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Jewish Journal

Letters to the Editor

September 28, 2000 | 8:00 pm

Orthodox Numbers

As a sociologist of American Jews, I read the three articles ("Setting the Record Straight," "Flawed Methodology" and "Standing by the Data," Sept. 15) with great interest. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, along with Anthony Gordon and Richard M. Horowitz, raised important methodological issues which - if unaddressed - do indeed have the potential to undercount the Orthodox population. These Orthodox advocates also correctly pointed out the explosion of Orthodox Jewish institutions in numerous neighborhoods. Nonetheless, I would tend to agree with Pini Herman that the numbers of Orthodox Jews in Los Angeles has not increased in recent years.

How can this be? How can these two facts exist simultaneously? The answer lies in understanding important generational differences in the social construction and definition of Orthodoxy. For the older (65 and over) generation of Orthodox Jews, historical and sociological conditions in the U.S. dictated a more integrated, acculturated approach to American life. These Jews, for example, would often attend public schools, eat in restaurants not under rabbinical supervision and cover their heads while in synagogue or at home, but not at work or in the street. For younger Orthodox Jews, by contrast, individual and institutional distinctiveness, visibility and separation (parochial day schools, kosher pizza parlors and even Hatzolah ambulances, to name but a few examples) are fundamental elements which shape their understanding of contemporary American Orthodox life.

A drive down Pico Boulevard reveals the strength of the younger generation of American Orthodoxy. But the older, less visible - yet demographically substantial - Orthodox generation is dying out. Recent community and national studies, such as the 1990 National Jewish Populations Survey, have consistently demonstrated that older American Jews are more likely to self-report as Orthodox than American Jews of any other age range. In the short term, at least, the quantitative state of L.A.'s Orthodox Jewry will not change significantly. In qualitative terms, however, it has already dramatically redefined what it means to be Orthodox in American society.

Jonathon Ament, Instructor
American Jewish Studies/Modern Jewish Sociology University of Judaism

One of the many problems with this type of study is that the respondent defines himself subjectively rather than by any objective criteria. As a day school principal for 27 years, numerous parents told me that they came from Orthodox families. Subsequent discussion revealed this to be inaccurate. However, parents or grandparents who attended an Orthodox synagogue more than twice a year and kept some form of kosher observance were considered Orthodox even if they worked on Shabbos.

For many years, I worked for a large Orthodox congregation of 700 families, of whom perhaps two dozen were actually Orthodox. Yet the members clearly identified themselves with the Orthodox movement. Such congregations and even Orthodox day schools where the large majority were not observant in the Orthodox manner were very common 30 years ago. Today, this is not common partly because of the rise in the number of non-Orthodox schools. Most Orthodox congregations today have only a few non-Orthodox members.

Dr. Herman may be right in the number who identify with Orthodoxy, but there can be absolutely no doubt that the number of practicing Orthodox Jews is dramatically up. For him to simply dismiss the obvious realities in the number of day school and yeshiva students, synagogues, kosher restaurants, etc., without looking behind the facts or openly discussing the shortcomings of the methods employed smacks of arrogance.

Dr. George Lebovitz, Los Angeles

WJCC

I appreciate the opportunity to have contributed my thoughts to The Jewish Journal's article on the Westside JCC ("In the Center of Controversy," Sept. 22). However, there was such an expanse of time between my interview and publication that the situation is now noticeably different.

I wish to acknowledge the progress on security issues made by the center's administration. I also feel that the core of my personal position was somehow lost in the editing process. I believe that the center is a place with great potential. My willingness to speak out is an expression of my hope for its future.

Karen Benjamin, Los Angeles

Jesus Day

If Fred Sands honestly wants to understand the brouhaha over Gov. George W. Bush's calling June 10, 2000, Jesus Day in Texas (Letters, Sept. 15), I suggest that he give me a call at (310) 854-3381. I will introduce him to Zack, a 12-year-old boy from Texas. As reported on ABC's "20/20," three months before his Bar Mitzvah, Zack was invited to a Southern Baptist youth meeting and coerced by an adult into converting to Christianity. This Southern Baptist even told Zack that he could be Jewish and believe in Jesus at the same time. Zack and his parents will gladly explain the painful difference between "Jesus Day" and "Honor Israel Day."

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz , Jews for Judaism

Fred C. Sands completely misses the point of the "brouhaha over Gov. George W. Bush's proclamation calling June 10, 2000, Jesus Day in Texas."

The point is separation of church and state. Anyone in public office in this country must never blur the line of separation of church and state or people of all religions - particularly the Jewish people - will be in serious trouble.

Sands asks, "Why are Jews so afraid of the mention of Jesus Christ?" It is not the mention of Jesus, but who mentions it and under what circumstances that is frightening. When people are truly religious, they don't push religion everywhere they go. If they do, especially if they are in public office in this country, one has to question their motive.

Let us ask all politicians to respect and adhere to separation of church and state and live each moment of their lives in a religious way but not preach to us about how religious they are.

Roslyn Walker, Marina del Rey

KOREH L.A.

As the first year of operation of KOREH L.A. draws to an end, I wanted to share some interesting statistics with you. Close to 600 KOREH volunteers worked in over 30 schools throughout Los Angeles during the past year. Another 800 people indicated their interest and are waiting to be trained.

In order to evaluate this first year, KOREH L.A. hired two Cal Tech researchers to probe the response of volunteers, teachers and principals to the program. One of the questions posed to the volunteers was where they heard about KOREH L.A. You will be interested to know that over 20 percent of our volunteers first learned about KOREH L.A. from The Jewish Journal.

As we recruit for our second year, we are keeping careful records of where each prospective volunteer heard about the program. The informal information that the KOREH L.A. staff has gathered indicates that close to 25 percent of the prospective volunteers heard about the program from The Jewish Journal.KOREH L.A. has touched the Jewish community in a very deep way. It has allowed many people to put into action their commitment to education and literacy, and especially their commitment to the welfare of our city. As we look forward to a second successful year of KOREH L.A., we thank you very much for your ongoing support.

Elaine Albert, DirectorKOREH L.A.

Teresa Strasser

When I read the letter written by a reader in Mission Viejo (Letters, Sept. 15), I had to respond.This person claims to be "unprejudiced" but seems to be intolerant of interracial marriages. I was unsure from the letter whether this person was more offended by the picture of a white woman in the arms of a Black man or by an assumption that this man was not Jewish.

What I would really like to know is would this reader be offended by my wedding picture - a nice Jewish white girl in the arms of a Black man, who also happens to be Jewish?

Name withheld by request, Los Angeles

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