Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
In the 36 hours since the Pew Research Center released findings from its multimillion-dollar survey of American Jews – among them, that American Jews are intermarrying at ever higher rates, that one in five has “no religion,” and that Jews seem to think a good sense of humor is as essential to Jewish identity as Israel is – the reactions from scholars and leaders have begun to come out.
Many of the reactions amounted to little more than a shrug.
“The results confirm what I’ve been saying for years: the liberal denominations are declining, and Orthodoxy is growing, precisely because of high birthrates and high retention rates,” Jonathan Boyarin said in a statement circulated by Cornell University, where he is a professor of Modern Jewish Studies.
Jewish community leaders across the country agreed that the study’s results simply weren’t news. The findings, Jennifer Gorovitz, CEO of the Bay Area’s Jewish Community Federation said in a statement, reaffirm trends “that have been in play for years and which have long concerned Jewish communal leaders nationwide.”
And some heads of major Jewish organizations and movements sounded downright dismissive of the findings – and in some cases, of the opinions of those who responded to the Pew survey.
A sizable minority of American Jews – 38 percent – may have told Pew they believe the Israeli government is making a “sincere effort” to come to a peace deal with Palestinians, but nearly half of all Jews (48 percent) disagreed with the statement. Three-quarters of American Jews don't trust that the Palestinians are making a sincere effort to reach a peace deal, but 44 percent agreed that "the continued building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank hurts the security of Israel."
The aggregate of American Jewish opinion didn't seem to matter much to leaders of major Jewish organizations that regularly take positions on matters relating to Israel. Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, has regularly taken the position that Israeli settlements are not an obstacle to peace. He told the Forward that he doesn't lead by poll results.
“I think it’s interesting, we need to be aware,” Foxman told the Forward. “But I’m not going to follow this.”
Conservative Jewish leaders, asked about the Pew study’s finding that their movement only represents 11 percent of young American Jews, downplayed any suggestion that a contracting Conservative movement was evidence of failure.
“I want to focus on our quality,” Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University, told the New York-based newspaper.
But if some leaders aren't likely to heed the results of the Pew study, Jay Sanderson, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, told the Journal on Oct. 2 that the study had to be a "wakeup call" for American Jewish leaders, if they wanted to stem the tide of assimilation and intermarriage among Jews in America.
"This is information that most everybody understood," Sanderson said, "and we as a Jewish community haven’t been wiling to do a study like this because we were afraid, honestly, of what the results would be."
Greg Smith, director of U.S. religion surveys at the Pew Research Center, said he hopes the study “will be used as a good, valuable source of information about the characteristics, attitudes, beliefs and practices of Jews in the United States for many years to come,” but as a “nonpartisan, nonadvocacy” organization, the center wouldn’t be pushing any particular agenda.
There are others in the Jewish community who are attempting to advance an agenda in a way that takes account of the Pew study’s findings.
Significant majorities of American Jews -- 62% -- believe that being Jewish is “mainly a matter of ancestry and culture”? Maybe a renewed focus on Jewish culture makes sense as a way of bringing large numbers of Jews into Jewish life.
That’s the argument Shayna Kreisler, senior program director of the 14th Street Y in New York City, made in an essay that appeared in eJewishPhilanthropy recently, in which she decries the closures of various Jewish culture organizations, including the Six Points Fellowship and JDub.
“The Foundation for Jewish Culture recently announced that it will be closing its doors in 2014,” Kreisler writes. “As someone who has spent the last 12 years working at the intersection of Jewish life and cultural expression, I see these closures as not only sad, but naive bordering on ignorant.”
Sanderson said that Los Angeles -- precisely because it is a city to which Jews move with the express intention of assimilating and disappearing -- has been facing these questions for longer than other communities have, long enough that organizations have begun to come up with possible answers.
"This is a country where trends and culture and social issues migrate from west to east," Sanderson said. "The issues in the Pew study are more significant in Los Angeles -- and on the other hand, there are things happening in L.A. that aren’t happening anywhere else. This is an oppoortunity for us to make Los Angeles a laboratory and stem the tide and turn around what looks like a declining jewish community."
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September 12, 2013 | 9:58 pm
Posted by Emily Kane
September 11, 2013 | 6:18 pm
Posted by Ryan Torok
Ron Hirsch, a homeless man who was accused of setting off a bomb outside Chabad in Santa Monica, died on Aug. 24 while in federal custody. The cause of death was ischemic heart disease, various media reported.
Federal prosecutors have filed an order to dismiss the indictment of Hirsch in the wake of his death, according to the Santa Monica Daily Press.
He was being treated at a federal medical center in North Carolina at the time of his passing. He was 62.
