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December 12, 2003 - Image 40

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

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

OTHER VIEWS

STEINHARDT from page 39

TIMELESS CRAFTSMANSHJP

philanthropists, federations, the
State of Israel — acting in unison to
secure the Jewish future.
Birthright Israel should be viewed
by each federation as not merely a
national initiative, but also a local
Jewish identity-building program.
Gathered today are some of the
world's most devoted Jewish lay-
leaders and professionals. If we now
return home without significant
changes, are we not presiding —
with good will and good intentions
— over the inexorable decline of our
community?
Consider how little many of us
know about our history, our culture,
our language. We do not know
enough about our religion to take
true pride in it. We remain Jewish
on the vapors of cultural memory.
The non-Orthodox denominations
have lost their rigor. They produce
generation after generation of
under-educated Jews. Initially, these
systems of belief were relevant by
showing us how to be modem. But
today this focus does not successful-
ly transmit a vision - of the Jewish
future.
Those liberal rabbis and congrega-
tions who are resonant, vibrant and
inspirational must be encouraged.
Personally, I believe that the future
is beyond all denominations.

Common Judaism

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I feel it is time to articulate a vision
of a Common Judaism which will
speak to all Jews, regardless of geog-
raphy, ideology or level of obser-
vance. We can identify several key
concepts:
• The pre-eminence of Jewish peo-
plehood as a unifying ideal;
• The centrality of the State of
Israel to the Jewish soul;
• The imperative of Jewish educa-
tion to maintain and reinforce
Jewish life;
• • Tzedakah as the life spring of
our community; and
• A keen respect for meritocracy.
We should listen to our children
who have been alienated. They yearn
for a Judaism that will emphasize
Jewish joy so that all, regardless of
background, can take part in the
simchah and revelry of Shabbat and
Passover and Sukkot.
They yearn for a Judaism that will
be a viable alternative to the com-
peting ideas swirling around them:
Eastern cults, New Age movements,
Christianity and, above all, the secu-
larism that pervades all aspects of

society.
Then, our people will no longer
determine Jewishness by lineality
but by choice. Whether they lay
tefillin or keep kosher will matter
less than whether they throw their
lot in with the Jewish people.
Jewish education is the only way
to pave this yellow brick road —
and we must ensure that this educa-
tion be far more comprehensive than
it is today.
A consequential minority of our
young people receive no Jewish edu-
cation at all. Great thought has to
be given to upgrading their Jewish
knowledge.
We must make a quantum leap in
the quality of day-school education.
It has to rival the finest secular pri-
vate schools.
We must seek the best and bright-
est to be our teachers. And pay them
exorbitantly — yes, exorbitantly.
Inevitably, we cannot avoid the
issue of funding. If we are to
achieve, in a relatively short period,
upgraded Jewish education, it will
be costly.
I would like to propose that we
consider the creation of a Fund for
Our Jewish Future, devoted entirely
to our next generation, and thereby
to generations to come. It would
invigorate the most important out-
lets of Jewish identity-formation
from early childhood to day schools,
camps, and college programs.
The Fund for Our Jewish Future
can succeed only as a partnership of
our federations and our most dedi-
cated philanthropists, who would be
asked to contribute mightily.
I am prepared to start with a gift
of $10 million whose only condition
is that it be no more than 10 per-
cent of the fund. I feel that others
would be prepared to make compa-
rable gifts if this were part of a
broad-based national community -
effort, hopefully raising hundreds of
millions of dollars.
The federations could participate
with donor-advised funds, helping
persuade donors to allocate a por-
tion of these public Jewish funds to
this effort. It is estimated that there
is between $3-4 billion in these
funds; even a fraction would - be con-
sequential.
I know many have their own pri-
orities, but nothing seems to me as
urgent. If we can create a fund of
unprecedented scope, we will be able
to effect true, paradigm-shifting
changes in our community.

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