israel is based in Scripture. Leaders like Pastor Victor Styrsky, author of Honest to God: Christian Zionists Confront 10 Questions Jews Need Answered, routinely say that those w ho bless Israel will be blessed and those who donâ€™t will be cursed. â€œWe want to thank y ou for bringing to us gentiles the knowledge that there is one God,â€? Styrsky said, speaking to the Jews in the audience in Quakertown. â€œYour younger brothers say, â€˜Weâ€™re here now and weâ€™re your friends â€” whether you like it or not.â€™ â€? Hagee and his organization havenâ€™t avoided controversy. Heâ€™s taken flak for comments tha t suggested God br ought about the Holocaust in order to move Jews to Israel, an idea anathema
to most, but not all, Jews. On the whole, CUFI pushes an agenda that is on the right of the political spectrum concerning Israeli issues . The group generally opposes making territorial compromises. But apart from the harsh environment facing many pro-Israel activists on campus, and a few references to the r ecent meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, there wasnâ€™t much focus on hot-button political issues at the church event. Rather, the emphasis was on all the good things coming out of Israel, including science, culture and medicine. The Quakertown event raised a little more than $8,000, which organizers said would be di vided up between the American Friends of Magen David Adom and CUFIâ€™s campus division. Theresa and Dan Armstrong, the parents of two teenagers, have been attending Morning Star for about a year. Theresa Armstrong said she hadnâ€™t thought much about Israel before attending the church â€” but now sheâ€™d like to visit the Jewish state. â€œWhat an incredible honor for us to come and just show our support to Israel,â€? she said. Her husband â€” who said in front of his wife that heâ€™d once dated a Jewish woman â€” also said that, throughout history, the Jewish people have suffered terrible wrongs in the name of Christ. â€œFor me, an event like this is a real act of repentance.â€? â—? JEWISHEXPONENT.COM
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Israeli Muslim and Jew Say Interfaith Dialogue Is â€˜Other Peace Processâ€™ LOCAL ERIC BERGER | JE STAFF
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THE HEAD of the Sharia Court in Jerusalem says he is motivated by the Koran to engage in interfaith dialogue. â€œThe Koran orders the Muslims to come to dialogue with all the people of the holy books â€” the Christians and the J ews,â€?
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said Kadi Iy ad Zahalka. (T he Arabic word for an Islamic judge is kadi.) â€œAlso, God orders us to make this dialogue in wise ways and peaceful ways. The Koran said we must do this dialo gue in good words and good speech.â€? Zahalka was speaking to a room of Muslims, Jews and Christians who gathered Oct. 7 at the Jewish Community Services Building to hear him and Rabbi Ron Kronish, the director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, discuss why they talk to one another. The Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia sponsored the event, which was part of the religious leadersâ€™ speaking tour ar ound the United States. The two also a ppeared at Gladwyne Presbyterian Church. Kronish said such dialogue contributes to â€œthe other peace process.â€? While Kronish lauded U.S. Secretary of State John Kerryâ€™s efforts in bringing Israeli and Palestinian negotiators together to resume peace talks, the rabbi and the kadi both said that dialogue on a person-to-person level is equally important to achieving long-term peace. Zahalka, who was born in a village near Haif a, heads the Jerusalem court that rules on personal matters concerning the Muslim citizens of Israel. He said the majority of Muslims around the world share his interpretation of the Koran â€” that they should meet people of other faiths in a peaceful manner â€” but that the â€œsmall minority of Muslims who are fundamentalistâ€? skew the worldâ€™s view of Islam. â€œThe peaceful voices are talking at a low volume,â€? said Zahalka. He added that he thinks the media pays too much attention to the radical elements of Islam and that his efforts at interfaith dialogue allow people to g et a more accurate view of his religion.
â€œWe are meeting. We are talking, and this way we can express the idea that Muslims have humanistic values and that we can together join forces against the challenges that we have in modern times.â€? Kronish, a graduate of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, said the key to reaching greater understanding among different peoples is spending significant time together. Often, he said, the br eakthroughs happen at casual meals rather than formal events.
