Some weeks ago The New York Jewish Week published a plain-speaking but hard-hitting op-ed by Rabbi Abraham Unger entitled “Two Radical Proposals To Ensure A Jewish Future.” Unger was responding to an essay by JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen.
Unger felt compelled to respond to Eisen’s essay because “it avoids the elephant in the room regarding our shared concern about a disappearing American Jewry.” He challenged Eisen’s observations that quality is “more important to Jewish survival than mere numbers.”
Community leaders have been worrying over “disappearing American Jewry” for decades. But not enough, apparently and alas, to have yet taken the steps necessary steps to stem and reverse the downward trend of American Jewish demographics.
And so, as much with stinging irony as with strong, sorrowful prescription, Unger writes that in the face of the declining numbers of non-Orthodox American Jewry “that two, and only two, choices remain for the organized Jewish community: to completely rethink and then quickly implement a radically new kind of American Judaism that meets the people where they are now, or give up and focus all communal energy and resources on Orthodoxy, which at least is suffering no attrition, has the highest Jewish birthrate, and is the most communally active of all the movements, meeting Dr. Eisen’s criteria of quality over quantity.”
The subject of disappearing American Jewry is now a too familiar, melancholy concern. With each passing year and each passing generation, it becomes more urgently so.
The deeper melancholy of Unger’s essay, however, is in one of his casual observations. “The missed opportunity of American Judaism is that the most favourable moment to develop a rich and vibrant communal life in the narrative of the Jewish diaspora has become a story of ethnic attrition.”
In Canada too.
The answer is also familiar to us all: Education! Affordable Jewish education.