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Forward publisher says ‘America’s full acceptance of its Jewish citizens’ is bad for the Jews

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agreenerchristmastreeThat Pew study showing all those Jews of no religion has sent shockwaves through the official Jewish community. From a November fundraising appeal from Samuel Norich, president and publisher of the Forward. I thought the Forward was, uh, forward… [No link, I’m typing this from the original.]

Dear —-

By now, you have probably have heard the statistics: 32% of Jews under age 30 say they have no religion, and the majority of those without religion have Christmas trees. Fully two-thirds of the Jews with no religion are raising their children without any Jewish identity at all. After reading the latest survey of American Jews, historian Jack Wertheimer told the Forward, “It’s the story of a community contracting.”

If young Jews were choosing some kind of secular engagement over a religious one, Jewishness itself would not be at risk. But even ethnic and cultural identifiers are disappearing. America’s full acceptance of its Jewish citizens has led many more to leave their Jewish identity entirely behind.

What is to be done? The Forward has been out front in raising that question and looking for answers. For us, it’s personal — we feel a direct responsibility to our community and its continued vitality….

Suggestion to the Forward: Ask some of those Jews why they are making the choices they’re making. See if those choices are blind, as Norich suggests, or if in fact they fulfill spiritual yearnings, i.e, seeking a life of greater meaning and purpose in this globalized era. Ask if a tribal definition of community is satisfying to these young people or is consistent with their values. Ask Catholics (like Marielle Segarra, who told us she had left that church this morning on public radio) and Protestants (including my wife, who prefers meditation to church) whether their original communities provided spiritual fulfillment in this era. Ask Brant Rosen and Lynn Gottlieb about universalism as a Jewish value. And ask Rebecca Vilkomerson how synagogues’ connection to Israel is affecting American Jewish identity.

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46 Responses

  1. Woody Tanaka
    Woody Tanaka
    December 11, 2013, 11:03 am

    I think this article is spot on. This is the melting pot. How many Irish-Americans or Italian-Americans or German-Americans have any ethnic connection other than in name? I see this as Jewish-Americans just becoming another flavor of American. Bad for tribalists and those who want to put that group in isolation from mainstream society, but a positive development for that society.

    • Krauss
      Krauss
      December 11, 2013, 1:31 pm

      Ask 2nd generation Chinese how many of them know fluent Mandarin. This is the price you have to pay to live in a multicultural assimilationist society.

      And, frankly, if American society is going to work it has to be like this. Otherwise we get the fulfillment of those who predict the doom of multiculturalism.

      • Woody Tanaka
        Woody Tanaka
        December 11, 2013, 2:00 pm

        “Ask 2nd generation Chinese how many of them know fluent Mandarin. This is the price you have to pay to live in a multicultural assimilationist society.”

        I think that’s right. And society is better for it.

      • RoHa
        RoHa
        December 11, 2013, 7:18 pm

        “a multicultural assimilationist society”

        Surely that’s a contradiction in terms, unless you mean a society that is moving from multiculturalism to integration. Multiculturalism is the idea of a society made up of separate cultural “communities” living in self-imposed apartheid. And as far as I am concerned, I’m happy for that to be doomed.

        Integration and assimilation are the melting pot, and I agree wholeheartedly with Woody’s sentiment that society is better for it.

      • Woody Tanaka
        Woody Tanaka
        December 12, 2013, 8:50 am

        no, it’s not a contradiction in terms. The multicultural society is one in which the culture is not purely homogeneous, but is heterogeneous to some degree. The fact that it is an assimilationist society simply means that it is only slightly heterogeneous. Thus, people who are generally of the same American culture – in other words people who have assimilated – still do not observe all the same holidays, eat the same foods, enjoy the same cultural markers from their ancestry, region, etc.

        Thus, both multicultural and assimilated.

  2. eljay
    eljay
    December 11, 2013, 11:29 am

    If you want to be a religious or secular Jew, you’re free to be a religious or secular Jew. For those who choose to be neither, that’s nobody’s loss but their own.

    None of this justifies the need for or the existence of a supremacist “Jewish State”.

    • pabelmont
      pabelmont
      December 11, 2013, 1:06 pm

      eljay: The perceived need (among many American Jews) to protect and preserve the “Jewish State” has, however, had a deleterious effect on those very American Jews — namely it has taken their minds off the problem (anyhow, they think it is a problem) of finding and teaching “Jewish Values” to this new generation.