The peaceful voices are talking at a low volume.â€? KADI IYAD ZAHALKA
He recalled an interfaith retreat with seven Jewish and seven Muslim clergy held in 2003 in Belfast â€” the venue chosen because of Irelandâ€™s history of conflict. The participants broke down barriers while â€œeating together, sitting on the bus together, schmoozing together.â€? Afterwards, when the brother of one of the Muslim leaders died, Kronish and a number of Orthodox rabbis went to his house in an Arab village in Israel to make a condolence call. â€œReal relationships formed from that event â€” f or many years, still to this day,â€? Kronish said. Zahalka recalled how a few years ago his 15-year-old daughter, who had been very shy, participated in the Children Teaching Children program in Israel, in which Arab and Jewish children meet twice a month and â€œtalk about their culture, their religion, their village, their family.â€? â€œAfter two or three months of this program, my daughter changed. She was open. She always speaks. I said to her, â€˜What happened with you?â€™ She started to talk with people ,â€? Zahalka said. â€œIt is very exciting. I think it is one of the wa ys we can achieve understanding between us.â€?â—? JEWISHEXPONENT.COM
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Amid Negative Engagement Trends in Pew Study, Jewish Funders See Validation NATIONAL URIEL HEILMAN | JTA
NEW YORK — If you’re pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into Jewish-identity building, what do you do when a survey comes along showing that the number of U.S. Jews engaging with Jewish life and religion is plummeting? That’s the question f acing major funders of American Jewish life following the release last week of the Pew Research Center’s survey on American Jews. The study — the first comprehensive portrait of American Jewry in more than a decade — showed that nearly one-third of American Jews under age 32 do not identify as Jewish by religion, that Jews are currently intermarrying at a rate of 58 per-
cent (71 percent if the Orthodox are excluded) and that most intermarried Jews are not raising their kids as Jews. For many of the J ewish world’s biggest funders, the answer to this question is clear: Stay the course. “We’ve known about these issues and many of us have been working in our own ways to address them,” said Sandy Cardin, president of the Char les and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, which, with more than $2 billion in assets, is one of the Jewish world’s largest
foundations focused on bolstering Jewish identity and community among young people. “We haven’t done it yet, and by no means is success assured, but I do think as a community we have identified significant ways to addr ess these c hallenges,” he said. “It’s too soon, I think, to see the immediate impact of what many of us in the community have been doing over the past five to 10 years.” The logic to this approach is relatively straightforward: The findings in the P ew survey mostly upheld the assumptions upon which major gi vers in Jewish life already have been operating. In their view, the survey validates their own philanthropic priorities — even if they disagree with other philanthropists about what to prioritize.
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Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia welcomes its new Chairman of the Board, Michael Willner along with 2013-2014 Board Members. Board of Directors * Alyson Bell Sheree Bloch * Janice Blumenthal Anna Boni Ruthi Cohen * Alan Cohn Patricia G. Cramer * Kelly Dalsemer Allan Frank Paula Goldstein Robert Kagan JFCS Leadership Deborah Gordon Paula Goldstein, President/CEO Klehr Pia Eisenberg, Vice President of Joyce Krasnoff Development Howard Langer John Sawyer, Vice President of Finance Adam E. Laver Nancy Glasberg, Vice President of Human Seth Laver Norman Olson Resources Alla Pasternack Basha Silverman, Vice President of * Robert Pearlstein Programs and Services Sheri Cozen Resnick Lisa Schoenberg Honorary Officer Jessica N. Solomon Donald Bean Amy Stein JFCS Board Officers Michael Willner, Chair of the Board Deborah Gordon Klehr, Vice Chair Adam E. Laver, Vice Chair Norman Olson, Vice Chair Sheree Bloch, Development Officer Amy Stein, Secretary Mark Taplinger, Treasurer Matthew A. White, General Counsel
* Andrea Tanenbaum Mark Taplinger Isa H. Welsch Matthew A. White Michael Willner * Steven Winokur Past Presidents Leonard Cooper Patricia G. Cramer Joyce Fishbein Sam Frieder Ivan Gabel **Joan Grossman Jim Kahn Owen Knopping **Henry Miller Douglas Schleicher Carl Schneider Jessica N. Solomon **Joseph Smukler
Board of Trustees Edward Brown David Colman Stephen Dubin Ricki Fisher Mary Bert Gutman Robert Horen Joan F. Jaffe Murray Levin Alan Lindy Ruth Nathanson Rosalind Neff Curt Pontz **Paul Tanker Robert Wachter
