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EUROPEAN & AMERICAN
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hile anti-Semitism has not disappeared, Jews living
in America enjoy religious liberties that few Jewish
communities in history have experienced. We have
attained economic and educational success, and have risen
to the highest echelons of political power.
So says Rabbi Jill Jacobs in a thoughtful political essay
distributed by the New York-based Jewish Telegraphic
And she's right: Independence Day was a great time to
celebrate the unprecedented freedom that
Jews in America enjoy. It also was the
right moment to evaluate what we as Jews
do contribute, and what we can contribute,
to American discourse. Jacobs' theme
of embracing public Judaism rang forth.
I hope we're not as emotionally weak or
indifferent as Jacobs suggests.
Jacobs is the rabbi-in-residence of the
New York-based Jewish Funds for Justice,
which is committed to provoking a rethinking of Jewish
efforts to spur social change and economic justice for all
Americans. In her essay, Jacobs spoke about how the topic
of religion in the public square tends to elicit images of the
Christian right fighting for restrictions on abortion, same-
sex marriage and sex education. All of these issues are
white-hot fodder for public debate.
But as Jacobs cogently notes, Judaism, Christianity,
Islam and other religious traditions have much to say not
only about social and cultural norms, but also economic
policy, equality and inequality, and interpersonal behavior."
She discussed how, amid our economic crisis, America can
grasp direction from religious tradition as well as from cur-
rent social thinking and everyday experiences.
I was intrigued by how Jacobs, author of There Shall Be
No Needy: Pursuing Social Justice Through Jewish Law and
Tradition (Jewish Lights, 2009), tied Halachah to gaining
the mental toughness to change laws in order to create a
sustainable and just economic system."
new study on the running of Jewish day schools
presents a perilous forecast in the wake of the poor
economy and uninspired school oversight. While
my sense is that Jewish Detroit's day school leaders are
in touch with our community's urgent needs and generally
working in step with Federation to resolve them, the nation-
al day-school trend is alarming.
According to a July 14 Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA)
report, the Yeshiva University study titled "Survey of the
Governance Practices of Jewish Day Schools" concludes
that "lackadaisical lay leadership and weak boards of direc-
tors at the schools seem content with making half-hearted
attempts at creating economically viable institutions."
Harry Bloom, an expert on lay-board management, pro-
duced the study for the New York-based YU Institute of
University-School Partnership. His ideas for solving the day-
school tuition crisis include communal fundraising to build
school endowment funds as well as wider partnering among
neighboring schools to save on overhead. Endowments are
popular, but as Bloom notes, even a $1 billion nest egg would
She wrote: "Judaism teaches specific laws aimed at guar-
anteeing that employers will not take unfair advantage of
low-income workers, that landlords will not evict tenants
without fair warning and that the criminal justice system
will preserve the dignity of both victims and perpetrators."
We're poorer as a nation if we as American Jews don't
seek to push Jewish values into the secular jet stream of
American governance while protecting the wall that divides
church and state.
Jacobs lamented how many Jews who lead community or
public-policy organizations or who hold elected office lack
the fortitude to speak publicly about how Jewish history
and tradition have colored their attitude toward social and
"Perhaps our own negative experiences as the victims of
religious coercion or our attempts to protect ourselves from
the intrusion of Christian practice into public institutions
have persuaded us that Judaism has no place in the public
sphere," she wrote.
But it can, ,,vithout injecting religion.
We can share what Jacobs calls "the nuanced approaches
to social and economic policy that our rabbis and scholars
have developed over the past 3,000 years."
"If we are to build a sustainable American economy
for the future," Jacobs wrote, we should learn from this
,visdom as well as from the wisdom of other religious tradi-
tions, academic disciplines and practitioners. The United
States needs us to be Jews not only at home, but also in
We can start by strongly speaking up about the ney, ,
thrusts of anti-Semitism at home and abroad; the Islamic
terrorists who target Jews, Zionism and the West; the U.S.
policies that threaten Israeli security; the Iranian danger
and its affect on the atomic arms race; and the array of
urgent domestic concerns like immigration, health care,
crime, the environment, the Iraqi war and, of course, the
- Robert Sklar, editor
provide just $50 million per year in real aid,
Bloom pitched increased government support and tighter
school spending as further ways to bridge the $500 million
annual gap nationwide created by student financial need;
but neither is likely without strong oversight boards that
can lobby and enforce. Bloom told JTA that board members
too often recruit unqualified friends to fill board vacancies
rather than take the time to find the right mix.
I was stunned to read that less than 40 percent of the
board presidents surveyed said their boards had set strate-
gic goals or a financial plan for the next 3-5 years. Doing so
would be standard operating procedure in my mind.
I like the YU push to work with three East Coast com-
munities to bring together educators, federations and com-
munal groups to address the school planning and revenue
crises. Detroit Jewry already has a strategic infrastructure,
led by Federation's Alliance for Jewish Education. What we
do locally requires more fine-tuning and funding; still, we
could serve as a national model.
271 WEST MAPLE
- Robert Sklar, editor
July 23 • 2009