Muslim-Jewish Relations

Our September newsletter focused on Muslim-Jewish relations, and if you've not had the chance to see it yet, it's definitely worth checking out. It gives an overview of our sources on topics from Muslim antisemitism in Sweden, to Jewish-Muslim cooperation, Jewish opposition to the proposed WTC mosque, the ongoing impact of 9/11 on Jewish-Muslim relations in America, memoirs of Jews from Muslim lands, and, of course, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - and much more.

On a related note - the following public statement, written by Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer and cosigned by a group of Rabbis and Jewish educators, was recently released:

As inter-religious educators who work with rabbinical students from all denominations, we are deeply dismayed by some of the ignorance and confusion we have heard expressed in the national conversation surrounding the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.” We are especially concerned when we hear such ignorance and confusion coming from within the Jewish community. Whatever happens with the proposed community center in lower Manhattan, the controversy has highlighted a question that, in the post 9/11 world, comes enmeshed in strong emotion: Is the American ideal of religious liberty—an ideal fundamental to the health of our democracy—expansive enough to include Muslim Americans? We urge rabbis across the country to speak out against the bigotry that has been unleashed by this controversy, and to assert leadership on the issue of religious pluralism. As Jews, we know all too well the destructive power of hate speech. We should be in the forefront of efforts to ensure that religious minorities can practice their traditions freely.

We encourage our students and colleagues in the rabbinate—Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, and independent—to consider using this September 11th, also Shabbat Shuva, as a time to reflect with our communities on our own fears and prejudices, on the need to educate ourselves about Islam, and on the role Jews might play in helping to create a more inclusive and just society. Of course, this is not to preclude any memorial prayers or other ways of remembering those who were killed on 9/11.

We are posting resources of general interest on We are also developing a collection of sample sermons. Please be in touch with one of us if you have a contribution you would like to share.

We look forward to hearing your responses.

L’shana Tova,

Rabbi Justus Baird Director, Center for Multifaith Education, Auburn Theological Seminary

Rabbi Reuven Firestone Professor of Medieval Jewish and Islamic Studies, HUC-JIR/Los Angeles Senior Fellow, Center for Religion and Civic Culture, University of Southern California

Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer Director, Department of Multifaith Studies and Initiatives and Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Rabbi Or Rose Associate Dean, Rabbinical School of Hebrew College Co-Director, Center for Interreligious Leadership Education

Raquel Ukeles, PhD Golda Meir Fellow, Hebrew University of Jerusalem Academic Director, World Leadership Program Jewish Scholar, Luce Retreat for Emerging Muslim and Jewish Religious Leaders

Rabbi Burton Visotsky Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies and Director, Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies, Jewish Theological Seminary of America

Jews Not Very Much Like Me

 Our communities' struggles with diversity, tolerance, and openness play out in many arenas, some of which have been discussed here on the blog - conversion issues, intermarriage, pluralism, and more. What's inside and what's outside? When is tradition actually innovation, and when does innovation become tradition? Sometimes it feels like these questions are tearing our community apart. And maybe sometimes you have to tear some lettuce to make a salad bowl? It's easy to get caught up in a particular discourse about difference, but some things help stretch our scope. For me, reading about exotic-to-me Jewish communities gets my 'Peoplehood' feelings tingly - it's fascinating to me to think about people who feel, at the same time, very strongly connected to me (Peoplehood? Family? Tribe?), and also incredibly different.

Although BJPA mainly focuses on the North American Jewish community, we also have some fascinating resources on more distant communities. My favorite of these is this Hadassah working paper on Jewish women. Centered on women, some of these articles offer information on communities that are barely written about - especially, for example, the article on Jewish women in Latvia. Another Hadassah publication tells part of the history of the Jewish community of Curacao and its process of displacement and assimilation, through the story of The Girls They Left Behind: Curacao's Jewish Women in the Nineteenth Century.

But even those communities seem relatively mainstream, compared to those featured in some fantastic recent Tablet Magazine articles. Today I was riveted by Sarah Marcus' "Mountain Jews", which shares some information about the history and current situation of the  Jewish community in the Caucasus mountains, mainly in Azerbaijan and the Russian republic of Dagestan. These Jews live  in a majority Muslim jurisdiction that struggles to reconcile freedom of religion with freedom from religion, in the aftermath of the  imposed athiesm of the Soviet Regime. One settlement was established in the mid-1800s by a local ruler specifically to be a place of refuge for Jews in the community:

Krasnaya Sloboda is inhabited almost exclusively by Mountain Jews, between 2,000 and 5,000 of them, according to various estimates. In the mid-18th century the khan of Guba, Hussein, established Yevraiskaya Sloboda, literally “Jewish settlement,” as a place for Jews to live safe from attack. His son and successor, Feteli, so the story goes, decreed that if anyone came to attack the town, the Jews should light fires and he would see them from across the river and send help to defend the inhabitants.

Today, these Jews generally report feeing accepted and safe in Azerbaijan, and it seems that they have become somewhat of a political instrument. Nowadays, Azerbaijan buys arms from Israel and hosts an Israeli embassy.

In the early days of Azeri independence the authorities deliberately reached out to the Jewish communities, realizing that they could be a magnet for the organized Jewish community in the United States, with its impressive lobbying power, said Murinson.

