The Baal Shem Tov never belonged to the big-city Jews in suits or the yeshiva prodigies in fedoras. He was ordained in the hard-luck seminary God reserves for His favorite students. Orphaned at 5, a widower in his 30s, a migrant, a destitute tutor, a shochet, he slept in the shadows, in the company of Carpathian highwaymen, thieves and peasants.
When a couple in his congregation told Rabbi Gordon Freeman of their infertility and asked for spiritual help, the rabbi confessed that he had not realized all of the ramifications.
“They said they wanted to deal with it in a ritual manner,” recalled the spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Shalom in Walnut Creek, Calif. “They wanted to know how our tradition could help them deal with it. They had already gone to therapists.”
In what is being called a “dramatic departure” from historic American Jewish behavior and values, a new study of U.S. Jews has found that a growing number no longer thinks it is important to have mostly Jewish friends, marry Jews, have an attachment to Israel or ensure the welfare of other Jews.
The study by sociologist Steven M. Cohen of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem warned that as Jews identify less and less as a group, they are withdrawing from “philanthropy, [Jewish] organizations, peoplehood, Israel and Jewish-gentile interactions.”
Proponents of a state bias crime bill in the Jewish community stepped up their political pressure on New York officials this week following the brutal murder of a gay college student in Wyoming.
“It’s time for the Albany shuffle to end,” said Howard Katz, associate regional director of the Anti-Defamation League at a press conference last Friday. “The three leaders have each said it’s the other guy’s fault.”
Sen. Alfonse D’Amato made an impassioned pitch for support at a closed-door breakfast meeting with Jewish leaders this week while denouncing his Democratic challenger, Rep. Charles Schumer, as a “putzhead” who could not match his record on Israel, according to several participants.
While the candidates in the contentious battle for Senate wage all-out war for the Jewish vote, sparks have yet to fly in the governor’s race, in which Republican George Pataki is far outpacing Democratic challenger Peter Vallone.