      American Judaism and/or Jewish communal life appears to have decided, in large part, to forget whatever it was that was good or valuable about being Jewish IN FAVOR of jumping (indeed, in a rather totalitarian manner, too) on the Israel-Bandwagon. And now the chickens are coming home to roost. Young American Jews are being asked to value being Jewish when their teachers cannot point to anything of value “there” other than the protection of Israel, and nothing good “there” except, again, the protection of the Jewish People. A lot of protection, but no longer any substance.

      To quote Gertrude Stein, in another context, “there is is no there there.”

      They would have done better to teach the kids how to make really delicious matzo ball soup and chopped liver. I wish my mother had taught me! I never doubted those things were part of Jewish tradition and were valuable.

      Late in life, and not from my parents, I learned the idea of Tikkun Olam. Others besides Jews have similar values, but that, too, is Jewish, and is worth teaching. To my thinking, it does not go well with pro-hardline-Israelism.

      • eljay
        eljay
        December 11, 2013, 2:01 pm

        >> Young American Jews are being asked to value being Jewish when their teachers cannot point to anything of value “there” other than the protection of Israel …

        I understand what you’re saying, but perhaps there isn’t anything else “there” to make the young American Jews want to value being Jewish. Or perhaps young American Jews simply prefer to value being American.

        Dunno.

        Either way, and IMO, there’s nothing wrong with young American Jews not wanting to value being Jewish. I just hope they want to value equality, morality and justice (among other good things).

      • Naftush
        Naftush
        December 13, 2013, 6:11 am

        The teachers you refer to are teaching by omission. They’ve stripped Jewishness of its national element and replaced it with Americanism, truly emptying Jewishness of all elements other than the tail end of the Pledge of Allegiance. It’s been long in the making; it goes back to the radical wing of the Reform Movement, spiced by a dollop of good ol’ 1930s Marxism.

      • eljay
        eljay
        December 13, 2013, 11:17 am

        >> The teachers you refer to are teaching by omission. They’ve stripped Jewishness of its national element …

        Perhaps they have. But there’s no guarantee that adding a “national element” back into Jewishness will make young American Jews more likely to want to value being Jewish.

    • Naftush
      Naftush
      December 13, 2013, 5:55 am

      OK — today, in a small number of countries, I’m free to be a religious or secular Jew, or neither. But elsewhere today and in all other eras, I’m free to remit dhimmi taxes, dwell in mellahs or ghettos, tiptoe around antisemitic officials, submit to pogroms, flee for my life now and then, and march to gas chambers exactly as I see fit. I’d say Israel passes your needs test easily. But supposing you put all states, not just the “supremacist ‘Jewish State,'” to that test. If Denmark fails, since Norway is sufficiently cognate, does it forfeit its right to exist? Should Switzerland agree to a four-way partitioning, or do you just carve it up without Swiss consent? What right has Belgium to exist? And how many states does the U.S. need? How do you justify South Dakotan separatism from North Dakota?

      • eljay
        eljay
        December 13, 2013, 11:20 am

        >> Naftush @ December 13, 2013 at 5:55 am

        What’s the point of all that blather? I didn’t suggest that Israel should be partitioned or that it should not exist.

      • Ecru
        Ecru
        December 14, 2013, 3:23 am

        @ Naftush

        But elsewhere today and in all other eras, I’m free to remit dhimmi taxes, dwell in mellahs or ghettos, tiptoe around antisemitic officials, submit to pogroms, flee for my life now and then, and march to gas chambers exactly as I see fit.

        Where do Jews TODAY get marched into gas chambers? Where do Jews TODAY have to pay a Dhimmi tax? Where do Jews TODAY face (as opposed to instigate) Pogroms? And the only place Jews live in Ghettoes are Israel, which is just the biggest in world history, and the other communities in the diaspora where Jews CHOOSE to live apart from the rest of humanity. All your drivel amounts to is xenophobic and paranoid hyperbole.

        Should Switzerland agree to a four-way partitioning, or do you just carve it up without Swiss consent?

        You mean like Palestine was carved up, (part of it being given over to a bunch of murderous European Jews intent on “cleansing” it of its native population) without the Palestinians consent?

  3. William Burns
    William Burns
    December 11, 2013, 11:41 am

    How long before Norich and his ilk actually start complaining about the lack of anti-Semitism in America? Clearly, failure to discriminate against Jews is part of a plot to destroy the Jewish people!

    • Krauss
      Krauss
      December 11, 2013, 1:38 pm

      This is why we see this obsession with David Duke and other nobodies. ADL and others need something to justify their existance, because deep down we know that anti-Semitism in America is more or less gone.

  4. Ecru
    Ecru
    December 11, 2013, 11:45 am

    So next time Hoppy or the rest accuse any of us of anti-semitism our response should be “if we were we’d be doing you a favour?” Gotta love the contortions of tribalism – “hate us you’re bad, indifferent’s just another type of hate and love us you’re even worse.”

