Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

The Jewish Problem in America

April 24, 2012 3:13 pm 2 comments

Brown University students at the school's student activities fair in 2009. Photo: Brown Hillel.

Previously in America, educated, passionate American Jews may have said that their biggest problems were external – anti-Semites, the survival of Israel or other pressing issues. Today, undoubtedly the biggest Jewish problem in America is an internal issue – Jewish assimilation.  The great Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky wrote over 100 years ago that “spiritual rootlessness is no less horrendous than physical insecurity.” He added “The dangers of spiritual impoverishment were greatest exactly where external pressures were weakest or non-existent.”

Today, in 2012 this quote speaks to American Jewry.  While there are isolated cases of anti-Semitism there aren’t real physical problems or many external pressures facing American Jewry.  Iran is a vast danger to Israel but there is a Jewish state with a Jewish Army – and as my mother said “This too shall pass.”

The larger problem is one of Jewish continuity. There are very few programs succeeding in educating or exciting the next generation of American Jews. With rampant assimilation, there is precious little leadership in American Jewry. While Newsweek makes a big deal about their Top 50 Rabbis list, how many non-Orthodox do they truly reach, and even amongst those they do reach, how many of their children will be Jewish in America one or two generations from today? How many American Jews have any clue who Abe Foxman or any of the other so-called Jewish “leaders” are?

Those of us involved in the American Jewish community who follow the issues and read Jewish media hear plenty of noise about “Jewish problems” – whether its Ultra-Orthodox pressure, BDS, Jonathan Pollard or those who say American Jews are alienated because Israel “occupies” the Palestinians.  The vast majority of American Jews simply don’t care about these or any other Jewish issues and they don’t care about being Jewish.

Other than Chabad and perhaps Birthright, what American Jewish organizations or movement in the last 15 years can claim to have an impact on this generation of American Jewry ? Which one of them will claim to impact the next generation (or 2)? Precious few and it’s simply terrifying.

Rabbi Avi Weiss tells a story about a wise rabbi who knew the answer to every question anyone could ask him. He traveled from town to town teaching and answering questions. One day he arrived in a town and a young girl cried out: ‘I have a question for you, Rabbi, and I’m sure you can’t answer it.’ The rabbi smiled and said ‘Ask.’ She spoke: ‘I have a bird hidden behind my back, held carefully in my hands. Is the bird dead or alive?’ She had already come up with a scheme that would would guarantee the rabbi’s failure, saying to herself, “If he answers ‘It is dead,’ then I will let it go free and if he answers ‘It is alive,’ then I will crush it in my hands and kill it”.

The rabbi knew that the young girl was intent on tricking him. He answered her: “My dear child, you hold the bird in your hands. The answer all depends on you. You can let it live, or you can take its life. The answer is in your hands.” That bird symbolizes the Jewish people and our ability to shape the future of the American Jewish community.

During the 2008 American presidential election cycle there was discussion about both major political parties briefly suspending partisan campaign efforts, in order to address the massive economic issues facing the country “in a spirit of cooperation for the sake of the American people.” The time is long overdue for this effort to take place – a moratorium of some set period of time on monies spent on partisan, divisive issues – and for an American Jewish focus on defeating assimilation.  Who will be the first to unite issuing a call to action aimed at benefiting not just this generation but the next generation of American Jewry? Who amongst the orthodox and reform movements, right and left, will be the first to actually lead on universal issues of education and poverty? Which brave leader will say enough is enough, lets all focus on assimiliation ?

On a recent Friday night during services in the Carlebach shul in Manhattan, a young boy – age 3 or 4 – climbed up to the pulpit, and making a lot of noise, as toddlers are apt to do, distracted many of us during services. His father sheepishly went to remove him, but the synagogue insisted the boy stay exactly where he was.

In a moment I won’t forget, the Rabbi insisted that in any prayer session, the children are the purest and most holy, their prayers permeate the heavens and elevate all of the Jewish peoples’ prayers. The congregation explained that the child needed to stay on the pulpit as that is the right place for Jewish kids. It was a beautiful scene and one that the many in the Jewish community including members of all religious and political beliefs should seek to emulate.

Mark Twain in 1899 wrote: “All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?” Answering this question and ensuring the people of Israel remain immortal continues to be the foremost Jewish concern in America.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5WPR, a leading PR Firm.

2 Comments

  • Mark Baraniecki

    The basic idea of the U.S.A. is that immigrants become Americans taking on an American identity based on the English language, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. This is the famous “melting pot” that worked fine until the 1970’s.

    This article sees the melting pot as a threat and seems to support an America made up of non-integrated ghettos. Do we really want to support non-integration i.e. Little Germany, Norway, England, Mexico, Cuba, Isreal, Italy, Greece, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, France, Sweden etc. etc. all waving their flags, competing and fighting with one another and dividing the nation.

    If you follow this line, the only thing that Americans have in common is that they go shopping together.

    There’s no problem promoting Jewish racial purity and Israeli nationalism inside Isreal but not inside the United States.

