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December 29, 1995 - Image 27

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1995-12-29

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"I define myself as an °hey Yisrael, a
lover of the people Israel," he said. "I
don't hate anybody and nothing I did
was to offend someone, but for Ameri-
can Jewish life and for the security of
Jews and in the pursuit of these goals
and, frankly, I didn't care what people
[who disagreed] thought."

Early Outreach

abbi Schindler traces his passion
to spreading Judaism's good word
to a childhood story that he had
heard from his Russian immigrant fa-
After World War I, the elder Schindler
was making his way from Siberia back
to eastern Europe. While passing
through an area dangerous to lonely
Jewish travelers, he found a village
whose inhabitants had converted to Ju-
daism. When these villagers heard of a
pogrom in a nearby town, they went to
help their co-religionists.
The tale of what converts, whose de-
cision to choose Judaism often results in
strong attachment to Jewish beliefs,
could do impressed Alexander. The path
to outreach had begun. In a few years,
at age 21, he wrote his first serious aca-
demic paper on the life of a priest who
converted to Judaism.
As he pushed the outreach agenda,
Rabbi Schindler seemed to understand
that the time and place was right.
"Throughout the years I was commit-
" c,÷., ted to the idea [of outreach], and many
• other leaders pounded the table," he
LT1 said. "In 1949 [Reform leader Rabbi]
L- Leo Baeck said we should send mis-
sionaries to Asia, but the time was not
right for it.
"The intermarriage situation offered
us a chance to reach out to many people who were already
bound to us by marriage, and the American Jewish com-
munity had more confidence and the Jewish communi-
ty itself was more highly regarded," he said. "There was
a whole confluence of factors which enabled me to do what
no one else had done before."
When he began with the initiatives in the mid-1970s,
intermarriage was not as prevalent as today. But Rab-
bi Schindler quickly surmised that the trend was irre-
versible, and that called for immediate response.
"We lived in an open society and it was inevitable," he
said. "That doesn't mean that Jewish education was not
important, and I was an early advocate of day schools."
Intermarried or not, education is the most important
aspect in any Jewish family, he said. "It's the convic-
tion of the Jewish partner that often determines if a Jew-
ish family will be Jewish and if the children will be raised
as Jews.
'What's important is what will come before and what
will come after [the wedding]," he said. "My main point
in outreach is not to prevent intermarriage, but to affect
what happens after. It's not fruitless to try, but it's very
He proudly points to the many interfaith families who
have joined Reform congregations, recognizing that they
would not keep such Jewish links were it not for outreach.
"Those who have joined our congregations, I know that
the percentage rate of conversion is much higher than in
the general population and virtually all of the children
[in families belonging to Reform synagogues] are being
reared as Jews," he said.


In recent years, there has been much talk about Re-
form's return to tradition. Reform Jewish day schools are
sprouting up throughout the country and there is a push
for family education, Shabbat worship, and Torah and
Talmud study. Other than day schools, such things have
always existed in Reform, but in the past decade they re-
ceived top buffing.
"Reform is becoming more traditional. It's not becom-
ing more Orthodox," Rabbi Schindler insisted. `That which
divides Reform from Orthodox is not the intensity of be-
lief, but what is Torah, what is the Five Books of Moses.
It's a philosophical difference."
Orthodoxy does change, but that process is too slow
and cumbersome for Reform Jews, he said.
Always the one to argue the legitimacy of Reform de-
cisions, he said that "Judaism is a dynamic faith; it's an
ever evolving faith. In the Middle Ages and when the cod-
ification [of Jewish law] and emancipation came, later
rabbis didn't feel they had the authority to change. So
Reform became a more rapidly evolving faith."

A Timeline of Reform

1801: Israel Jacobson, a banker, starts a modern
. Is were
Jewish. school in Seesen, Gei-inany- Boys and pr
educated together, and PuPiis were taught
jects, such as arithmetic, science and Genxia
' " languAge
1810: The school's "temple" was didicated:Aoob-
son shortened the service, translated it into Gr an
and introduced an organ, a mixed choir and a ae ion.
1817: Girls were confirriledwith boys in Berlin,Ger-
1818: Firs t; form


Hectic Rest

he UAHC conferecne was billed as Rabbi Schindler's
last public hurrah, but he will not formally retire
until next June. Until he actually vacates his office,
he plans on an extended period of rest, making room
for Rabbi Yoffie to craft his own agenda.
One thing he promises not to do is meddle. "I will stay
out of the way of my successor, I assure you that. He
knows where I'll be if he needs me."
Rabbi Schindler's period of rest involves a dizzying
schedule. It includes a half-dozen speeches at UAHC
fundraisers, at least three trips to Israel and numerous
other organizational events.
"I'll write, I'll read, I'll lecture, hopefully I'll have more
time with my family," which includes his wife, Rhea and
six dozen grandchildren, he said. "I have learned that
when one door closes, another opens up."
Outside of the Reform movement, he will remain ei-
ther a board member or active with the World Jewish
Congress, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Memorial
Foundation for Jewish Culture, the American Jewish
Joint Distribution Committee and the Conference of Pres-
idents of Major American Jewish Organizations. That
last group, which has been criticized for being too weak
in its support of the peace process, is one "which will need
a lot of attention paid to it," he said.
He also plans to write a book on the implications of
outreach because "this is the aspect of which I'm most
proud and I want to be identified with. Outreach in my
judgment has altered the landscape of the American Jew-
ish community because everybody is doing it, including
the Orthodox."
Ironically, the man who has tightly held the reins of
Reform for more than two decades hopes that he has sent
the movement on an unknown path.
In 25 and 50 years, he said that he hopes that Reform
"won't be anything like it is today. I hope it will be rich-
er internally, have a greater appreciation of the Jewish
calendar, a heightened sensitivity to the Jewish tradi-
tion and a rising literacy on the grass roots.
"I would love to see enlarged that rising group of peo-
ple who see Reform Judaism as a serious entity, a rising
revolution from these people."
The results of such an upheaval will only be the latest
manifestation of the march of Reform ideas — some seem-
ingly outlandish, but many often eventually accepted by
others. It is a future that will be comfortable amidst the
legacy that Alexander M. Schindler has carved for him-
self in American Jewish life. ❑




1889: Central Conference of American Rabbis
1922: Hebrew Union College, under president Ju-
lian Morgenstern, rejects political Zionism.
1937: The Columbus Platform sets standards for
Reform Jewish life. Says Judaism, "in addition to its
moral and spiritual demands," requires observance of
holy days and "the cultivation of distinctive forms of
religious art and sic and the use of Hebrew, together
with the vernacular."
1940s: Reform Rabbis Stephen Wise and Abba Hil
lel Silver are international leaders in the push for a
Jewish homeland.
1961: The UAHC established the Reli.
Center in Washington, D.C., to pursue social ju‘et
issues such
to the Vietnam War.
1964: Number.°


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