Last month, Matthew Fishbane wrote about the Jews in Medellin, Colombia, a community that seems both brand new and ancient. In 2004, Juan Carlos (now Elad) Villegas stood in front of his 2,600 evangelical Christian congregation and apologized for leading them astray. A couple of years later, he secured a Torah scroll and a Kabbalist Rabbi who flew to Colombia and oversaw his Jewish education and conversion, along with dozens of other former Christians. They see themselves as descendants of conversos and point to cultural and genetic evidence of the fact that they were in some sense Jewish all along. Fishbane shares some of that evidence, and this story of hints and clues in ritual persistence and cultural resistance is one part of the article I find especially interesting - how the community uses (and doesn't use) pig products in its cuisine, remnants of mikvahs, mezuzahs hidden in Mary statues, and more:

...the stereotypes sure do add up. Paisas refer to themselves as a nation and a race... [and] prefer to marry within the tribe. They are reputed to be spendthrifts, excellent merchants, big debaters, tireless colonizers, and they make a formidable paramilitary... the Barrientos helped create San Pedro cemetery where they could be separate, along with 50 other families, from the riff-raff buried in San Lorenzo. In 1910, the families that founded this cemetery asked the archbishop to consecrate the ground. He agreed, on the condition that the private owners certify the cemetery as Catholic. They refused. The tombstones are rife with Sephardic names like Sénior, Peres, and Salzedo. A local newspaper report on the Barrientos, on the occasion of the conversion of their Art Deco family house into a downtown public library, described them as being “characterized by big, eagle noses” and “silent, shy personalities.” At the library, I asked if the immersion bath in the patio, beautifully restored to its original decorative tile, was Jewish. “No,” the librarian answered, a little perplexed. “It was just their luxurious bathtub. My grandfather has one of those at his farm.”

This small community is learning and using Ladino and re-creating tradition nearly from scratch.

 And sometimes the diversity closest to home can be the most complicated to deal with. Although the community in Fishbane's article gets its fair share of harsh comments (on the authenticity of the community, the quality of the conversion, etc), the Jews in the article on Kohenet, the Hebrew Priestess Institute, are pretty much maligned. They describe their practice as earth-based Judaism, grounded in Jewish tradition and texts, but it sounds pretty pagan to many commenters, though the charge of paganism is explicitly addressed in the article itself.

Generation Gap?

The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs recently published an interview with BJPA director Steven M. Cohen as part of their Changing Jewish Community Series. In that piece, Cohen shares reflections from his decades of work in Jewish demography, with a particular focus on what 'younger Jews' (under 40 - being Jewish is like drinking the fountain of youth, is there another community so generous in its definition of young?) are like today.

The interview contains a lot of tidbits that probably won't surprise people - younger Jews tend to feel less attached to Zionism and Israel, tend to place a lower value on denominational and ideological affiliation, to resist coercive expectations, to more highly value choice and individuality, and to place emphasis on Jewish principles and culture rather than Jewish security.

But one of the more unusual and most interesting aspects of the interview is Prof. Cohen's self-reflectiveness as a baby boomer looking outside and forwards from his own generation.

"In the year 2000, together with Arnold Eisen, now chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary [JTS], I had written The Jew Within.[2] It explained how our generation, the Baby Boomers, differed from that of our parents who came of age during the Depression. After finishing the book, I honestly thought that American Judaism had taken individualism to the most extreme form possible. I couldn't imagine that there could be even further growth of this version of American Jewish individualism.

The idea that baby boomers see/saw themselves as the pinnacle of civilization is a common enough critique. Is Professor Cohen's apparent conclusion that the next generation has done a similar thing as his own, only taken it further, another instance of that, or its opposite?

Given my own background and the way I view such matters, I regard the current younger generations as extending the principles of the Jewish sovereign self that Arnold Eisen and I first described in The Jew Within. They are extending and elaborating the major elements we discerned: autonomy, volunteerism, personalism, nonjudgmentalism, and journeyism. As I said earlier, I just could not imagine anyone taking those principles any further. It never occurred to me that the next generation would, albeit with firm and passionate Jewish commitment, take the principles of individualism and sovereign self even further than we had observed among Boomer types in the mid-nineties.

Studies of secular society have shown that there is in fact less of a generation gap between the boomers (especially later boomers) and their children than there had been between the boomers and their own parents. Cohen's interview notes that a lot of the support for the new kind of Jewish ritual, work and culture that the younger generation is creating comes from established Jewish organizations. Interestingly, too, the younger generation often agrees with the boomers that the boomers did it (whatever it is) better!

If we accept Cohen's view of the situation as the younger generation following in the Boomers' footsteps (just perhaps further and faster), it does create an interesting paradox. On the one hand, this younger generation is in continuity with the Boomers, and on the other, Cohen posits that every generation tends to see itself in opposition with preceding ones:

Each wave of Jewish innovation sees itself as at once alienated from its predecessors, bringing more excitement to Jewish life, setting new norms, and overcoming unnecessary boundaries. I'm sure the founders of B'nai B'rith, Hadassah, Young Israel, and the UJA [United Jewish Appeal] all saw themselves that way. Certainly, my generation saw its elders' Jewish ways as alien, bland, and boring, and coercive around the wrong issues.

