Today the American Jewish Congress is a sorry image of what it was many years ago. As Gary Rosenblatt has written here, it is “a shell of its former self.” As a former national executive director of the Congress, I say this with the heaviest of hearts. In its earliest days it was a major player in the Jewish world. It was one of the first Zionist organizations that fought for the existence of Israel even as other Jewish organizations were silent or opposed it. It was the first organization to hold a major rally at Madison Square Garden bringing to the attention of the public the horror of Adolf Hitler.
My colleague Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove's wonderful essay in The Jewish Week ("All A Rabbi Can Command These Days Is Respect," March 28) got me thinking even more deeply about the question of freedom of the pulpit and the responsibilities that come with it: What is the rabbi’s role in addressing controversial issues, be they matters of public policy generally, or Israel specifically?
Who are Jewish Americans and what do we really believe? The approach of Pesach offers an especially good opportunity to raise that question. The seder, after all, is the single most widely observed ritual among Jewish Americans. Why might that be?
Steven Bayme, whose devotion to serving the Jewish community over a long career deserves the highest regard, has written an Opinion piece (“Modern Orthodoxy at the Crossroads,” The Jewish Week, March 7) that requires the attention of everyone concerned about the future of this critically important movement.
Orthodox Judaism believes in the importance of engaging reality, not a world we wish existed.
Rabbi Chaim Strauchler and Rabbi Joshua Strulowitz
Special To The Jewish Week
As rabbis of Modern Orthodox synagogues, we consistently advocate for greater women’s involvement in Jewish life. As a result, we are often invited to speak at local non-denominational Jewish schools about halacha (Jewish law) and the role of women. Often in these pluralistic environments, students discover what differentiates the various denominations and learn about the presence of a mechitza (a separation between men and women) in Orthodox synagogues. We arrive at these forums and hear questions like: Why is Orthodoxy anti-women? Why is your synagogue so backwards that it still treats men and women differently? Aren’t we well past the point where egalitarianism is the societal norm?
Rabbi Sidney Schwarz, a senior fellow of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (CLAL), and author of Jewish Megatrends: Charting the Course of the American Jewish Future (2013), is someone I deeply respect. However, his latest Opinion essay (“Limiting Debate on Israel Will Only Hurt Us,” The Jewish Week, Feb. 4) is a perspective that, if acted upon, has the potential to actually hurt our community.
You Tell Us We’re The Future, But We’re Also The Present
We are the good, the bad and everything in between. We are our mistakes, our failures and our sins. We are Saturday nights taking selfies with red cups, Monday mornings asleep during first period and Thursday evenings procrastinating on Buzzfeed. We are our addictions to the Internet and our obsessions with Instagram. We spend too much money on Starbucks and too much time on Snapchat. We gossip and we lie. And we would join a revolution for the sweet taste of rebellion. No shame. No regrets. YOLO. We’re teenagers and we’re pretty selfish sometimes.
Editor’s Note: This article is the grand prizewinner of the most recent Fresh Ink For Teens writing contest. More than 70 contestants from around the country and Israel answered the following question: “What Do You Want Jewish Community Leaders To Know About Teens Today?” Juliet Freudman’s accompanying article was the runner-up. The winner and runner-up received $200 and $180 Amazon gift cards. Fresh Ink For Teens is a Jewish Week-sponsored webzine by and for Jewish teens.