    • RoHa
      RoHa
      December 11, 2013, 7:20 pm

      We’re damned if we do, and damned if we don’t, Ecru.

  5. dbroncos
    dbroncos
    December 11, 2013, 12:27 pm

    The say so of authoritarian gatekeepers of Jewish identity is losing its grip. A Jewish reformation in the US seems to be well under way – not least because of the war mongoring and moral corruption wrt I/P in the ranks of the gatekeepers.

  6. Rusty Pipes
    Rusty Pipes
    December 11, 2013, 12:51 pm

    And what percentage of American Religious Jews (Reform, Conservative, etc) have Hanukkah bushes? Are subscription rates to the Forward falling any faster than that of other American publications that it has to resort to scare tactics?

    • Rusty Pipes
      Rusty Pipes
      December 11, 2013, 1:04 pm

      speaking of citizenship, does the percentage of American Jews who consider themselves full citizens here with equal rights (rather than tolerated guests) pose a problem for their Jewish identity — especially where Jewish identity is conflated with Zionism?

  7. RudyM
    RudyM
    December 11, 2013, 1:34 pm

    My mother was a devout Christian who used to put a menorah out, along with her Christmas decorations, mostly because she liked the way it looks. (I guess. I never even thought about it until a friend pointed out that it was a menorah. I just thought of it as another Christmas decoration–it was tree shaped!–and never got around to asking her about it when I realized otherwise.)

    Good for the Jews or bad for the Jews?

    • German Lefty
      German Lefty
      December 11, 2013, 2:07 pm

      I never even thought about it until a friend pointed out that it was a menorah. I just thought of it as another Christmas decoration

      LOL! The menorah does indeed look nice. However, Israel put the menorah in its emblem. That makes it a symbol of Zionism. Therefore, I would never use one as decoration.

      • Elisabeth
        Elisabeth
        December 12, 2013, 10:43 am

        Over the top reaction as usual. It isn’t exactly a swastika you know.

      • Naftush
        Naftush
        December 13, 2013, 5:59 am

        Fact fail. The menorah in Israel’s emblem is Titus’ rendition of the seven-branched candelabrum from the Temple, not the eight-plus-one-branched menorah from Hanukkah. Israel put it there to state that the Jewish exile represented in the Arch of Titus (where the depiction of the menorah comes from) is over.

      • Ecru
        Ecru
        December 14, 2013, 3:41 am

        @ Naftush

        Neither Vespasian, Titus or any other Roman Emperor ever expelled the Jews from Palestine. The Arch of Titus depicts the despoliation of Jerusalem, not an “exile” that only ever existed in myth.

  8. Krauss
    Krauss
    December 11, 2013, 1:36 pm

    Norich is wrong, though.

    Secular Judaism is contracting, but not the Orthodox. The Jewish future in America is going to be smaller, poorer but also more cohesive. As well as a lot more socially conservative.

  9. German Lefty
    German Lefty
    December 11, 2013, 1:59 pm

    Here’s an article about David Silverman:
    Can You Be an Atheist and a Jew at the Same Time?
    David Silverman Says No.

    http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/154532/david-silverman-atheist

    • Shmuel
      Shmuel
      December 11, 2013, 4:59 pm

      Can you be a German and a lefty at the same time?
      Erika Mustermann says no.

      https://encrypted-tbn3.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQY9K9MIpaiNo55-hK_jWRH7vajD75HUC6am4qO9Vb0ZyBDcvQbZFtlQDSl

      ;-)

      • German Lefty
        German Lefty
        December 11, 2013, 5:09 pm

        Hey, how come you know Erika Mustermann? And what are you trying to tell me with the photo? I really didn’t expect you to be that bigmouthed and hairy.

      • Shmuel
        Shmuel
        December 12, 2013, 1:49 am

        Erika and I go way back. The photo is not of me, but of her (admittedly on a bad hair day) saying no.

      • Citizen
        Citizen
        December 12, 2013, 7:30 am

        Doe in America, Raymond in Canada, Mustermann in Germany. Wonder who it is in Israel?

      • Shmuel
        Shmuel
        December 12, 2013, 7:50 am

        Wonder who it is in Israel?

        Classical (based on Ruth 4:1): Peloni Almoni
        Modern: Yisra’el Yisre’eli

  10. radii
    radii
    December 11, 2013, 2:41 pm

    hard to carry the burden of victimhood when you’re not a victim and in fact are part of a group that is wildly successful … sorry about the loss of your useful victim status zionists

    • Naftush
      Naftush
      December 13, 2013, 6:16 am

      This Zionist offers you a deal: I’ll put aside the victimhood narrative if you stop insisting on it as a prerequisite for one’s right to national existence.

