More than 50 of us had gathered for a full day last Sunday to talk about whatever we wanted. But there was really only one issue on our minds.
Over the past three years, when alumni of The Conversation, an annual conference sponsored by The Jewish Week and CLI (the Center for Leadership Initiative), gathered for a yearly reunion, there was a sense of optimism as the discussions ranged across the spectrum of Jewish interests and concerns, from education to innovation, from mid-term politics to Mideast peace.
One of the more intriguing subtexts of the annual Jewish Funders Network conference, held last week in St. Petersburg, Fla., was whether philanthropists should continue to seek out and fund innovative start-up groups, like those hoping to attract younger Jews through the arts, culture, Jewish study and social service, or retrench during these scary economic times and get back to basics. That would mean giving most of their dollars to help the new needy find employment, housing and food, mostly through federations and other establishment organizations.
I’ve had a growing sense of foreboding in recent days about the very real dangers to the State of Israel, internally and externally, and what I perceive to be an increasing emotional distance between American Jews and Jerusalem. Just when Israel needs us most to act and speak out vigorously in its defense, I fear that many among us are questioning, if not doubting, some of the bedrock beliefs we’ve held about the Jewish state, including its actions and purpose.
Passover is a family experience, a good time to tell and listen to one another’s stories. So I offer up a few examples that I’ve shared at home over the years about my cluelessness as a youngster. Like the time when I was a kid of about 10 or 11, growing up in Annapolis, Md., and wondering who Morris Eyen was.
He was becoming the bane of my existence and I’d never even met him. This was puzzling because I thought I knew just about everyone in the town’s only synagogue, where my Dad was the rabbi.
Think of the American Jewish community as a business — a more than $10 billion annual business.
If our organizations and leaders made programming decisions based on that notion, perhaps they would be building a stronger, larger and more effective Jewish community.
It’s time to recognize that, with the collapse of the economy, the American Jewish day school model is breaking, if not already broken.
We have to deal with a new reality, and that calls for revisiting and reassessing the sacred cows surrounding how we approach the education of our children — from pedagogical, social and financial points of view.
In future columns, I hope to deal with the range of efforts being undertaken in our community to deal with this crisis. For now, let’s focus on a few central facts: