The following was crossposted at The Jewish Futures Blog as part of a thought experiment on the Jewish future. Enjoy!
Consider this counterfactual.
In 1994, after having coffee with me, Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt decided, rather than funding flashy 10 day junkets to Israel, to create Areivut instead, or as it came to be known: “The Pledge”.
“The Pledge” was simple. In conjunction with the Israeli government, private philanthropists, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and Jewish Federations across North America, Areivut would provide every Jewish child in North America with a free Jewish education from junior kindergarden to Grade 8.
The launch announcement, made on Erev-Erev Shavuot, 5760, (or June 8, 2000), was met with typical Jewish verve. In other words, many opinions were expressed.
Jewish parents committed to public education responded to the Pledge with a polite “no thank you”, but the legion of working and middle class Jewish parents who groaned under the rising costs of Jewish education (costs which far outstripped the rate of inflation) fervently signed up to become Areivim over the intervening summer months. The surge in signups at www.kolisraelareiv.im threatened to bottleneck internet traffic anywhere east of the Mississippi.
Jewish day schools which saw numbers dwindle and communities which faced the loss of their sole educational institution were suddenly overwhelmed by demand.
Universities and teachers’ colleges in major metropolitan areas also rose to the challenge of this new demand, expanding their programs to train a new cohort of Jewish educators.
In the first five years of the Areivut, over 55% of Jewish children were enrolled in five-day-a-week programs across North America. In Year Ten, the percentage rose to 70%.
In the meanwhile, day schools themselves were transformed. Denominational education was still attractive to many families, but community institutions, representing the broadest spectrum of Jewish experience, began to command more attention. Banding together was a move that was once driven by economics, but in this new age, creating “open tents” was inspired by the Pledge’s message of shared responsibility and mutual obligation.
And these community spaces evolved to serve different sectors of the community depending on the time of day, week or year. In the early morning, as parents headed off to work, the day school provided day care. During the school day, trained Jewish educators taught and learned with the next generation of kids. And in the evening, a different cohort of educators learned with adults. On the weekends, the space was open for people to congregate, pray and learn. And, in the summer, the space housed a variety of Jewish day camps.
And though the financial debacles of 2008 could have easily resulted in the shuttering of many a Jewish school, Areivut had set aside funding to keep the program running at least until 2048, when they projected to have educated not only a (nearly) complete generation of Jewish children, but also theirchildren and grandchildren.
And thus, the words from Shir HaShirim Rabbah were fulfilled. For when God said to Israel: “Bring Me good guarantors and I shall give you the Torah,” they said: “Indeed, our children will be our guarantors.” And so, God said: “Your children are good guarantors. For their sake I give the Torah to you.”
Checking the table of contents from the latest issue of The Jewish Quarterly, I was pleased to discover a review of End Of The Jews by London-based sociologist and writer Keith Kahn-Harris.
He made many salient points about the book, especially when instructively juxtaposed with Douglas Rushkoff’s Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now … but, alas, it lurks behind a paywall.
You can track down the piece here and read the first page for free or shell out $39 for the book review (a GREAT Purim gift) or ask someone with academic privileges to access it and read it aloud to you over the phone.
When you do, let me know what you think of the review. I have some thoughts…
I suppose Previous Jews will keep writing about intermarriage for the same reason that the Rolling Stones keep touring and releasing albums – because they still physically can and folks are still willing to pay attention to them.
So here goes. With sighs and facepalms at the ready, I had a bit of a peruse of this piece over at Tablet which, coincidentally, is the subject of the next edition of TanakhCast: Did Moses intermarry?
The piece begins with an accurate albeit snide summary of recent efforts (and “strained arguments”) on the part of the Reform movement and various Jewish outreach organizations to recast Moshe and Tzipporah’s union as the first successful “intermarriage”. (That the authors put intermarriage in quotes … oi.) This agenda-driven recap builds to the inevitable argument Previous Jews persist in making about one of Next Judaism’s norms: You young whippersnappers elevate intermarriage from an ever-present reality to a desirable ideal! (And the Pew Study has the data to prove it!!)
Really? Is that what we’re doing? Feel free to sigh heavily and facepalm at this point…
By acknowledging the choice that more Jews are making about whom they will marry (a choice which the authors clearly disapprove of), we are elevating a choice to an ideal? I thought we were just accepting reality… but I digress.