In terms of the new generation's 'alienation from its predecessors,' Cohen presents an ABC of critiques:

A stands for alienation, in that younger Jews feel alienated from conventional and longstanding Jewish institutions, customs, practices, and so forth. B refers to the sense that they find established institutional life bland and boring. It seems predictable in tone and content and populated by a predictable demographic of upper-middle-class, middle-aged, in-married, family people. C refers to the coercive features of Jewish life, especially its strong preference for in-marriage and seemingly unquestioning support for the state of Israel. And D stands for divisive. Younger Jews see their parents' generation sharply dividing Jews from non-Jews, Jews from other Jews - such as along denominational lines - putatively Jewish culture from non-Jewish culture, and Jewish institutional turf from non-Jewish turf.

So which is it? Are we in line with our parents but just don't like to see it? Were the Boomers less out of line with their parents than they thought? In terms of Jewish innovation, where does the creation of the Federation system in the very early 1900s fit in? The massive organizational effort behind early Zionism? The very creation of the denominations/movements which we're now innovating away from? Are we actually moving in some direction, or just responding to the successive cultural situations in which we find ourselves, and playing out our parent issues in the mean time? Does it always make sense to talk about trends in generational terms?


Suddenly there was a voice from the corner of the room. An Israeli, part of the contingent of soldiers who joined the group for five days, spoke in halting English: "Don't you understand? If there were a war in America against the Jews, I'd fight for you. The people of Sderot-- they are our people. We are one people."

That's the vision of Jewish peoplehood - and of Zionism - that I was raised with. As a youngish North-American-raised Jew, sentiments like these seem to put me firmly in the minority.

At least, that's the impression one gets from the discussions in the BJPA and the UJA-Federation of New York Commission on the Jewish People's four part seminar on "Interrogating Jewish Peoplehood," held over the course of 2010. In the context of an urgent anxiety about the future of Judaism in general and the American Jewish community in particular, a group of committed, and mostly older, Jewish leaders discussed their understandings of the notion of Jewish peoplehood and how that notion can or should or will be played out in the next and coming generations.

At the conclusion of the seminar, Clare Hedwat, Planning Manager of the Commission, produced a report that summarizes and reflects on some of the content, questions, and conclusions that arose over the course of these conversations. The quote above frames the report.

It is fitting that the report would open on that note since the issue of the Jewish state, its meaning for young Jews and the meaning and consequences of the rift between generations on the proper role of Israel in Jewish identity and activity runs throughout the report:

We fail as a community if we unwittingly ask the younger generation to make a choice between universalism and particularist Jewish concerns. If we ask young people to decide between the two, intentionally or otherwise, we are not guaranteed they will stay within our pews. 

Our greatest communal challenge lies with those who don’t care enough, don’t know enough or are too turned off to voice any opinion at all. JStreet does not constitute a problem of Jewish peoplehood. J Streeters voice criticism of Israel: put simply, they take Israel seriously enough to critique and aspire to change. The real problem for Jewish Peoplehood in our time is presented by those who totally reject the notion that the Jewish People or the state of Israel has any claim whatsoever on them. In our conversation, Prof. Steven M. Cohen referred to such Israel-rejectionists with the rabbinic term, Rasha, referring to the wicked son in the haggadah who claims to see no value in Judaism’s precepts and commandments.

The issue of Jewish responsibility to the Jewish state, Israel, flows into a discussion of responsibility to the Jewish "nation,"... beginning with a Biblical passage about the Gadites and the Reubenites and how they came to participate in the conquest of the land of Israel without coming to permanently settle there. And so even the scriptural-based discussion of what it means to be on the inside of the Jewish/not-Jewish boundary and Jewish responsibility to Jews is, at least, framed by the relationship of the People to the Land.

In the scheme of history, the decades since the founding of Israel constitute the shortest blip. But whatever combination it is of the prevalance of concern with Israel (whether positively or negatively) in the American Jewish community and the thousands of years of religious tradition connecting the People to the Land scripturally and liturgically, it seems nearly impossible to talk about the notion of Jewish peoplehood apart from the Jewish land, even when the mission statement of the seminar barely referred to that whole can of worms at all.

The other theme that arose was kinship and family - the idea that our connection to each other as Jews can best be understood,and presumably emotionally experienced, the way we experience and accept the notion of family.

We may question aspects of Israeli society without doubting the inherent link between Israel and world Jewry and the responsibility we have to Israel as a Jewish people. On the other hand, we intuitively understand that Messianic Jews (who believe in Jesus), or Jews who do not recognize the state of Israel, are effectively ‘outside’ of the family and the Jewish peoplehood conversation. Halachically speaking, one cannot “de- Jew” oneself. In terms of Jewish peoplehood, we are able to identify those who have removed themselves from normative discourse on issues pertaining to the Jewish nation. As David Mallach noted, we recognize what peoplehood is not. As Rabbi Gordon Tucker elaborated, we understand the implications of kinship.

It does seem true that we viscerally understand the implications of kinship. But modernity is also challenging the notion that 'you can't choose your family.' Our understandings of family, both cultural and legal, don't necessarily seem static enough to rely on even as a metaphor. And too, how much work can a posited shared emotional 'understanding' do in making connections among Jews, if not defining them?

