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December 12, 2003 - Image 39

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-12-12

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Shifting Priorities, Saving Our Future

Editor's note: The following is
excerpted from an address by Michael
Steinhardt to the United Jewish
Communities General Assembly in
Jerusalem on Nov. 9.


n almost all countries of the
diaspora, the non-Orthodox
community is at best stagnant;
in many places, in decline.
The decline, alas, happens almost
imperceptibly, and thus eludes atten-
tion and concern. Yet the cumulative
erosion has gravely weakened the
vitality of diaspora Jewry.
Our people are adrift, their urge to
live Jewishly, or even to remain
Jewish, enfeebled. By the measure of
devotion to Israel, the generational
difference is immense. Young Jews
today have a mere fraction of the
attachment to Israel of my genera-
And Jewish literacy — knowledge
of our books, our history, our cul-
ture — is arguably at an all-time
low. Our intermarriage rates remain
at record levels.
Only a vigorous new leadership
can turn the tide.
In modern times, we focus on the
general disciplines to the neglect of
Jewish education. We feel it to be
the highest honor when our children
graduate from Harvard — but

Michael Steinhardt is a New York-

based philanthropist and chairman of
Jewish Renaissance Media, the parent
company of the Detroit Jewish News.

• "Observers point to an 'increas-
ingly blatant anti-Semitic Arab and
Muslim media,' including audiotapes
and sermons, in which the call is not
only made to join the struggle
against Israel but also against Jews
across the world."
In many instances, this aggression
is connected to anti-Zionism:
• "The threatening nature of the
situation, in particular for the Jewish
communities, arose because in most
of the countries monitored, the
increasing number of anti-Semitic
attacks, committed frequently by
young Arabs-Muslims and by far-
right extremists, was accompanied by
a sharp criticism of Israeli politics
across the entire political spectrum, a
criticism that in some cases employed

shockingly we feel no shame when
our children, Harvard diplomas in
hand, do not know a single word of
Growing up in post-World War II
Brooklyn, even those of us with little
formal Jewish education found it
easy to remain in the fold. We were
immersed in Jewish culture — the
sounds of Yiddish, the aroma of
Jewish cooking.
There was an influx of refugees
with numbers on their arms, and
awareness of the immigrant experi-
ence on the one hand and anti-
Semitism on the other served to
unite the community.
Today, with the fading of this gen-
eration and the unprecedented
acceptance of Jews into mainstream
society, we have lost a natural con-
nection to Jewish culture. Thus,
more than ever, our survival depends
on the next generation becoming
educated. We need to bring about a
Jewish renaissance for our young
However, the institutions from
which we expect leadership have not
succeeded in effecting this renais-
sance. The bulk of community
investment continues to pour into
the decaying status quo, whereas
innovative programs have received
insufficient funding.
Day schools, while growing, have
not succeeded in attracting the
majority of non-Orthodox Jews;
most schools remain financially frail.
Our denominational movements

percent went to Jewish insti-
have failed to capture the
tutions. A recent concert hall
imagination of our youth.
cost $55 million; of this,
Synagogues do not resonate
$45 million was Jewish
for the majority. Indeed,
most Jews are not affiliated
Our most affluent have
with any synagogue; 49 per-
become society's cultural fin-
cent consider themselves sec-
The Jewish federations
You who are gathered here
— the cream of the leader-
STEINHARDT have also felt this pinch.
Overall philanthropy in the
ship crop — represent com-
United States has doubled in
mitted Jewry. Who speaks
the past decade; donations to
for the unaffiliated? They are
the federation annual cam-
Jews without representation.
paigns have remained flat.
If they are indeed a near
majority, why is there no one here to Only 11 percent donated more than
$1,000 to Jewish causes.
speak for their interests?
Furthermore, of those who do give
The sad truth is that the leader-
to Jewish causes, many ignore pro-
ship ranks of the Jewish community
grams of Jewish education and cul-
have become so accommodated to
ture, and focus rather on yesterday's
decline that we haven't even men-
tioned the absence of the very group
In North America, the greatest
we should be fighting to reach. We
threat to the Jewish people is not the
tell ourselves that this is the best we
external force of anti-Semitism, but
can do, while most Jews remain
the internal forces of apathy, inertia
oblivious of anything we do.
and ignorance of our own heritage.
Birthright Israel, free trips for
Secular Interests
young Jews to make a connection to
Israel, is a case in point. Even the
Today, Jews hurry to donate to uni-
versities, museums and hospitals, but federation community, which last
year raised over $300 million for
when it comes to vitalizing our own
Israel's emergency needs, finds it
people, we fall short. Of the
arduous to provide a small fraction
amounts Jews give philanthropically,
of that amount for Birthright.
only 20 percent goes to Jewish caus-
If we lose Birthright, we shall lose
es, whereas the post-World War II
more than free trips to Israel for
figure was 50 percent.
young Jews. We will lose the power
Of the $5.3 billion in mega-gifts
of the Jewish people — educators,
given by America's wealthiest Jews
between 1995 and 2000, a mere 6
STEINHARDT on page 40

anti-Semitic stereotypes."

The report recognizes what a major
shift this entails:
• "That anti-Semitic offenders in
some cases are drawn from Muslim
minorities in Europe — whether
they be radical Islamist groups or
young males of North African
descent — is certainly a new devel-
opment for most [EU] Member
States, one that offers reason for con-
cern for European governments and
also the great majority of its citi-
This study and its attempted sup-
pression point to two important
facts: the unpleasant reality that
exists on the streets of Europe and
the EU's deep reluctance to face that

Mining the Depths

Of the EU's then-15 member states,
four stand out for their deeper prob-
• "A group of countries was identi-
fied with rather severe anti-Semitic
incidents. Here, France, Belgium, the
Netherlands and the UK have to be
mentioned. They witnessed numer-
ous physical attacks and insults
directed against Jews and vandalism
of Jewish institutions (synagogues,
shops, cemeteries). In these coun-
tries, the violent attacks on Jews and-
or synagogues were reported to be
committed often by members of the
Muslim-Arab minority, frequently

Neither of these facts is new; this
author wrote back in 1992 that for
world Jewry, "Muslim anti-Semitism
is an increasing problem, and in large
part this has to do with the ever-
growing population of Muslims in
the West"; and the EU's unwilling-
ness to confront the pattern of anti-
Jewish hostility emerging from
Muslim religious, media and educa-
tional institutions is also decades old.
Unless Europeans find the strength
forthrightly to address this problem
— and all indicators suggest that is
unlikely — there is reason to expect
a general Jewish exodus from Europe,
perhaps along the lines of the general
Jewish exodus from Muslim coun-
tries a half century ago.




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