Cohen and Morris continue to assert that context matters (that is, Moses’ was different than ours, duh) and then move on to argue that parents, like religious leaders, try to teach the difference between right and wrong, but Reform rabbis are confused about whether it is right for Jews to marry Jews. Really? Well, I guess the consensus on this has shifted much like the consensus has shifted on many other things… like LGBT Jews marrying or women wearing a tallit at the Kotel. Sorry, digressing…
And in subsequent paragraphs, which evoked much sighing and facepalming, the authors proceed to do what pieces authored by Previous Jews can be counted on to do: yearn for the good ol’ days of certainty, clarity and old timey values and religion. Buried within the prose and analysis is the trenchant wish that if we could only roll back the odometer to a more Jew-identified time, we would all be better off. If we could only revive the consensus of, say, the 1950s, or even better, the shared values of right and wrong from the 1850s, somehow, all the vexing problems facing the Jewish community, especially intermarriage, would magically disappear. We could be a people again!
As Cohen and Morris pointed out, context matters. However, it seems that our authors, like many Previous Jews, persist on clinging to and focusing on the wrong one.
Their concluding paragraph delimits their myopia perfectly:
Following the publication of Pew’s “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” we can well imagine that some Jewish parents are sitting down with their children to assure that their kids understand that when the time comes, they are to marry within the faith. Do we really want these children to answer: “But our rabbi teaches that intermarriage is a personal choice just as good as marrying a Jew. After all, Moses married a non-Jew and he became the leader of our people”?
Do we really want my child to answer in this manner? DO WE?
In a word: HELL YES I DO!
First, this Next Jewish child (about whom our Previous Jewish authors concern-troll so lengthily) quotes her rabbi! And she can cite her rabbi because, it seems, she has a relationship with her rabbi, one which she values. It also seems that this relationship is open and trusting enough that personal questions of great import can be asked and answered. Was this question asked after a Shabbat service or before a youth program or did the Rabbi visit her summer camp? Who knows? I guess it doesn’t matter… (Let the geshrying continue!)
Second, this Next Jewish child is also familiar with the relevant sections of Exodus and Numbers in which the story of Moses’ family is recounted as well as the importance of Moses in the history of the Jewish people. Not too shabby.
And, third, and most important, she sees herself as part of the Jewish people.
Yes, our authors might answer, yes… but which Jewish people? I don’t recognize them at all.
I suppose that is precisely the point.
Check out this speech from Rabbi Yisrael Eichler, MK from United Torah Judaism, a Haredi party representing the Litvaks (non-Hasidic Haredim). (Alas, it is in Hebrew…)
He delivered this speech on the occasion of a memorial session of the Knesset in honour of assassinated Prime Minister Itzchak Rabin. He took the opportunity to tear into the current government, specifically its coalition partners, for its incitement against the Haredi population. (Which, if you think about it is not really the most appropriate time to make political speeches, but I digress…) The pull quote from his invective (translation mine):
The incitement against the Haredi public will not bode well for any of this country’s citizens. I wish I could express the same optimism expressed by the Prime Minister that there will not be a war between Jews. What I can say is that we will not raise our hands against Jews or citizens of this land, but, God forbid, if we cannot live in this land, according to Jewish tradition, as a consequence of the government’s persecution, we will pick up our wandering staff and the centres of Torah will move from the Land of Israel to the Exile.
To which I respond: Are you gonna bark all day little doggie or are you gonna bite? And does it count as yerida (i.e., “descent”) if you leave Israel for religious reasons, as opposed to those maligned folks who leave for economic reasons – or, like Nobel Prize winners Arieh Warshel and Michael Levitt, who leave because of career concerns? So, are you going to back that threat and start booking airplane tickets for Brooklyn or Monsey or Lakewood (refundable tickets, of course!) … or are your words merely the flailing and last gasp of a political movement that use to hold disproportionate power in Israel for decades but now, has been, due to the electoral process, put in its natural place – as a minority party sitting in opposition? Time will tell, Rav Eichler. And by the way, regardless of your digs against secular Jews and Reform Judaism, we welcome you to our tainted shores where you are guaranteed the right to believe and practice – but, SPOILERS, you cannot compel anyone else to tow your particular Litvak line. You might want to reconsider…