The report concludes, as many good Jewish efforts do, with the promise of more questions and more talk:

Perhaps the greatest challenge as posed by the series is how to provide venues in which the conversation can continue, and how we may channel them in ways that provide new directions in which we may work, increasing the opportunities of engagement with Jewish peoplehood in relevant and creative ways.

I do get the sense that in the mean time, at least, we do seem stuck being the People Israel, and the people of Israel - but of course that may well be due to my bias because of the emotional standpoint where my particular Jewish family experience  has stood me.

The full report is available on BJPA, as are more resources on Jewish peoplehood, Israel-Diaspora relations, and Jewish attachment to Israel.



What's Your #ish? - Campaigning Through Active Listening

By now, many of you have probably seen the Jewish Federations of North America #ish campaign.

JFNA, with the help of its marketing agencies, is asking you (especially if you're 18-36) to share your #ish - something about what being Jewish means to you - on Twitter, Facebook, or their own microsite.

In return for each #ish shared, Federation promises to donate 25 cents, up to a total of $50,000. But the campaign isn't about fundraising - the total budget of the campaign i about 250k-300k. It's about branding and awareness and reaching out to young adults.

It's an interesting strategy.

Derek Shevel, creative director at Taxi New York, says it is important that the campaign “can’t feel too much like advertising,” because “you’ve got to open up a conversation where” the members of the target audience “feel they’re controlling it.”-New York Times, May 16th, "You Don't Have to Be Jewish to Love this Campaign"

This approach resonates with research on the Jewish idenitity of young people. In "Grande Soy Vanilla Latte with Cinnamon, No Foam..." Jewish Identity and Community in a Time of Unlimited Choices, for example, discusses how the cultural emphasis on choice, even to a consumeristic extent of defining and having things exactly as you like them, has trickled down into the way that young adults approach their conception of themselves as Jews. "What's your #ish?" seems tailored to appeal to that impulse. It's personal, not institutional.

The study also found that, in fact, young Jews have less awareness and feel little connection to even major Jewish institutional organizations - a state that this campaign is meant to address, at least with regard to Jewish Federations.

In some ways, then, this campaign seems to be exactly what is necessary for its time. From a historical perspective, it's an interesting development.

It's been over a hundred years since the federation of Jewish organizations into unified bodies was the gleam in some of our ancestors' eyes.

In 1909, Jacob H. Hollander published "The Unification of Jewish Communal Activities," in which he lauded the new movement of federation of local charities into unified bodies as a brilliant and necessary evolutionary step towards increasing efficiency of fundraising and service delivery and reducing labor redundancy (the piece also contains an interesting discussion about the status of Russian Jewish immigrants in American communities).

Joseph Jacobs' 1917 article, The Federation Movement in American Jewish Philanthropy is a good source for an early history of the federation movement. It recaps the earliest federation processes, starting in Boston, and reflects on federation's benefits for communities. Its focus is not only on efficiency, but also, and in contrast to the modern individualistic take, cooperation. It actually uses the word "impersonal" in its praise for the new system

…the whole plane of Jewish philanthropy, it is claimed, is raised by this more dignified method of collecting and distributing the means by which charity lives. Appeals can no longer be made on the ground of personal friendship, but are purely of a spiritual and philanthropic character…A more democratic spirit is also claimed to be evolved by federation. Each institution, however small its income, has its representative on the Central Board, and can feel that it is performing a useful function in the communal organism. When occasions arise on which a general appeal has to be made for charitable purposes, it would perhaps come with more force from a central body representing the consensus of philanthropic activity in the community, than if it emanated from the directors of a single institution. To all these claims is added the signal one, that the whole tone of charitable activity is raised to a higher atmosphere when personal interests and rivalries are eliminated in favor of a more impersonal and altruistic method of collection and disbursement.

The enterprise seems pervaded by a very bureaucratic spirit that seems both out of sync with today's zeitgeist, but also somewhat inspiring. For a more detailed look at the intricacies of bureaucracy involved in the organization of these ventures, there's this 1919 article, Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies of New York City, which tells the story of how Manhattan and the Bronx Jewish agenices confederated (Brooklyn was way ahead of them). It includes the bylaws of the organization, funding and voting rights information ($10k of contributions got an agency one vote), a list of the New York machers involved (including Jacob H. Schiff), and more.

Times change, institutions change with them, and above all else, marketing must keep up. I hope that the #ish campaign will be successful at keeping the Federation system, which was brilliant from its very beginnings, lively and relevant for future generations. I also hope that the beauty of its original spirit of efficient communitarianism can also be remembered and sustained. But of course it makes sense that a BJPA #ish would include bringing historical data and wisdom to present and future Jewish undertakings.

Jewish American sensibilities, Priv-lit, and Mussar

Rabbi Geoffrey Claussen recently wrote about "The American Jewish Revival of Mussar" for the Institute of Advanced Cultural Studies at the University of Virginia.