Hirsch suffered from mental health problems that caused his trial to be postponed multiple times, Patch-Santa Monica reported. A court document co-signed by his attorney and the U.S. attorney’s office includes a request for his trial to be pushed from June 2012 to January 2013 and for a Sell hearing, which determines whether the government can force a defendant to take medication so that he will be mentally competent enough to stand trial.
Hirsch made national headlines in April 2011 after he was arrested on suspicion of setting off a pipe bomb outside Chabad of Santa Monica. Initially, authorities believed the explosion, which did not cause any deaths or injuries but blew a hole in the roof of a home adjacent to the shul and caused minor damage to the shul’s exterior, to be the result of an industrial accident.
He was linked to the crime after authorities discovered a sales receipt for bags of a demolition agent with his name on it near the scene of the incident.
Arresting Hirsch proved not to be so easy, though. Authorities caught up to the homeless transient four days after the blast, in Cleveland Heights, where he’d fled to, after a citizen there recognized him and notified the authorities. Because he left the city after the incident, he faced local and federal charges.
A federal grand jury indicted him on use of an explosive to damage property and three other charges. He stood to face up to 70 years in prison.
Hirsch pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Despite Hirsch’s actions, Rabbi Isaac Levitansky, co-director of Chabad of Santa Monica, the intended target of the explosion, believed Hirsch had not meant to cause anybody harm, and he expressed sadness over the man’s death.
“Hopefully his soul is a better place now, not locked up in prison, but going to eternal resting place,” Levitansky said.
September 3, 2013 | 10:46 am
Posted by Lauren Izso, JPost
Read more on JPost.com.
August 27, 2013 | 10:07 am
Posted by Ben Harris, JTA
Walking through Union Square last night, I came across this guy with a sign I couldn’t resist: 6’7″ Jew will rap for you.
OK, I thought, rap for me.
I forked over five bucks — what most people “donate” I was told — and, improv theater style, called out some prompts. And right there, outside Breads Bakery (Editor’s Note: If you haven’t tried to the babka, you haven’t lived), I was treated to some spontaneous “flow” from a dreadlocked “vibrating vegan” named (I think) Kurzweil.
Apologies for my background giggling. I guess rhyming “not Baptized” with “circumcised” really got me.
August 26, 2013 | 10:16 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
By the time Yitzhak Perlman and Cantor Itzhak Meir Helfgott took the stage at the Hollywood Bowl Tuesday night, August 20, the 16,000 seat amphitheatre was nearly packed.
If you were Jewish, it was friends and neighbors night. There was so much schmoozing and waving, it was easy to mistake the concert for a day in synagogue, or a board meeting.
“This counts for Rosh Hashanah,” a woman told me. “This is instead of going the first day.”
It kind of was. Cantor Helfgott is the virtuoso soloist at the Park Avenue synagogue in Manhattan. He is Orthodox, but no kidding around Orthodox, with the beard, the full black coat and tails, a large black kipa. How religious is he? He is just 40, and already a grandfather.
Perlman is Perlman. Yo Yo Ma. Schindlers List. Every symphony orchestra in the world. And, on occasion, klezmer.
The two were accompanied by members of the Klezmer Conservatory Orchestra, led by Hankus Netsky. Yes, that’s his name.
Netsky’s not young, but he is far younger than many if not most of the people in the audience. Years ago he took it upon his shoulder to revive and perform the Yiddish repertoire. With Perlman he created the album “Eternal Songs,” on which the concert was based.
The concert was a blend of klezmer dances and liturgical music, Rumanian dances and Psalms. The Shabbas before the wedding, and the party after.
The klezmer was raucous, the crowd was subdued. Maybe it was the classical setting, the members of the L.A. Phil—Perlman called them his “classical mishpocha”—seated in stolid order on the stage. Maybe it was the shifts between party music and prayers. Whatever it was, this was an audience of well-behaved Jews.
They didn’t dance in the aisles. They didn’t stand and dance in their seats. There was no between song toasts with schnapps, no smell of garlic and schmaltz in the air, no sweat, no stomping and no shouts. The music of the shtetl had made it to the big time, and so have we.
Instead of banquet tables of kichel and herring, picnic baskets of chicken breast and white wine. If Cantor Helfgott waved his hands to get the crowd clapping, they followed, but then it died down. They sat, and listened, and applauded when each song was over.
The English translations of the Yiddish and Hebrew words appeared on the giant screens, turning them into the world’s most convenient prayer books.
I couldn’t help but think back to the composers and lyricists of these songs, the original players and singers, half-crazed, half-starved dreamers in their desperate villages, pouring their souls into the music, filling each note with the yearning for safety, for a meal, for Zion, for salvation. Men whose souls burned as bright as the full moon above the Bowl, who would have danced across the chairs, and grabbed and kissed the beautiful clarinetist, in her bright red dress.
