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LightingThe Lamp Of Learning
in the Jewish state during the Yom Kippur War of 1973.
merican Jews are walking a spiritual tightrope as
So there's resonance when he argues that we, the American
they confront the threats of assimilation, intermar-
Jewish community, rely on sending our kids to Israel "to
riage and apathy.
drink this well of Jewish identity because it cannot, or is not,
These threats have made it hard to pinpoint
being provided adequately in America."
what Dr. Leonard Lachover of West Bloomfield calls "the
He piqued my interest by maintaining that we see our-
essential identity of the American Jew and the essential con-
as "collective Holocaust survivors in order to shore up
tribution of American Jews to Judaism."
identity" and that we're "far more dependent on Israel
Blasphemous as it may sound, he says, we've allowed the
than Israel is on American Jewry."
Holocaust and Israel to dominate the shaping of our collec-
He says he's not minimizing the impact of 6 million
tive identity for too long.
"an event that will scar our lives forever," or the rise
"Are we facing an identity crisis of such vast proportions
state "from the ashes of the most destructive
that we struggle to formulate our own shape
history." Rather, he's urging that we shed
and form?" he asked in a sermon this sum-
we don't become adrift when not anchored
mer at Congregation Shaarey Zedek B'nai
Israel Center in West Bloomfield.
"We must begin to look within ourselves," he says, "for
"What will sustain us as a people in the
our identity, our character and our contribution to the con-
richest and freest country in history, blessed
tinuity of Jewish life."
with a constitution that allows us to enter
I concur with him that remembering the Holocaust and
the mainstream of American life and blend
the Jewish state only are not enough to assure the
almost imperceptibly into the fabric of
heritage from one generation to the next.
ROBERT A. American society?" .
Both are powerful questions.
Like Dr. Lachover, a psychiatrist, I admit-
tedly don't have the answers.
Still, I'm intrigued by his way of thinking.
I'm struck by the force of the punch Dr. Lachover delivers in
I didn't hear his July 27 sermon, but a mutual
quoting Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, who teaches reli-
friend, Rachel Kapen of West Bloomfield, e-mailed
gion at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.:
me a copy. And I found it compelling.
"American society no longer forces Jews to
In it, Dr. Lachover relates how, years ago, he
assimilate into the dominant culture. It is possible
noticed visitors going from shelf to shelf at the Jewish
in this new of age of America to evaporate out of
Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit's annual
being Jewish without making, a decision to be any-
Jewish Book Fair, leafing through pages of the newest
publications. Most of the books were about the histo-
After nearly four generations, Dr. Lachover says,
ry of the Holocaust or the creation of the State of
impact of the European Jewish experience on
American Jewish identity is nearly spent."
Unwittingly, the native Detroiter then imagines the Lachover
He adds, "A community cannot survive on what
shelves empty, as if there had there been no Shoah or
it remembers. It will persist only because of what it
affirms and what it believes."
"I became haunted by the irreverence of my own think-
I agree with that, mostly. In my Judaism, remembrance -
ing," he says. "The shelves became, to me, the abstract repre-
from our history to our ideals to our dead — is integral.
sentation of American Jewish identity."
In citing Dennis Prager — a theologian, author and high-
ly respected thinker — Dr. Lachover hits on another linch-
pin to Judaism. The home should be the center of a family's
universe, not the synagogue or the JCC. Unless living
Dr. Lachover sees his sermon — titled
— not just being Jewish — percolates at home,
chance it will do so elsewhere.
tion" of the identity crisis looming for American Jewry.
begins to zero in on "the essential contribu-
I was both taken aback and prompted to ponder when he
Jews to Judaism" when he brings up reli-
declared that allowing our kids to visit Israel, either on a
does Judaism offer so many dis-
mission or through study abroad, has helped shape their
The choices have given
identity more "than any amount of time spent in the after-
many Jews who otherwise wouldn't drink from Judaism's
noon Hebrew schools." Dr. Lachover's background includes
spiritually nourishing waters a reason to believe:
current service on the board of the Friends of the Israel
Because of these choices, Jewish learning is on the
Defense Forces Michigan Chapter and past service on the
at all age levels in America, especially among adults.
board of the former United Hebrew Schools in Detroit.
who are the role models for impressionable
Based on my experience in the community, I wouldn't be
the nucleus of a future generation of Jewish lead-
so quick to discount the base of Jewish identity provided by
local Hebrew schools. Synagogues and the Jewish Federation
Like I do, Dr. Lachover senses "a desire in America to keep
of Metropolitan Detroit are investing more money than ever
culture and identity strong by lighting the lamp of
to improve the staff, curriculum and resources of our after-
noon learning programs. Still, these programs are not equal
But we can't ignore the multi-layered challenge he lays out
to the quality of Jewish day schools, which themselves don't
defining our identity, preserving our heritage and sustain-
replace an Israel experience.
In Israel, Jewish identity "is evident in the language spo-
he puts it: "Let us assure that the shelves of Jewish
ken on the street, the advertising posters, the radio news and
identity do not remain empty."
the army uniform," says Dr. Lachover, a volunteer physician
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