Board of Advisors * Rhona Fromm Irving R. Gerber Rabbi David Joseph A. Gerber Ackerman Suzanne Goldstein Raymond S. Lisa Green Alexander Jaime P. Gusdorff Stuart E. Beck Harris Heller Dene K. Bernstein Seth Horwitz Phyllis T. Bookspan Rabbi William Kuhn Allan Cohen Amy L. Kurland Amy N. Cohen Michael M. Coleman Marlene F. Lachman Rabbi Aaron Landes Lana Dishler Barbara M. Lincow Ruth H. DuBois Irwin J. Lipton Farrell Ender Howard M. Magen Sheldon H. Eveloff Bruce S. Marks Joel Freedman
Lindsey Morgan Eve Orlow Peter Rosenberg Mark Schneider Michael Schwartz Sheri Stahler Paul S. Stark Marjorie Stein Diane Steinbrink Harold A. Sukonik Dorothy Wasserman Joan P. Wohl Flora B. Wolf * NEW BOARD MEMBER **DECEASED
JFCS provides quality social and community services across the life spectrum to enhance the lives of families, children and individuals. Guided by Jewish values, the services are available to all in the Greater Philadelphia Region. JFCS partners with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia
OCTOBER 10, 2013
www.jfcsphilly.org JEWISH EXPONENT
HEADLINES Continued from Previous Page “This new study reinforces the idea that we need an energizing nucleus which is literate in Hebrew, and w hich is engaged in intensive and immersive education and committed to Jewish life and Jewish institutions,” said Yossi Prager, executive director in North America of Avi Chai, a major investor in Jewish education. Andres Spokoiny, CEO of the Jewish Funders Network, drew a different conclusion: “Those that were investing heavily in Jewish culture and alternative venues for Jewish identity were right,” he said. “Given that a lot of Jews define themselves as secular or atheist, it’s critically important that while investing in traditional venues in Jewish life, it’s important to explore and find and foster venues for encouraging Jewish identity through non-traditional ways — through culture, through arts,” Spokoiny said. “I think that’s a key message.”
Mark Charendoff, president of the Maimonides Fund, said the study demonstrates a r emarkable failure to ac hieve many of the central goals adopted by the Jewish community in the wake of the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey, which showed what many considered alarmingly high assimilation rates. “As a community, we made a decision a couple of decades ago to focus on J ewish continuity and Jewish identity, and we don’t seem to have moved the needle by even one degree,” said Charendoff. “I w ould love to tell y ou I think it’s a wake-up call, but I don’t think anyone’s waking up.” Jewish foundations need to get on the same page to develop a comprehensive strategy to begin to r everse the ne gative trends, he said. “Donors by and large are focused on particular efforts and not focused on the field as a whole,” Charendoff said. “There needs to be more coordination, more resources. We’re only going
to have that impact if there’s alignment and not 10,000 people doing God’s work but without regard to what their neighbors are doing.” Whether the Pew study will prompt a systemic response, or even an attempt at one by Jewish funders, remains to be seen. Chip Edelsberg, executive director of the Jim Joseph Foundation, which has a warded about $280 million in grants for Jewish education and engagement since 2006, said his foundation needs more time to delve into the Pew data to figure out what changes are necessary, if any, to their strategies for engaging young American Jews. Michael Steinhardt, the mega-philanthropist behind Birthright Israel, Hebrew-language charter schools and a host of other Jewish community programs, said the results of Pew are hardly news: “We should not need the Pew study to give us a reality check,” he said. “The question is what to do about it.” ●
Education Grounded in Jewish Values
The American Jewish Story Through Cinema Thursday, October 17 • 7:30 PM The Shusterman Distinguished Scholar Lecture presents
Dr. Eric Goldman Eric Goldman is a leading expert, lecturer and film reviewer of Yiddish, Israeli and Jewish film. Associate professor of cinema at Yeshiva University and The Jewish Theological Seminary, Goldman has written extensively on the Jewish experience in film including his recently published book, The American Jewish Story Through Cinema.
This event is free and open to the public. Dessert reception and book signing following lecture. RSVP requested to firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-635-7300 x155 Supported by a major endowment, the Shusterman Distinguished Scholar Lecture series brings outstanding programs to Gratz College. Gratz College expresses its profound gratitude to Murray and Judith (z”l) Shusterman.
Gratz College • 7605 Old York Road • Melrose Park, PA 19027 215-635-7300 • www.gratz.edu
OCTOBER 10, 2013
HEADLINES Photo by Yaakov Naumi/Flash 90
▲ Hundreds of thousands of mourners attended the funeral procession of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who was buried at the Sanhedriya cemetery on Oct. 7.
