Wake Up To Reality
Wed, 12/11/2013

Thank you to Gary Rosenblatt for continuing to grapple with the challenge of Jewish engagement, in this case how it affects Jewish giving (“Will Jewish Foundations Go Universal?” Dec. 6).

I appreciate the recognition that his “perception of Jewish priorities may be more parochial than those of a younger generation,” but I don’t think he understands how the difference arises. In addressing “the ongoing inreach vs. outreach debate in our community,” he writes that his “idea of triage is to first strengthen the core.” But that debate is no longer happening on the ground; it has lost its relevance because of the dramatically changed landscape of today’s Jewish community.

Continuing to focus on a nostalgic notion of a “core,” rather than recognizing the wide spectrum of contemporary Jewish identities and Jewish journeys, is not only unhelpful in its inaccuracy but also divisive. In the old debate, “core” and “inreach” are just code for preventing intermarriage. But the recent Pew Research study found that a quarter of all Jews are already from intermarried households (a percentage that will only rise), and many intermarried Jews and children of intermarriage are participating in the organized Jewish community. Why would they find a 1990s dichotomy of who’s in and who’s out relevant or acceptable?

The real challenge facing our community is not about marriage or affiliation but about meaning, and Rosenblatt doesn’t even begin to make the case for why Jewish funders should care more about Jewish causes than universal ones. He simply presumes that if there were more Jews in the “core” like him (and of course, he gets to decide who’s in and who’s out of the core), they would automatically understand and share his point of view. But has that ever been the case? There are plenty of in-married, affiliated Jews who would agree it’s more important to save thousands of starving non-Jews than one captured Jewish soldier, to borrow Rosenblatt’s own Save Darfur versus Gilad Shalit analogy. If he made a compelling argument to the contrary, based on actual values and merit, wouldn’t it sway many intermarried, unaffiliated Jews as well?

Focusing on actual Jewish meaning, regardless of who might benefit from that meaning, rather than bemoaning who does or doesn’t automatically share one’s worldview based on who they’re born to, is how to find the common ground Rosenblatt seeks with the next generation of Jews.

Associate Executive Director Jewish Outreach Institute

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