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November 29, 1991 - Image 32

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-11-29

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If the organ-
ized Jewish com-
munity would
only act on 2 per-
cent of what's
recommended at
a General As-
sembly, our
troubles would be over.
This year, as in past years,
I heard a number of
excellent presentations by
Jewish leaders on the need
to counter the trend of
assimilation, intermarriage,
Jewish ignorance and Jew-
ish indifference. But that's
the problem.
Every year the speeches
get better, and more pas-
sionate, because little is
done to combat these prob-
lems in the intervening 12
months. Or, as Barry
Shrage, the chief executive
of the Boston Jewish federa-
tion put it, "the American
Jewish community is guilty
of criminal negligence."
He was complaining, in a
session on whether or not
our grandchildren will be
Jewish, that we have failed
to heed the warnings of past
years. He and other speakers
suggested that the only way
to reverse the trend of in-
creasing assimilation is to do
something about it.
That means, in practical
terms, that federations and
synagogues need to stop
viewing each other as adver-
saries, squabbling over turf
issues, and work together.
"If we don't include syn-
agogues in our federation
community, we will both
fail," asserted Mr. Shrage,
who often sounded more like
a rabbi than a federation ex-
He called the synagogue
the "key gateway to Ameri-
can Jewish life" and "our
last best hope." He even in-
voked God's help and quoted
from the Bible.
In advocating the training
of federation professionals to
work within synagogues, as
youth workers and family
education specialists, Mr.
Shrage was making a
radical departure from past
federation philosophy. Fed-
erations have always shied
away from becoming too in-
volved in synagogues, for po-
litical and ideological
reasons. Or rather, for non-
ideological reasons, since
federation has not wanted to
be in a position of choosing

between more traditional
and more liberal approaches
to Judaism.
Now, Mr. Shrage was call-
ing for federations to become
involved, and Joy Levitt, a
Reconstructionist rabbi from
Roslyn, New York, was call-
ing on federations to train
rabbis to serve on college
Even more radical was the
suggestion from the third
panelist at the forum, Pro-
fessor Arnold Eisen of Stan-
ford University, who said
that American Jews must
live Jewish lives if they
want their children and
grandchildren to be Jewish.
It's that simple, and that
complicated. Trips to Israel
enhance Jewish identity for
many of us, particularly
young people, but how long
can we rely on Israel to build
the future of American
The key, as several
speakers said, is to stop pass-
ing the buck and transform
our own lives, to become

Now, faced with
the fear of
federation stands
poised to engage
not only in Jewish
community but in

more committed to Jewish
study and practice.
Our children learn more
through example than
through directives. Telling
them to be more Jewish,
without giving them reasons
to want to live Jewish lives,
is meaningless.
The problem we face is the
end of American Jewry, not
through persecution but
through indifference.
Each year the leaders of
our national community
come together to share their
statistical data, and their
fears, and to call for action —
both personal and collective.
Until now, there has been
too little of either.
Federations go back to do-
ing what they do best, rais-
ing funds and supporting
important institutions and
causes. And as individuals,
lay and professional leaders
go back to seeing a distinc-
tion between being a good
Jew and being a religiously
serious Jew.
The message, though, is
painfully clear. It's not


working for most Jews. They
don't feel a connection bet-
ween their daily concerns
and being Jewish.
The social work
framework of building com-
munity is vital, and federa-
tions have done a magnifi-
cent job of creating and sus-
taining a network of institu-
tions, helping Jews in Israel,
the Soviet Union and in
one's own hometown.
But while federation can
keep the body thriving, it
does not speak to the soul.
The civil religion of
American Judaism — fund
raising for Israel and Jewish
causes — is powerful, but
limited. Now, faced with the
fear of extinction and ir-
relevance, federation stands
poised to bridge that gap, to
engage not only in Jewish
community but in Judaism.
To do that, the consensus-
minded leaders of American
Jewry must realize that, for
all of our differences, we
Jews have one common text,
and that is the Torah.
But Torah is not just a
scroll in an ark or words to
reflect on. Torah is a what
Jewish people do, a way to
How each of us interprets
the words of Torah may
differ, but until we accept
that an American Jewish
enterprise without Torah as
its core cannot exist, we are
doomed to go on hearing the
warnings with deaf ears. ❑

mi•immiii NEWS im'•°



- 4

Narkiss Shifts

To North America

Jerusalem (JTA) — Uzi
Narkiss, since 1982 the head
of the World Zionist Organ-
ization's Information
Department here, will be
transferred to the United
States to head the WZO and
Jewish Agency operation in
North America, the agency
Mr. Narkiss will replace
Amira Dotan, who is corn-
pleting a three- year tour of
duty there.
Mr. Narkiss' duties in
Jerusalem will be assumed
temporarily by WZO Chair-.
man Simcha Dinitz, who will
hold the information port-
folio until the Zionist Con-
gress in June, when a new
director will be appointed.
Mr. Narkiss will continue
to serve as a member of the
Zionist Executive during his
North American mission.



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