Israelis Turn Out in Droves to Bury Rabbi Ovadia Yosef ISRAEL JTA STAFF
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TEL AVIV — Some 800,000 people flocked to the funeral of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the Israeli sage who founded the Sephardi Orthodox Shas political party and exercised a major influence on Jewish law. The renowned rabbi died Monday at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem. He was 93. The rabbi’s followers flooded Jerusalem from around the country in order to pay their final respects. After a number of eulogies, the rabbi was buried in the Sanhedria cemetery, alongside his wife, Margalit, who died in 1994. Yosef served as Israel’s Sephardi chief rabbi from 1973 to 1983, and extended his influence over the ensuing decades as the spiritual leader of Shas, which politically galvanized hundreds of thousands of Sephardi Israelis, though Yosef himself never served in the Knesset. In 1999, at its height, Shas was the third-largest Knesset party, with 17 seats. Though he adhered to a haredi Orthodox ideology, Yosef, a charismatic speaker, published relatively liberal Jewish legal rulings and drew support both from traditional and secular Sephardi Israelis. Known to his followers as Maran, “our mas-
ter” in Hebr ew, Yosef’s main Jewish legal goal was to take diverse Jewish practices from the Middle East and North Africa and mold a “united le gal system” for Sephardi Jews. As his influence grew, Yosef presided over a veritable empire of Sephardi religious services. Shas opened a netw ork of schools that now has 40,000 students. Yosef managed a kosher certification called Beit Yosef that has become the standard for many religious Sephardim. And he was a dominant power broker when it came to electing Sephardi chief rabbis and appointing Sephardi judges in r eligious courts. This year, Yosef’s son — and preferred candidate — was elected to become the new Israeli Sephardi chief rabbi. Through his w ork, Yosef, who was born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1920, hoped to raise the status of Israel’s historically disadvantaged Sephardi community, both culturally and socioeconomically. He dressed in traditional Sephardi religious garb, including a turban and an embroidered robe, even as most of his close followers adopted the Ashkenazi haredi dress of a black fedora and suit. As a sc holar, Yosef was known for his ability to recite long, complex J ewish tracts from memory. His best-known works, Yabia Omer, Yehave Da’at and Yalkut Yosef, cover an
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HEADLINES Continued from Previous Page array of Jewish legal topics. “He was a character that people capitulated in front of, a man of Jewish law that created a political entity with strong influence on Israeli politics and culture,” said Menac hem Friedman, an exper t on the har edi community at Bar-Ilan University. “It raised up Middle Eastern Jewish culture, gave legitimacy to Middle Eastern Jewish traditions.” Outside the religious community, Yosef was best known for his sometimes controversial political stances. His authority within Shas was virtually absolute, and even in his ninth decade he r emained closely involved in the party’s decisions. While Yosef favored policies that served the religious community’s interests, he also supported peace treaties involving Israeli withdrawal from conquered territory. He argued that such deals were allowed under Jewish law because they saved Jewish lives. In the 1990s and 2000s, Shas joined left-wing governing coalitions multiple times, allowing for the advancement of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — though Yosef opposed the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip because it was done unilaterally. In his later years, Yosef also stirred controversy with a number of inflammatory statements, often made at a weekly Saturday-night sermon. In 2000, he said that Holocaust victims were reincarnated sinners, and in 2005 he said that the victims of Hurricane Katrina deserved the tragedy “because they have no God.” In 2010, Y osef said, “The sole purpose of non-Jews is to serve Jews.” “Rabbi Ovadia was a giant in Torah and J ewish law and a teacher for tens of thousands,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement Monday. “He worked greatly to enhance Jewish heritage and at the same time, his rulings took into consideration the times and the realities of renewed life in the state of Israel. He was imbued with love of the Torah and the people.” ● JEWISHEXPONENT.COM
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Blacks, Jews Gather for Discussion
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A SMALL GROUP of Jewish and African-American leaders from around the country gathered in Philadelphia for three days of dialogue about race and ethnicity, as part of an effort to find more ways for the two communities to work together on common issues. The “Mission to Philadelphia” took place Oct. 1-3 and was organized by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the national umbrella for local Jewish community relations councils. The group heard a presentation from Rabbi Lance Sussman of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins P ark on Jews in the civil rights movement. Participants also toured historic local J ewish and African-American sites, volunteered in a church soup kitchen and heard from Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. The group was exposed to the city’s NewCore (conversations on race and ethnicity) program, which was created after then-Sen. Barack Obama’s 2008 speech on race, which he delivered at the National Constitution Center as his candidacy became jeopardized by his association with the R ev. Jeremiah Wright, a controversial pastor.