  11. Nevada Ned
    Nevada Ned
    December 11, 2013, 4:12 pm

    Phil, are you surprised by the position taken by The Forward?

    Now is an excellent time to read Lenni Brenner‘s essay: The Forward is Backward: New York’s Unclassifiable Jewish Weekly. It will be an eye-opener, I guarantee you!

  12. seafoid
    seafoid
    December 11, 2013, 4:26 pm

    I think these dropout numbers support shachalnur’s thesis. Given birth rates since 1945 the Jewish population globally should be significantly higher than 13.5 m. Lots of thinking Jews are leaving the religion. The remnant becomes more extremist.

  13. DICKERSON3870
    DICKERSON3870
    December 11, 2013, 7:40 pm

    RE: “By now, you have probably have heard the statistics: 32% of Jews under age 30 say they have no religion, and the majority of those without religion have Christmas trees.”

    FESTIVUS IS FOR THE REST OF US! ! ! I can hardly wait for “the airing of grievances” to begin.

    ORIGINS OF FESTIVUS – http://www.bradystreet.org/media/image_attachments/05/255-festivus1.jpg

    • RoHa
      RoHa
      December 11, 2013, 8:29 pm

      Heh, heh, heh. Our cunning Gentile Christmas tree plot is working.
      Wondering Jew/yonah fredman warned you all, but you wouldn’t listen.
      Now we own your souls.

      • Citizen
        Citizen
        December 12, 2013, 8:28 am

        Hey, that’s a national holiday tree, just like the coming “Happy Holiday” greeting.

  14. Talkback
    Talkback
    December 11, 2013, 8:49 pm

    America’s full acceptance of its Jewish citizens has led many more to leave their Jewish identity entirely behind.

    Now what does that say about the so called “Jewish identity”?

  15. Qualtrough
    Qualtrough
    December 11, 2013, 10:49 pm

    America’s ‘full acceptance’ of Jews is a problem? Is there any difference between that sentiment and the sentiment of some KKK member bemoaning the race mixing that is leading to the destruction of white culture?

  16. piotr
    piotr
    December 12, 2013, 2:47 am

    mono no aware

    Jews falling off their community like flower petals from blossoming plum trees.

    Is enlightenment possible without understanding of impermanence?

    This topic truly deserves a haiku.

  17. wondering jew
    wondering jew
    December 12, 2013, 3:58 am

    Jewish lore tells of Jews who threw their tefillin into the water when they saw the Statue of Liberty on the way to Ellis Island. Jews who kept Sabbath were considered “greeners” or greenhorns who did not realize that the old ways had to be discarded and the new way was to be full fledged Americans.

    Question: We know what keeps a Jew being Jewish when he does what Jews do, as in learning the Torah and keeping the Sabbath and holidays. We have no idea what keeps a Jew as a Jew when he throws his Sabbath into the water at the foot of the Statue of Liberty.

    Phil is okay with all that. Throw away your Judaism and put up the Christmas tree. Assimilation and its forecast of the disappearing of the Jews: no problem. Modern times, welcome to them. (He throws a bone to anti Zionism, by mentioning Rebecca Vilkomerson, but seriously, that’s a sideshow to the assimilation equation and any serious analyst will tell you that it is not the central issue.)

    I think that resisting the future, and resisting change, might be futile, but it is natural. The Jews have survived in one form or another for a rather long time under rather daunting circumstances. The desire to see the Jews survive in some form or another seems second nature to me.

    • Woody Tanaka
      Woody Tanaka
      December 12, 2013, 8:25 am

      Yes, And one “form” that Jews will survive is assimilated as it is in America. It’ll be more cultural and religious, and by “cultural” it will be a Jewish flavor on an American identity. Similar to the way that other hyphenated Americans demonstrate their ancestry.

    • Talkback
      Talkback
      December 12, 2013, 9:11 am

      We have no idea what keeps a Jew as a Jew when he throws his Sabbath into the water at the foot of the Statue of Liberty.

      Now what does that say about being a Jew from a spiritual or transcendental point of view? What is the spiritual or transcendental value of Judaism or being a Jew after all? What values can only Judaism can give you or anybody else?

      I think that resisting the future, and resisting change, might be futile, but it is natural.

      To the contrary. Nature is all about changing and not resisting at all, especially not resisting something that doesn’t even exist in presence.

      The desire to see the Jews survive in some form or another seems second nature to me.

      If it’s about Jews surviving as Jews than nature has nothing to do with it – early childhood indoctrination has.

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