To summarize and paraphrase all too quickly, the Mussar movement arose in the early-mid 1800s. It emphasized the development of personal virtue as a Jewish religious value, asking practitioners to devote time and energy to introspection, self-criticism, and the development of a position of humility and service. The original movement was largely wiped out by the Holocaust, but it has recently experienced a revival in the United States, and largely among the non-Orthodox community.

In discussing the attractions and challenges that Mussar holds for modern Jews, Claussen repeatedly refers to the 1998 study, "The Jew Within: Self, Community, and Commitment Among the Variety of Moderately Affiliated," by Steven M. Cohen and Arnold Eisen. On the one hand, the personal and individualistic nature of Mussar practice resonate with some of the common values that, the study found, are common among modern and particularly young Jews. On the other hand, the demand for personal sacrifice and subjugation of the individual will to the greater values found in the religious tradition seem to go against the grain of many of the modern tools for personal development - therapy, self-help, empowerment, etc.

Bitch Magazine recently published an emphatic critique of some of these current trends in personal development (particularly focused on women). In "Eat, Pray, Spend", Joshunda Sanders and Diana Barnes-Brown coin the term "priv-lit" to refer to a certain corpus of modern publishing, encompassing books like the personal memoir "Eat, Pray, Love" to, well, most of Oprah (according to the authors). They criticize a culture that seems to conflate consumerism and personal development, that seems to place an obligation of happiness/personal development on women - an obligation that requires the expenditure of, in these times, increasingly scarce personal income, and which seems to offer personal development as a commodity to a privileged class that can afford to pay for therapy, yoga, and travel.

If there are Jews who are feeling a need for personal actualization and individualistic Jewish practice/identity, and who are also either poor-to-poorish, or riding anti-consumerist trends (and there do seem to be!) the Mussar movement, with its humble, personal approach to virtue-building and character development, seems like it could be a great vehicle for engaging the 'moderately affiliated.'

The Mussar Institute offers a 13 lesson 'Season of Mussar' program for $100 - whether that's more expensive commoditizing of personal development or a cheap investment (that pays overworked and underpaid Jewish professionals) for personal development depends where exactly along the spectrum of wealth/anti-consumerism one stands. In any case, the philanthropic wealth that currently supports all kinds of efforts to engage Jews and support Jewish continuity could probably make opportunities like this (and others) go quite a long way. Perhaps there are some issues about the commoditization of the mussar movement for Jewish outreach to be considered - but maybe it would be good for all of us anyway.

The Jewish Community is NOT Sufficiently Welcoming to Intermarried Families: A Response

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about BJPA Director Steven M. Cohen's thesis that the obstacle to the participation of intermarried families in Jewish organizational life is not a lack of welcome but rather a lack of perceived competence.

Now, Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute, and Edmund Case, CEO of, have responded to Professor Cohen's claim, in an editorial on EJewishPhilanthropy: There is Still Work to Be Done on Welcoming Intermarried Families.

They assert that the question (and responses) on which Professor Cohen based his conclusion do not support his conclusion, and also take issue of his characterization of how the 'outreach community' has defined and understood the concept of welcoming.

Paul Golin, who commented here on this blog, has also written more extensively on this issue at Jewcy: Continued Confusion about Intermarriage. There, he gets into the question of what Jewish identity means and can mean, if we can sufficiently decouple it from birth status - the beginning of a deep conversation about Jewish tradition and values.

On a certain level, these questions demand us to think about some of the questions raised by my co-blogger here, Seth Chalmer, in his series on pluralism as well as his critique of Adam Bronfman: What does it mean to be Jewish - what is fundamental, what is periphery, and where are the boundaries.

Responses to this question, whether draped in the clothing of halacha or academia, can stem from a deep emotional place - and that, I think, is good. We *should* be emotional about these issues and if we can be openly emotional, maybe we can have a conversation that brings us closer together instead of farther apart.

Jewish identity, something different from national identity, different from religious identity (at least as understood by the culturally dominant Western religions), different from ethnic or racial identity, doesn't easily let itself be pinned down. It reminds of me of the question of what constitutes family. Thinking about the current manifestations of that question - political and cultural controversy over gay marriage, civil unions, open adoption, closed adoption, second-parent adoption, paternity rights, inheritance rights, divorce, and so on, I am actually somewhat comforted that maybe after all we're not doing that badly.

Holocaust Survivors: Still Poor

 The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation recently announced[pdf] a $10M grant for an emergency fund to serve the needs of Holocaust survivors living in North America.

The situation of Holocaust survivors is troubling:

It is estimated that there are more than 500,000 Holocaust survivors worldwide, with more than 144,000 victims living in North America. The remaining Nazi victims live mostly in Israel and the Former Soviet Union. The average age of a Nazi victim is 79 years with nearly one-­?quarter of victims 85-­?years-­?old or older. One in four aging survivors lives alone in the U.S. and an estimated 37% live at or below the poverty level, a level that is five times the rate of other senior citizens in the United States.

Not only are Holocaust survivors poorer than their age peer cohort, they also often face distinct challenges in terms of their needs and care. Lucy Steinitz's research on Psychosocial Effects of the Holocaust on Aging Survivors and Their Families (1984) noted that even where good quality institutional care is available, those who can prefer to keep their survivor parents out institutions

"because of the parallels—however benign and unintended—between the total institution of a hospital ward or nursing home and that of a concentration camp...a colleague once told me about an elderly survivor in a New York institution who confused the nursing home bathrooms with the gas chambers in Auschwitz."

