Weekly Update: November 18, 2016 — 17 Cheshvan 5777

The single most effective response that all the challenges beg

From time to time, articles appear that attempt to scan the Jewish horizon. One such article, “The challenges facing American Jewry”, appeared last week in the Jerusalem Post. It seeded the ground, so to speak, for the subsequent discussions in Washington, D.C. (Nov. 13 to 15) at the annual General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America.

The author of the article, Steve Linde, admirably interviewed 12 community activists and leaders in the United States. Each offered a perspective on the pressing challenges and issues that urgently demanded collective communal response. Though the article focused on American Jewry, the observations recorded are relevant for our community as well. Space does not permit highlighting all of the interviewees’ suggestions. We point out three of them.

Linde writes that there is an overall concern among the leaders for what Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, calls “the negative phenomenon of indifference” within the Jewish community.

According to Linde, these leaders “believe the antidote lies in properly educating the younger generation as early as possible about the positive aspects of both Judaism and the Jewish state, and equipping them with the tools to fight antisemitism and anti-Zionism, particularly the BDS movement on college campuses.” Indeed, the rising waves of antisemitism, anti-Zionism and the BDS movement are frequently expressed worries by almost all of the individuals interviewed by Linde.

“Dede Feinberg, the Washington-based vice chair of United Israel Appeal and immediate past chair of JFNA’s executive committee, feels “a deep concern about the decline in Jewish identity, serious religious divisions, a diminishing identification with Israel and an aging population. Our Jewish educational system is sorely lacking,” she explains. “Israel is no longer looked upon in the same positive light as it was in past years.

“Michael Siegal, a top Cleveland businessman who has served as chairman of the JFNA and Israel Bonds, worries about the evolution of American Jewry. “Better education leads to better outcomes in every way,” he says.

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None of the above opinions is new to the discussion about “the Jewish future”. The discussion was launched with considerable public fanfare some three decades ago. Unfortunately the more we merely engage in debate or restart the discussion concerning “the challenges facing American (read North American) Jewry” without actually committing to the single most compelling response that these long ago identified challenges beg – affordable Jewish education – we simply inure each successive generation to the urgency with which we must act. To our everlasting shame.
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We are pleased to report that two focus groups will be conducted during the first week of December. Again, we thank the many individuals who have volunteered to take part in them.

We will, of course, report results.

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Shabbat shalom.

GAJE

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