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December 01, 1995 - Image 134

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1995-12-01

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

'Wrap up
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low.

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The Jewish Community:
Positively Fragmented

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s fragmentation necessarily a
bad thing for the Jewish com-
munity?
American Jewry today is dis-
united, partially because free com-
munication with the rest of the
population is now possible. Di-
minished anti-Semitism is ac-
companied by a diminished sense
of identity among Jews. Our di-
minishing proportional size with-
in the U.S. population also leads
to more tolerance of us.
The question is: Can a new
source of cohesion be found among
Jews to functionally replace the
cohesion that comes from exter-
nal threats? That is our challenge.
We should engage that chal-
lenge, because societies that lack
cohesion are dangerous places —
dangerous not only in terms of be-
ing the breeding ground for total-
itarianism, but dangerous in
terms of individual mental health.
The answer is we need to be as
diverse and creative as possible,
to abandon a one-size-fits-all ap-
proach to Jewish involvement in
favor of a fragmented approach.
Because of the nature of today's
American Jewish population,
what we need is as much diversi-
ty and multiplicity as we have
Jews.
Our challenge should be to keep
the diversity vibrant so everyone
will be attracted to something.
Some of you will argue that this
proposal involves a waste of re-
sources and overlap of groups, or
it's watered-down Judaism. I sug-
gest we stop worrying about these
issues as false problems. Human
communities are not like ideally
functioning organisms where
every cell is devoted to a separate
activity. Human communities
replicate constantly. Things that
don't work will simply disappear.
Some of the most creative ideas
will not come from organizations
at all but from grass-roots groups.
Let's co-opt them, work with them
and not reject them.
If I had to define the actual
problems, I would label them drift,
irrelevance and barriers.
1. Drift: People are drifting
away as individuals; they are
drifting away into the vast sea of
being a "regular American," being
a lawyer or doctor or activist, be-
ing a resident of a particular area,
being a consumer. Jews don't typ-
ically wake up one day and say,
"Today I will disassociate myself
from anything Jewish." Rather,
they drift away, day by day,
missed opportunity after missed
opportunity.

Judaism requires time, and
people don't have time because
they work such long hours, and
then need more time to spend
their money. To make Judaism
attractive to Americans other than
the truly religiously committed, it
has to be made efficient, con-
densed.
How can we retrieve and
retain? Through some groups cre-
ating a more efficient, manage-
able, even purchasable Judaism,
like Talmud study in the work-
place.

Our challenge should
be to keep the
diversity vibrant so
everyone will be
attracted to
something.

2. Irrelevance: If I am truly
interested in stopping the drift, I
have to learn what turns people
on and speak their language. I
have to become relevant. I think
the best way to become relevant
is to target one's audience.
What do we know about the
particular audience we are trying
to attract? Let's not be afraid of
segmenting our programs. If
something appeals only to women,
so be it. Don't force it on men. If
something works, do more of it.
How can we elicit interest in the
next generation? By using the
technology of the younger gener-
ation — e-mail, cyberspace, CDs,
CD-ROM. Let's get into Jewish
kids' computers. Let's get into
Jewish ecological camping, Jew-
ish elder hostels, and more. Let's
continue to address domestic vio-
lence within Jewish families.
We are not only the "People of
the Book," but the "People of the
Research Studies." Let's imple-
ment those studies. We already
have many of the answers.
3. Barriers: The final problem
is the false notion that fragmen-
tation constitutes barriers. The
major barriers within and outside
the Jewish community are finan-
cial, time and cultural. Simply put,
people don't usually join things
unless they feel they have the time
and resources to belong, and un-
less they feel that they will belong
socially once they are in.
If there are financial barriers,
people will simply not avail them-
selves of Jewish organizational life.
Dr. Jehuda Reinharz is president of Let's make sure all fl-12 barriers
Brandeis University in
come tumbling down. Le,..'s take
Waltham. Mass.

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