Caring for Holocaust Survivors: Rethinking the Paradigms is a useful resource that includes a brief survey of the history of attitudes towards Holocaust survivors and their needs, from post-war onwards. It tells the story of how those attitudes have shifted while nevertheless continuing to perpetuate important blind spots - as they tend to be more reflective of the needs of the current generation than of the survivor generation.

One program that aims to serve the needs the  needs of Holocaust survivors is the Montreal Cumming's Jewish Centre for Seniors, whose Services for Holocaust Survivors include the centre profiled in A Drop-In Centre for Holocaust Survivors: Inspiring Hope, Meaning, and Purpose

This new grant will be administered by the long established and experienced New York based Claims Conference, which already has a structure in place to efficiently distribute the funds to survivors on an emergency basis for needs including medical equipment and medications, dental care, transportation, food, and short--?term home care.

(More information on survivors in Israel - Health Problems and Socioeconomic Neediness Among Jewish Shoah Survivors in Israel - and the world Jewish population  - Review of Relevant Demographic Information on World Jewry). 

Thesis: The Jewish Community is Sufficiently Welcoming Towards Intermarried Families

In a recent study reported in the Forward, BJPA director Prof. Steven M. Cohen claims that it's not a lack of welcome but a (real and perceived) lack of competence that's keeping intermarried families out of Jewish institutions.

Cohen’s conclusion was that most interfaith couples feel like they have an open invitation to be part of Jewish life. The real problem, he said, is that they feel like they don’t know what to do with that invitation.

“It’s not that they feel unwelcome, but that there is a competence barrier,” Cohen said. “They feel that their kids will be expected to do things they don’t know how to do, and they themselves don’t want to be part of a community where they don’t know the choreography.”

“I don’t have the evidence to make a strong claim for competency being the issue,” Cohen said. “But I certainly can say that it’s not a matter of being more welcoming. So I don’t want to push the competence thing too far. But I am willing to say that stigmatization and the response of welcoming, making personnel more sensitive to the intermarried and watching your language and having smiling ushers is not going to be effective.”

(The finding arose in the context of a study for the Foundation for Jewish Camp about how to attract children of intermarriages to Midwestern Jewish camps).

Interestingly, in a 2007 editorial in the Jerusalem Post, Paul Golin, of the Jewish Outreach Institute, accused Prof. Cohen of 'splitting the Jewish community' by focusing entirely on promoting inmarriage and essentially, according to Golin, writing off intermarried families as a lost cause and speaking of intermarriage only in terms of something to be avoided. Golin writes:

“...we should be devising ways to ensure that the already intermarried and children of intermarriage have access to [existing Jewish] programming. Cohen provides no strategies for that goal. Page after page of explanation about how weakly intermarried Jews are connected to Judaism imply that it is not relevant to consider them in our programming.

Cohen's suggestion that lack of competence (and not lack of welcome) is the barrier to intermarried families' participation in Jewish institutions can be read as an answer to that charge: it identifies a specific problem area (perceived competence) and suggests the possibility of a solution (beyond simply promoting in-marriage).

But not everybody accepts his new findings: “I work with interfaith families every day, and the stories that I hear are not the stories of comfort that he is trying to suggest,” said Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, Golin's colleague and executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute.

One poignant example of a not very comforting story comes up in Tablet Magazine's report on burial and intermarried families. Traditionally, there has been no space for non-Jews in Jewish cemeteries. Recently, the Conservative Movement's Rabbinical Assembly took a progressive position to permit intermarried families to be buried within a Jewish cemetery, but in a strictly divided off section. Brooklyn's Reform Congregation Beth Elohim's Rabbi's response was:

“It’s like they are saying that they are segregated in life and not welcome in perpetuity."

That sentiment was echoed by a congregant:

“Personally, being in a mixed marriage, my wife and I never thought about what would happen when we passed away,” said Pisano. “I always thought there would be space for me and my wife, never thinking I couldn’t be buried there.” He added, “I’m like a shoemaker with no shoes.”

(Beth Elohim is currently attempting to purchase a burial ground specifically meant to accommodate a shared burial space for both intermarried and  in-married familes).

Another example is found in various Jewish responses to Chelsea Clinton's upcoming marriage to a Jewish man: “As a rabbi, I would be delighted to see Chelsea convert," Rabbi David Wolpe, a Conservative Jew who leads Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, recently told The Daily Beast. "That would be my dream scenario." Although phrased positively, this is another expression of intermarried families as sub-optimal, if not actually undesirable.

According to Cohen's research, however, incidents like these do not actually add up to an unwelcoming environment for intermarried families – or at least an unwelcoming environment that actually affects their participation in Jeiwsh communities. Perhaps that explains why, in a recent USA Today article, Prof. Cohen did not mince words in describing intermarriage as “the greatest single threat to Jewish continuity today.”