That same year, Nutter called together a number of local leaders — inc luding Rabbi David Straus, current president of the Jewish Community R elations Council of Greater Philadelphia — to come up with a model that fostered candid dialogue about identity. Since then, Ne wCore has co-sponsored dialogues in numerous communal settings, with programs that emphasize personal stories. During the mission, participants from Harford, Conn., Milwaukee, Wisc., San Jose, Calif., northern New Jersey, southern New Jersey and Philadelphia engaged in dialogue using the NewCore model, sharing stories about events in their li ves that had shaped their view or self-conception of race and ethnicity. Adam Kessler, director of the local JCRC, said the gathering energized many of the participants, but it will be up to them to go bac k to their o wn communities and f ollow-up. Kessler said he’s planning to hold subsequent meetings with members of the b lack clergy from Philadelphia and Camden. There’s been pr eliminary discussions, he said, a bout working together on projects related to gun control, immigration reform and the high rate of incarceration among AfricanAmerican men. ●
Francois Englert, Holocaust Survivor, Shares Nobel for Physics JERUSALEM (JTA) — Francois Englert, a Belgian Jewish professor at Tel Aviv University and a Holocaust survivor, shared the Nobel Prize in physics. The prize for Englert and Peter Higgs of Britain for their discovery of the Higgs particle was announced Tuesday. Englert, 80, has had “close research ties” with Tel Aviv University for 30 years, the university said. He is a Sackler professor by special appointment at its School of Physics and Astronomy. The Higgs particle, known as the “God particle,” is said to have caused the Big Bang. Scientists confirmed the discovery of the Higgs particle, or Higgs boson, which Higgs first theorized in 1964, while working with the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland. In 2004, Englert, Higgs and Robert Brout won Israel’s Wolf Prize, which is seen as a stepping-stone to the Nobel. On Monday, Jewish Americans James Rothman of Yale University and Randy Schekman of the University of California, Berkeley, joined German-born researcher Thomas Suedhof of Stanford University in winning the Nobel Prize in medicine for their research on “vesicle traffic” — how proteins and other materials are transported within cells. JEWISHEXPONENT.COM
Parlor meeting with Wendy Keter in the Philadelphia area Monday, October 21, 8:00 PM at the home of
Dr. Alan and Sarah Schorr 866 Cardinal Lane Huntingdon Valley, Pa. 19006 Tel 215 947 7957 RSVP Lenore@afidc.org Tel 212 213 5962 Wendy Keter, Director Emeritus of RRIS Wendy can be reached from October 18th at 917 533 6798.
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OCTOBER 10, 2013
Pew Points the Way
Pay Attention NO ONE WHO’S BEEN paying attention to the state of American Jewry over the past two decades should be surprised by the sobering findings of the Pew Research Center study on U.S. Jews. The findings only confirm the statistics on the high rate of assimilation and disaffiliation that has been chipping away at our community for some time. But the fact that the statistics shouldn’t surprise anyone doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention. There are a wealth of findings that, beyond the numbers, shed light on what being Jewish means — and doesn’t mean — for today’s Jews. The Pew study is already generating endless debate and questions: Have the millions of dollars spent in the past 20 years to help build Jewish identity been a waste of money? Has too much effort been expended on reaching out to the intermarried (who are unlikely to raise their children as Jews anyway) and the unaffiliated, rather than on those who already have one foot in the Jewish door? Is being a cultural Jew who likes Jewish humor enough? The good news is that these questions have already been roiling forward-thinking institutions at home and across the country for several years. They are what inspired the creation of Birthright Israel, a renewed commitment to Jewish camping and the establishment of mega-foundations that have invested heavily in Jewish education. Many area synagogues are working tirelessly to find new models to inspire more Jews in the pews. But clearly what’s been happening is not enough. Hopefully, this study will inject a new sense of urgency into the community. A key question is this: How can our Jewish institutions and communal leaders, nationally and locally, use the research to refine and rethink programs, priorities and the allocation of funds? How can we inspire thinkers, innovators and philanthropists to work collaboratively to develop new paradigms for Jewish engagement? While we can marvel at the 94 percent of Jews in the Pew study who say they are proud to be Jewish, we must recognize that pride alone will not sustain and nurture a strong Jewish future. We need to continue to invest in formal and informal Jewish education, camping and Israel programs. At the same time, we need to create cultural and social action programming that will inspire stonger Jewish connections. In fact, we need to re-envision everything we are doing. These are conversations that need to be happening at every level — in synagogues and organizations, around Shabbat dinner tables and in federation board rooms. This is not a time for a one-size-fits-all Judaism. We are at a crossroads. Let the conversation continue. ●
