The recent population survey conducted by the UJA-Federation of New York — “Jewish Community Study of New York: 2011” — contains some findings that have not been discussed extensively. One of these trends is the significant change in educational attainment since the last survey was compiled a decade ago.
Who would want to go to Africa in June? The American Jewish World Service, that’s who, and the 30 people, myself included, who -- despite three connecting flights, the height of the rainy season, and temperatures in the 80s -- signed up for its Liberian study tour.
At a recent seminar for nonprofit leaders, I heard one who oversees some 40 Catholic schools in Australia tell of a boy with Tourette Syndrome who, in the midst of a school assembly, stood up and screamed a string of obscenities. When the child finished, the school’s director rose to address the students. “We have just heard from Johnny,” he said gently, “and he is a valued member of our community.” Not a single child chuckled or made the boy feel anything other than welcomed. Full inclusion.
My friend Raphael Silver recently completed a novel, “Congregation,” that will be published as an e-book later this year. It centers on a strong, charismatic rabbi of a large Reform congregation in Cleveland, who is diagnosed with ALS and must decide when to retire. Various sub-plots intertwine, one of them about the manipulations of the congregation’s president to have the assistant rabbi replace the senior one when he leaves.
Last month the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism drove the penultimate nail into the coffin of Koach, its college-programming branch, by announcing it would end the program unless supporters raised $130,000 by the end of the year. With such a blatant reluctance to internally sustain Koach, and the near impossibility of supporters raising such a sum, the USCJ message is clear: we are no longer able to support our college students.
It seems that every significant study of the Jewish people is released while we read from the Book of Numbers, the book that derives its English name from the first official census of the Jewish people. It’s as if counting the Jewish people is imbedded in our DNA. That census, conducted 3,000-plus years ago, however, was much more limited in scope: Only men age 20 and older who are able to go to war (Numbers 1:3) were to be counted. From the Torah’s census of 603,550 Israelites of age for war, scholars estimate that the total population was in the 2.5 million range.
In 1945, my grandfather was listed as “Mr. A. — a specimen Orthodox Jew” in Milton Steinberg’s book “A Partisan Guide to the Jewish Problem.” The interview with him is summarized in these words: “The misgiving that haunts him most persistently is over his children. … His great fear is that they will depart from the way he walks, either repudiating his postulates or rebelling against the hardship he gladly endures, or simply refusing to be different from almost everyone else. Against such eventualities he is putting up a game fight.
At a memorial session at the Israeli Knesset honoring the Lubavitcher Rebbe shortly after his death, Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau recalled a conversation he had once had with him in which Rabbi Lau spoke of his active involvement in kiruv rechokim, bringing back to Judaism lost Jews who had strayed far away. “The Rebbe immediately corrected me: ‘We cannot label anyone as being ‘far.” Who are we to determine who is far and who is near? They are all close to Hashem” [God]
We are living in a time when 20th-century Jewish institutions are being challenged by the forces of the 21st century. A speaker at the recent Jewish Futures conference invoked the metaphor of the “brick hitting the cloud.” Participants were implored to smash idols — 20th-century institutions — in the name of reinventing Jewish community. Of course smashing these idols involves dissolution of the “establishment,” including federations.