October 22, 2013
$1 Million for Bloomberg- is That a Good Idea? (And Other Comments)
I can easily explain why Michael Bloomberg is an excellent candidate for the first so-called Jewish Nobel prize. And indeed, yesterday he was announced as "the first recipient of the $1 million Genesis Prize". If one wants to establish a new prize and make it visible, one needs to pick a winner that is a household name. If one wants to make sure a Jewish prize doesn't seem too parochial, one has to look for a figure whose achievements are not "Jewish" achievements, but rather universal achievements. If one wants to strengthen the identification of "Jewish" with "success", "influence", "power", "optimism", "dynamism" – Bloomberg is perfect.
Except that he doesn't really need the one million dollar prize; except that giving him the prize sounds like (Marc Tracy's words) "a joke without a punch line" (by the time he gets the prize, though, Jay Leno will surely come up with a punch line, no?); except that many of the responses I hear from all corners of the Jewish sphere range from amusement to disbelief to anger. "Wealthy Jew Awarded One Million Dollars By Other Wealthy Jews For Being Wealthy Jew", is how Heeb put it.
Surely, this money will be donated by the recipient to a worthy cause. Why then not give the prize directly to the people who are promoting the worthy cause? "Success", "influence", "power", "optimism", "dynamism" is the answer. The Genesis Prize needs fame and prestige. So you could say that in this case the prize needs Bloomberg much more than the mayor needs the prize.
There seems to be a growing sense of discontent among the Orthodox about the Pew study of American Jews. Marvin Schick criticized Pew, saying that "it falls especially short" in "its analysis of the Orthodox". He mainly complains about "reliance on self-identity" among the Orthodox and prefers relying on "scaling" of "behavior and beliefs—and not self-identity" as the "critical determinants of Orthodoxy".
Then there's David Eliezrie – another unhappy reader of Pew. He seems to believe that the Orthodox community was miscounted in this study: "The Pew report states that they weighed the study to offset the fact that Orthodox Jews are focused in specific counties in major metropolitan areas. However, Orthodox Jews don’t just concentrate in counties, they cluster in specific neighborhoods. In Miami Beach and North Miami Beach there are heavy concentrations of Orthodox Jews, but few live in South Dade. If the study did not focus on those specific zip codes than there is a significant chance they undercounted".
Pew's researchers responded to Eliezrie here ("The Pew Research Center went to considerable lengths to obtain a representative sample of Orthodox Jews, including extra interviews in communities where Orthodox Jews are concentrated"). They propose that interested readers should also read the special blog post on Orthodox Jews. The most significant finding of the study – so I believe – is this one: "The retention rate of the Orthodox seems to be improving. In the past, high fertility in the U.S. Orthodox community was at least partially offset by attrition: Roughly half of the survey respondents who were raised as Orthodox Jews say they are no longer Orthodox. But the falloff from Orthodoxy appears to be declining and is significantly lower among 18-to-29-year-olds than among older people". That is, if in the past people were born Orthodox and then moved to other denominations (or to 'no denomination'), today they stay within the Orthodox camp – the high fertility rate isn't leveled off by low retention. The camp can significantly grow.
More Pew news – and not of the happy kind:
Here's a link to my short NYT article on the funeral of rabbi Ovadia Yosef. The point I was trying to make relates to this funeral as a reflection of deep divisions in Israeli society. Rabbi Yosef's death was a window through which we could see a divided country. According to a poll, 45% of Jewish Israelis found the extensive media coverage of the funeral “appropriate”, while 41% said it was “exaggerated”. As millions of mostly religious and traditional Israelis were mourning, even in tears over the passing of a great leader, millions of mostly secular and leftist Israelis were left indifferent at best, or even smirking at their TV screens. When asked how rabbi Yosef “influenced the way you perceive Judaism”, 26% of Jewish Israelis said “positively” – but among secular Israelis (close to half of the Jewish population) merely 5% gave such an answer, with 31% stating that Yosef’s impact was “negative” and 37% stating he didn’t have influence on them.
“If he is the greatest we are in trouble”, wrote columnist and former leader of the leftist Meretz Party, Yossi Sarid. He was in fact quite gentle with a dying rabbi who once called Sarid a “devil”. Still, Sarid's article was denounced as a “hate fest” by Yosef’s followers. If Yosef's death proved anything, it is that two camps of Israel’s society don’t quite speak the same language. They look at reality with different lenses. Religious admirers of the great rabbi can’t understand why other Israelis can’t see through the blunt language and focus on Yosef’s rabbinic moderation and genius. Their secular opponents can’t quite see how rulings related to Jewish law, most of them irrelevant to them, can erase Yosef’s offensive public remarks and partisan politics.
In other words, both camps are half blind. And such blindness to the values and the sensitivities that animate the other breeds alienation and contempt. Thus, Yosef’s last contribution to Israel’s society was this great funeral, which provided us with a mirror with which to see- and possibly to be more appreciative of- what the other half cherishes.