But we are well-behaved now, polite. We laughed as Perlman kibitzed.
Netsky described one tune as particularly “catchy.”
“Did you say ‘catchy’ or ‘kvetchy’?” Perlman asked.
“Catchy and kvetchy describes a lot of Jewish music,” Netsky shot back.
The klezmer was catchy, but it didn’t catch. Somewhere between Poland and the Hollywood Hills, we settled down.
Cantor Helfgott;s voice was transcendent, but few seemed t be transported—no tears, no “Oys! No cries of joy.
They ended with “My Yiddishe Mama,” and there was applause, but already people were heading for their cars in the neatly stacked parking. Perlman arrived on stage in an electric scooter and stayed seated in it throughout the performance. He made no pretense of driving off and then back on. With a bit of wicked humor, he told th crowd to imagine there had just been eight curtain calls, and the musicians would consent to an encore.
Then the cantor sang, “Adir Hu,” “Rebuild your house speedily,” he sang, as people began heading home.
August 22, 2013 | 12:34 pm
Posted by Israel21c
The American snack food community just got a healthy addition – hummus. Yes, this loved chickpea spread from the Middle East has won new fame in the US following the National Football League’s announcement that hummus is now the official dip of the NFL.
The league chose Sabra hummus – made by Sabra Dipping Company and jointly owned by PepsiCo and Tel Aviv-based Strauss Group– as its official dips sponsor.
But whereas Israelis are used to eating this spread in a pita with falafel or shwarma, Sabra hummus is being marketed as a healthier alternative to mayonnaise.
Sabra’s Israeli CEO Ronen Zohar told Bloomberg that he believes Americans will go gaga over the new dip option. Sabra recently launched its first batch of US television commercials in which they explain to the American masses how to eat hummus.
To continue reading this article, click here: Israel21c.
August 21, 2013 | 1:11 am
Posted by JewishJournal.com
A heated Facebook debate has broken out over whether the $120 - $150 million rennovation of Wilshire Blvd. Temple in Los Angeles is worth it.
A front page New York Times story on the campaign led by Rabbi Steve Leder to restore the grand synagogue in L.A.'s Koreatown neighborhood and turn its adjacent property into a community social service center promped Rabbi Charlie Savenor, director of congregational enrichment at the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism, to post a criticism on his Facebook page.
"Intriguing article about a synagogue facelift," Savenor wrote. "While I respect their leadership's conviction and sense of purpose, $150 million can buy a lot of Shabbat dinners and hire an army of engagement/outreach professionals. What do you think?"
Dozens of Rabbi Savenor's Facebook friends weighed in, most of them equally critical of the project.
That prompted Craig Taubman, the Los Angeles activist and musician, to send an e-mail to rabbis and other Jewish professionals taking issue with the critics. Taubman, who requested his message be quoted in full, wrote:
From where I sit in sunny California - reading the critiques of Rabbi Steve Leder’s $150 million project…I read "envy".
From where I sit, I see a visionary man leading his flock, raising millions and inspiring a community to create a center of healing, hope and promise in the heart of Los Angeles.
From where I sit, I question how people can question whether the money can be used more wisely?
Some other thoughts:
1. It's his vision and charisma that has motivated his people to pony up. He’s banking on the future and I say Kol Hakavod - all honor to him and his generous trusting flock!
2. The USCJ by it's own admission “according to a financial audit obtained by JTA, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism reported back-to-back losses of $3 million in 2012 and $2.7 million the previous year” Assuming this information is accurate, the USCJ just might be bankrupt possibly before Wilshire Blvd completes it’s historic build out.
3. If I were an investor in the futures market, I’d bank on Rabbi Leder before the USCJ. He has a vision of the future and based on his portfolio it seems likely he will be in business for at least another 100 years (Since its founding in 1862 when Abraham Lincoln was President)
4. From where I still sit in sunny California, while I know the convention planner are working like dogs with nothing but the best intentions, I question the value of the USCJ hosting yet another “conversation of the century" Franky I think it's time we (us, you, me) take action and make gutsy "movement" that informs the future rather then yet another talk about the future.
Why? Because long after the newspaper articles and Facebook critiques have been written and read. Weeks, months and years after the "conversation of the century" has taken place, Rabbi Leder will have created a model and a foundation that will speak far more loudly than our words. He will have laid the foundation for his truth based in the conviction of his actions. A truth that reflects his spirit of hope, and his faith in the potential that we all have reverberate today, tomorrow and perhaps even into yet another glorious century.
Talk is cheap. Ought we not walk the walk?
(In sunny California)
Taubman's wasn't the first defense of the grand vision behind the rennovation (see this Jewish Journal column here), but it is definitely, judging by the numbers on Facebook, in the minority.
To quote Rabbi Savenor: What do you think?