"New Thinking on the Day School Affordability Crisis"

In this newly published article, Allen Selis and Elena Weinstein, self-described "loyal supporters of Jewish day schools," offer two main suggestions for dealing with the cost of day schools:

  1. Bail faster - get more money into Jewish day schools
  2. Focus on where it matters - if  twelve years of Jewish education are not affordable, focus on the six years of middle school and high school


I wonder - who is this funding really for? Is our goal universal day school education or is it to create a cadre of educated, committed Jews who will be in the position to provide leadership to their communities?

The conventional wisdom is that Jewish day school education has a positive impact on future Jewish commitment, which seems plausible even though so far the research on the ground is thin: A Study of the Effects of Intensive Jewish Secondary Education on Adult Jewish Lifestyles: Secondary School Graduates, Philadelphia, PA, 1976-77.

Even if so, it seems that children of parents so highly motivated as to choose financially lucrative careers *and* to choose to spend their remuneration on day school are the most likely to be able to take advantage and reap the benefits of what Steven Brown called 'other forms of gateways into Judaism'. If liberal and modern orthodox communities (because right wing orthodox communities are already the most successful at achieving universal or close to universal day school education) really believe in the day school system as the solution to creating 'mass', continuity, it doesn't make sense to direct our attention to already highly invested families - where is the public relations campaign to marginally affiliated families? Where is the theoretical work on what it would mean for American Jews to segregate themselves out of the public education system?

Are we in a chicken and egg situation, where, given the high expense of day school, we've just given up on the possibility of persuading rank and file Jews to invest in Jewish educations, yet as long as there's not broadbased participation, we'll continue to lack the funding to make a day school education attractive and feasible for that same community?

The authors offer anecdotes of parents who are highly motivated to send their children to day schools and willing to make significant financial sacrifices to do so. The implication is that such families shouldn't be excluded from the benefits of the day school system. But what about children whose parents don't care that much?  In an admittedly different financial climate, Yosef Abramowitz suggested that day schools get funding by borrowing against future Jewish giving (Federation endowments) on the bet that increased funding for day schools now will increase donations later. Yet even in that article, the 'progressive' school financial aid policy to not permit cost to be a barrier to Jewish education leaves his family in the position of not saving enough for the future, which is acceptable to him because "the investment we're making in our children's souls is priceless." I don't see that balancing equation easily finding broad universal acceptance among less affiliated Jews.

The funding option that seems to offer the most potential for broadbased participation in Jewish education by families who don't already prioritize their children's religious education over their retirement funding is 'school choice', government funded vouchers for private religious schools. As it is, however, Jewish political support for public funding for religious education is found, nearly exclusively, in the same elements of the Jewish community that already spend their own assets on day schools. It will be an uphill battle to persuade the broader liberal Jewish community that not only are vouchers for religious schools not problematic from a religion and state angle but that it is also in their own interest. Again - where is this theoretical and persuasive material? Where are standards of 'affordability' and 'accessibility' that will feel progressive to parents not willing to consider jeopardizing their vacations, let alone their retirement, for a Jewish day school education for their children?

The reality underneath the rhetoric seems to be that a relatively small portion of the liberal Jewish community is working very hard to create and fund a Jewish educational system that is capable of creating a Jewishly-educated elite drawn from families that are already (at leas t mostly) on the wealthy side of the spectrum (some families don't have vacations or luxuries to give up) and already highly committed to Judaism and full time Jewish education. In fact, there's nothing wrong with that. It's possible that that is in fact the way forward to getting the most efficient return on investment in full time Jewish education. It would be nice to have an open conversation about what that means, and how day schools and the communities that support them could best be organized to get maximum benefit from that model.

 For more information, see the BJPA materials on day schools, the YU Institute for University-School Partnership resources on day school affordability, and the PEJE series on affordability.

"Continuity and Change"

"Continuity and Change" - doesn't it have a nice ring to it? BJPA authors agree:

A total of 92 BJPA articles include the term "continuity and change" and a Google search for "continuity and change" jewish yields 55,000 results. Is this a buzzword to spurned or an ethos to be embraced? Sometimes things are cliché for a reason, right?

Negotiating Civil Liberties: Inclusion for Some

Last week, Lynn Schusterman, chair of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, wrote an op-ed, "Embrace LGBT Jews as vital members of the community" calling on Jewish organizations to enact non-discrimination hiring policies that specifically mention sexual orientation, and called on funders to make their support contingent on the adoption and practice of such policies.

Adopting formal non-discrimination policies -- and ensuring their implementation -- will help us achieve two goals: 1, they will indicate to LGBT individuals that the Jewish community is committed to full LGBT inclusion; and 2, they will guarantee that our institutions are walking the talk when it comes to being welcoming and diverse.

This week, Nathan Diament, director of the Institute for Public Affairs of the Orthodox Union, wrote a response, "Don’t exclude in the name of inclusion", arguing that the religious values of Orthodox organizations require them to practice discriminatory hiring based on sexual orientation. Therefore,  Schusterman's suggestion, if fully enacted, would result in a severe reduction of funding to Orthodox institutions.


As it happens, the government of the United States of America has this same problem!

For over a decade, some in Congress have been trying to pass ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act), an act that makes sexual orientation and gender identity protected grounds for non-discrimination. As Schusterman, notes, thousands of Jews have lobbied in support of that act. As Diament notes, some of those Jews lobbied in support of an exception for religious organizations to permit them to keep legally discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity. (That exception is incorporated into the current version of the act).