JEWISH EXPONENT FEDERATION
Sherrie R. Savett, President Alex Stroker, Interim CEO, Publisher’s Representative JEWISH PUBLISHING GROUP
Jay Minkoff, Chairman Daniel E. Bacine, Immediate Past Chairman Hilary Bayer Judge Harold Berger Bryna Berman Harris Devor Bernard Dishler Daniel Eisenstadt
Joel Freedman Shira Goodman Matthew Handel Michele Levin Russell Paul Jon Stevens
OCTOBER 10, 2013
Toward More Avenues to Jewish Life ANDRES SPOKOINY
WHAT SURPRISES ME MOST about the Pew report on American Jews is that anybody is surprised. The report points to a series of phenomena tha t are well known in the world today: identity fragmentation, radical free choice, embracement of diversity, and the breakdown of organizational and ideological loyalties. Jews are, according to the witticism, like everybody else, only more so. For many of these phenomena, we are the canary in the coal mine , the ear ly adopters and the over-adapters. The report is not good or bad news. It shows us a reality we can’t ignore anymore. It is up to us to see the opportunities hidden in this new reality. There are a few things we should be thinking about here. One, in a highly diversified community like ours, inclusiveness — of mixed marriages, of people with disabilities, of different sexual orientations, of different ideologies and levels of observance — is not optional. Two, we need more avenues to Jewish identity. Those of us who grew up in communities where the main expressions of identity were secular (Zionism, Hebrew, arts and culture) are not surprised to learn that more than 30 percent of young American Jews do not identify as religious in any way. But it would be foolish for us to think tha t they have a weaker potential to
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identify themselves meaningfully as Jews. If we don’t want to lose 30 percent of our people, we need to work much harder at developing alternative avenues for Jewish engagement. We significantly underinvest in Jewish culture as a way to foster Jewish identity. One of the main tasks of Jewish leadership needs to be opening as many gateways as possible to Jewish life without being judgmental about which ones are more authentic. As the Talmud says, the T orah is a heart with man y rooms. In a context of extreme uncertainty, we can’t foresee which ones will be successful in offering a good path for engagement. Three, the Pew report shows that American J ews don’t see their identity in either/or terms. However, those of us in leadership positions usually do. In a world of fragmented, plural identities, we need to br eak loose from old definitions that condition our thinking and action. The concepts of religion, culture, nation and people are 19th-century ideas created to respond to the specific reality of European Christianity. They are not adequate (and ne ver were) to describe the Jewish experience. Things shouldn’t be either/ or in terms of communal funding. We shouldn’t invest in culture at the expense of investments in educa tion or synagogue life. Rather, we should look at the synergies that will materialize if we stop looking at
those areas as unconnected silos. Skeptics will sa y that hard choices must be made because resources are scarce. But excluding any part of Jewish expression will only shrink the pie further. We should not look at funding as a zero-sum game because new initiatives and matching grants can bring new philanthropic resources to the community. Four, Jewish organizations in many cases are stuck in paradigms inherited from the Industrial Revolution. They are pyramidal, centralized, top-down structures that rely heavily on the loyalty of their constituents and donors. Yet Jews don’t think in terms of organizational loyalty anymore. Pew and other r eports show that Jews don’t give to organizations but to causes. Organizations need to see themselves as tools for donors and users rather than vice versa. The Pew report shows that this is a time of bubbling creativity in the J ewish community. Rather than announcing doom, the report could spur us to create mechanisms that capture and catalyze that energy. We have to address the critical question of what Judaism as a culture, religion and civilization has to offer to those of us w ho yearn for meaning in an uncertain world. Answering the question of why be Jewish is just as important as how to be Jewish. ● Andres Spokoiny is the CEO of the Jewish Funders Network.
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