Tim Boxer On NJOP
02/14/13
Jewish Week Online Columnist
Michael Steinhardt, Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald and Sam Domb (Photo by Tim Boxer)
Michael Steinhardt, Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald and Sam Domb (Photo by Tim Boxer)

To reconnect Jews worldwide with their faith, Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, formerly of New York’s Lincoln Square Synagogue, founded the National Jewish Outreach Program in 1987. Prominent hedge fund manager Michael Steinhardt donated $1.5 million to jumpstart the organization that helps Jews  rediscover the principles of Judaism and learn how to engage in Jewish ritual.

Steinhardt, the world’s most famous Jewish atheist, perhaps thought NJOP was focused too heavily on religion. In 1999 he rallied millionaire Charles Bronfman to create an alternate heritage program called Birthright Israel. They have hosted 400,000 young Jews on free 10-day tours of Israel that hopefully will rekindle their interest in Jewish life and history. “Making secular Jews proud to be Jews is an extraordinary thing,” Steinhardt said.

Buchwald attracted other philanthropists, most notably real estate maven Sam Domb. At the 25th annual NJOP dinner this month, Epstein honored Domb as NJOP’s largest single contributor, having given or raised $3 million.

“I want to correct you, rabbi,” Domb declared. He pulled a check from his pocket and declared, “The total amount is now $3,100,000.”

Domb has rescued several New York synagogues from disrepair and helped one Jew after another rediscover the routine observance of Jewish faith. He is not deterred that his goal might be unattainable. He illustrated with a story about a boy on the beach who picked up one starfish after another and tossed it back in the water. “What are you doing?’ a man asked. “I’m saving the starfish,” the boy said. “But you can’t save them all,” the man said. “You see this one?” the boy said. “This one I saved.”

Buchwald invited Steinhardt to engage in an after-dinner conversation which quickly morphed into a theological smackdown moderated by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin.

Telushkin, the notable author/lecturer, granted that Steinhardt, the avowed Jewish atheist, is “very concerned about the survival of the Jewish people.”

Sitting in the middle of the two rabbis, Steinhardt offered a history lesson: “Being an atheist and being a good Jew is not inconsistent. Israel has a very large number of atheists. A very substantial number of our coreligionists have been atheists – Freud and Einstein among them.”

Some 300 guests held their breath as Steinhardt went on: “You don’t have to believe in the Red Sea parting – that’s meshugas. You don’t have to believe in a god that sits on a cloud.”

Rabbi Buchwald countered with a forewarning: “You have to be passionate about your Judaism. If you’re passionate your children will wind up moderate. If you’re moderate your children will wind up casual. If you’re casual you will wind up, Gd forbid, with Episcopalian grandchildren.”

The evening ended on a high note as it was announced that the dinner raised $1.1 million for the National Jewish Outreach Program whose many religious projects include the wildly popular Shabbat Across America, beginners minyanim and Hebrew crash courses.

 

Last Update:

05/01/2013 - 18:39

Comments

The main reason for Jewish ritual, and I'm primarily referring to Kashrut, is to self-segregate Jews from Gentiles. After all, if Jews are strictly kosher, they won't go to restaurants frequented by goyim, nor would they eat at their homes, or for that matter the homes of non-observant Jews. This makes it far less likely that a Jew would marry out and dilute the Jewish Master Race, which is really what Birthright is all about even if they couch it in euphemisms. As Steinhardt professes to be an atheist, he can't claim that the observance of the 613 laws, most of which are either obsolete or were idiotic from the get-go, is necessary for religious reasons.

Going on a Birthright trip to learn more about your ethnic heritage and your spiritual homeland is great, and I fully support it if it were for those reasons alone. Using Birthright as an "antidote" against intermarriage isn't so great.

The laws of kashrut were given and observed in Israel, where the Jews did not live together with goyim. The reason for the laws are as stated in the Torah. (Don't bother to look it up, you wouldn't understand anyway. Take up Buddhism or something.) There was no race to be master of then and there hasn't been since. You must have been born feet-first.

Comment Guidelines

The Jewish Week feels comments create a valuable conversation and wants to feature your thoughts on our website. To make everyone feel welcome, we won't publish comments that are profane, irrelevant, promotional or make personal attacks.

Add comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.