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.


  • 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 *


  • Arts and Culture Features Opinion Playwrite Iddo Netanyahu: ‘Hitler Always Talked About Peace’ (INTERVIEW)

    Playwrite Iddo Netanyahu: ‘Hitler Always Talked About Peace’ (INTERVIEW)

    Late Friday night, on November 13, I was headed for bed when an ominous news bulletin flashed across my computer screen – something about a shooting in Paris. It wasn’t long before the “small number” of shootings and casualties began to double and triple and quadruple. The locations of attacks seemed crazily disorganized, and the tweets and videos became more and more horrifying. It was a long night for many stunned observers. We tried to understand what was happening, and […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Theater BDS Gives Belgian-Jewish Actress New Lease on Life in Tel Aviv

    BDS Gives Belgian-Jewish Actress New Lease on Life in Tel Aviv

    In an interview with the Israeli site nrg on Wednesday, Belgian-Jewish stage actress Noemi Schlosser recounted immigrating to Israel after her career in Europe was destroyed by BDS. Schlosser said she had enjoyed success in Belgium and international acclaim until she was targeted by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement for her pro-Israel stance during Operation Protective Edge — last summer’s war against Hamas in Gaza. She described watching the theaters where she performed go from packed to nearly empty over a short period of […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    The manager of the Chelsea Football Club said on Monday that he is looking forward to playing in Israel this week against Maccabi Tel Aviv, in spite of the security situation, Israeli news site nrg reported. Jose Murinho, who is already in Israel with his team to compete against Maccabi in the Champions League soccer match, was  asked whether he was worried about the current wave of Palestinian violence sweeping the country. “I have no worries at all regarding the security situation, and neither do […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Opinion In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    Blaming the West has become the most pervasive method of teaching for many Middle East studies departments, which are becoming the heart of pop-culture academia. Efraim Karsh, a distinguished professor of Middle Eastern studies at Bar-Ilan University and professor emeritus at King’s College London, in his latest book The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East, dispels this myth. “Britain’s ‘original sin,’ if such was indeed committed, lay not in the breaking up of Middle Eastern unity but […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About

    With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About – The Mensch on a Bench is so much happier now than he was a year ago. Look carefully and you will notice that, whereas the previous Mensch had a decidedly worried look, this latest version of the popular Hanukkah toy is flashing an exuberant grin. Is the erstwhile Mensch smiling because he expects to be in some 100,000 homes by year’s end? In truth, the change in visage was suggested last year by the “sharks” on ABC’s Shark Tank […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Actor Adam Sandler unveiled a new version of his famous “Chanukah Song” on Saturday, adding a slew of Jewish celebrities to the ditty’s updated lyrics. The comedian — who released the original song about being Jewish during Christmas in 1996 — performed the latest version of the comedic track during the New York Comedy Festival at Carnegie Hall. Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee, actor Jake Gyllenhaal and “the two guys who founded Google” are among the famous Jewish celebrities now in the line up. Sandler also included lyrics about Star Wars‘ Princess […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

    Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom – Famed Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman will be among the 17 recipients of America’s Presidential Medal of Freedom next week. He is the fourth Israeli to receive the highest civilian honor in the US. “A native of Israel, he came to the United States at a young age and was introduced to Americans broadly when he appeared on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1958. Mr. Perlman made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1963 when he was 18,” a White House […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots

    Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots – While Israel is a common destination for cultural and religious pilgrimages, travelers seeking the best hotels, fine dining, and upscale relaxation less often find themselves in the Holy Land. Yet in recent years, the country’s burgeoning tech scene has attracted a business crowd accustomed to ritzy accommodation. Besides, the permanent summer of Tel Aviv and Eilat makes them prime destinations for European vacationers. Israel’s populace managed to tame the swamps and irrigate the desert — so going luxury should […]

    Read more →