  • The sooner people forget all this god nonsense and stop living in the past the better the world will be.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Middle East Larry King Asks Saudi Arabian Fan If Taking Pictures With Jews Is Permitted

    Larry King Asks Saudi Arabian Fan If Taking Pictures With Jews Is Permitted

    Jewish former CNN host Larry King asked a Saudi Arabian fan if taking pictures with Jews is allowed in his country, before agreeing to pose for a photo with the man, The New York Times reported on Wednesday. The world-famous interviewer was leaving the Ritz Carlton hotel in Washington, D.C. with a New York Times reporter when a “dark-skinned man” approached and asked to take a picture with him, according to the publication. Whereupon, King asked the fan where he was from. When the man said Saudi […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Britain’s Lord Sugar Says Synagogues Will Be Empty With Yom Kippur Matchup of Jewish-Supported Soccer Teams

    Britain’s Lord Sugar Says Synagogues Will Be Empty With Yom Kippur Matchup of Jewish-Supported Soccer Teams

    British-Jewish business tycoon Lord Alan Sugar joked on Wednesday that London synagogues will likely be empty during Yom Kippur with congregants fleeing to watch the match-up of two leading English soccer teams known for having hordes of Jewish fans. “Spurs V Arsenal cup game drawn on most important Jewish festival,” Lord Sugar pointed out on Twitter. “Both teams have loads of Jewish fans. Conclusion Synagogues will be empty.” North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal FC will go head-to-head in the Capital One Cup third-round […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Jewish Men Pass Jimmy Kimmel Social Experiment, Rescuing ‘Spongebob’ in Distress (VIDEO)

    Jewish Men Pass Jimmy Kimmel Social Experiment, Rescuing ‘Spongebob’ in Distress (VIDEO)

    Two Jewish men were the only unwitting participants in a social experiment conducted by Jimmy Kimmel, for his popular TV show. As part of a candid-camera-like sketch featured Monday night on Jimmy Kimmel Live, the host devised different street scenes to observe human behavior — in particular, to see how long it would take people walking down California’s bustling Hollywood Boulevard to notice and interact with others in distress. One scene involved a man in a Spongebob Squarepants costume who had “fallen down” on the sidewalk and needed help […]

    Read more →
  • Education US & Canada International Jewish Organization Blasts Israeli-Born Star Natalie Portman for Comments on Holocaust Education

    International Jewish Organization Blasts Israeli-Born Star Natalie Portman for Comments on Holocaust Education

    A major Jewish organization rebuked actress Natalie Portman on Monday for saying in a recent interview that Jews put too much emphasis on teaching about the Holocaust relative to other genocides. The Israeli-born movie star told the U.K.’s Independent that the Jewish community needs to examine how much focus it puts on Holocaust education over other issues. She said she was shocked when she learned that a genocide was taking place in Rwanda while she was in school learning only about the horrors of the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel Book Draws Parallels Between Holocaust and Palestinian Nakba, Sparks Outrage

    Book Draws Parallels Between Holocaust and Palestinian Nakba, Sparks Outrage

    JNS.org – A new book that draws parallels between the Holocaust and the Palestinian Nakba (the Arabic term for the displacement of Palestinian refugees during Israel’s War of Independence) has sparked outrage ahead of an official book launch, to be hosted by the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute on Sept. 7. The Zionist organization Im Tirtzu wrote a letter to the institute demanding that it cancel an event it planned in honor of the book’s authors, under the title The Holocaust and […]

    Read more →
  • Education US & Canada Natalie Portman Says Holocaust Education Shouldn’t be Used for ‘Fearmongering’

    Natalie Portman Says Holocaust Education Shouldn’t be Used for ‘Fearmongering’

    Famed actress Natalie Portman warned on Friday against the use of Holocaust education to evoke fear and paranoia. In an interview with the U.K. Independent she added that the trauma should make Jews more empathetic to others who have also experienced hatred. “Sometimes it can be subverted to fearmongering and like ‘Another Holocaust is going to happen,’” the Israeli-American star said. “We need to, of course, be aware that hatred exists, antisemitism exists against all sorts of people, not in the same way. I […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary A Righteous Gentile Navigates the Sharkpool of Washington’s Middle East Correspondents (REVIEW)

    A Righteous Gentile Navigates the Sharkpool of Washington’s Middle East Correspondents (REVIEW)

    The Tribalist, by Louis Marano, is ostensibly a work of fiction but at its core a kind of love song by a gentile journalist for the State of Israel, and especially its secular Zionist core. (Because of the relentless attacks by left-wing polemicists on Israel’s allegedly “messianic” fringe, it’s often forgotten that most of Israel’s founders and all its leaders have been secular Zionists.) The author, the product of an Italian-American family in Buffalo, served two tours of duty in […]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity Rugelach Roundtable: Does Beloved Pastry Need Dairy to Taste Good?

    Rugelach Roundtable: Does Beloved Pastry Need Dairy to Taste Good?

    JNS.org – Rugelach (singular: rugala) are a beloved traditional Jewish pastry, with a quirky history to boot, but they often present a kosher conundrum. Though parve rugelach are often a preferred dessert after a meat meal for those observing kosher laws (which stipulate a waiting period between eating meat and dairy), some of today’s most popular rugelach are known for their dairy fillings. Pastry chef Paula Shoyer—author of the books “The Kosher Baker: Over 160 Dairy-free Recipes from Traditional to Trendy” and […]

    Read more →