According to Diament, that exception "protects the right of religious communities to make their own employment decisions in this sensitive area.” In contrast, Schusterman's proposal to Jewish donors would "admittedly in the private sphere, champion gay rights over religious liberty without even acknowledging the competing values, let alone trying to strike a balance between them" and "expand some civil rights at the expense of others." In effect, he accuses Schusterman of hypocrisy.

In fact, several Jewish organizations (Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and the National Council of Jewish Women) recently collaborated on an amicus brief[pdf] (in a case about whether universities that receive government funding could provide support to student groups that practice discrimination), and specifically mentioned the spectre of the exemption of religious organizations that receive federal funding from non-discrimination requirements as an outcome to be avoided (in that case, discrimination based on religion, as opposed to sexuality).

So Shusterman is advocating for the same policy for Jewish funders as these Jewish organizations advocated for government funders. On the other hand, the Union of Orthodox Congregations of America and Agudath Israel of America supported the opposing amicus brief[pdf].

I don't see hypocrisy here - I see different (and consistent) views on how the balance between religious liberty and gay rights (as Diament puts it) should be struck. The ADL, JCPA, and NCJW strike in favor of gay rights, and the OU and Agudath Israel strike in favor of religious liberties.

Because what Diament obscures ("The Orthodox Union is on record supporting carefully crafted initiatives that seek to ensure principles of tolerance, anti-discrimination and the fair treatment of all citizens") is that only one value can predominate. In both cases, CLS v. Martinez, and in the case of Shusterman's proposal, the OU is on the record supporting religious liberties over gay rights.

The OU's consistent position, whether with regard to public or private funding, makes it less surprising that would Diament would uncritically equate an act of the federal government to the act of a private organization. One key difference, of course, is that if Schusterman's proposal were enacted, Orthodox institutions could continue to seek funding from Orthodox donors whereas religious organizations could not so easily escape the jurisdiction of the American government.

But there is an even bigger problem with Diament's conflation of the religious liberties of religious organizations versus the government and the religious liberties Orthodox organizations versus private Jewish funders:

Diament is in fact arguing is that religious liberty should allow Orthodox Jews to discriminate against gays and lesbians, but that private Jewish (non-Orthodox) funders should not have the religious liberty to 'discriminate' in favor of civil rights for gays and lesbians.

This position holds water if you believe that Orthodox Judaism represents a legitimate religious conviction worthy of protection and non-Orthodox Judaism does not.

Diament also makes an ethical/fraternal argument that Jews who donate to Jewish organizations (whether $5 to their local federation or $2M in the care of their own foundation) have an obligation to support Orthodox institutions that discriminate against lesbians and gays - not doing so would "inflict real harm upon many already underfunded schools and other charities and those they serve [and] would drive a wedge through the heart of those institutions designed to bring our diverse community together." Yet, he makes no argument that Orthodox funding should support Jewish GLBT organizations and is actually arguing that Orthodox institutions must have the right to discriminate against lesbian and gay Jews.

This position holds water if you believe that supporting and including Orthodox Jews is more important than supporting and including gay and lesbian Jews.

I (personally) would suggest (beg, plead, shout, implore) that Lynn Schusterman and others not accept Diament's closing instruction that they must, "if their real goal is liberty and justice for all," follow the example of the Orthodox Union.

(Finally, I invite you to peruse some of BJPA's materials on religious liberty and human rights and LGBT issues which cover a fair variety of perspectives, whereas the opinions here are mine alone).

[Cross-posted at Jewschool]

Is the fundraiser the new social worker?

In an earlier post, I surveyed some of the history of the development of Jewish communal service as a profession and of the institutions of learning developed in the service of that profession.

That was then, this is now. In her recent piece in Contact Magazine, The Elusive Fundraiser: A Complex Situation with Simple Solutions," Amy Sales discusses the causes of the shortage - increased demand for fundraisers; high turnover due to low job satisfaction, high burnout, and professional poaching; and a lack of organizational understanding of how to work with a development professional - and offers simple - and familiar sounding - solutions.

"Increase the talent pool... Support for continuing education and professional development"

2010, Sales: Increase the talent pool. With support, Jewish communal service and professional leadership programs could train more students for careers in development. Funded scholarships for advanced degrees with a specialization in development would attract and prepare more professional fundraisers in the Jewish community. Their degrees would put graduates on a level with other executives and accord them the respect and power they merit and need in order to do their jobs. Funded internships would give Jewish young adults an opportunity to try out a career in development, gain experience and skills, and build their resumes...
1958, Arnulf Pins, The Jewish Social Work Student: Some Research Data About Him and Their Implications for the Shortage of Jewish Community Center Workers: Do whatever possible to increase the quality of our service and the competence and compensation of our present professional staff. This will help attract and keep professional staff. 2. Provide meaningful and well-supervised work experience for our summer and parttime staff. This will do more than anything else to recruit people for our field.

"Build support" - helping organizations develop a "culture of fundraising"

2010, Sales: ..the network of colleagues is perhaps the greatest benefit of the program. Indeed, development directors have little contact with others in their profession and few trusted people to turn to for support and advice when the going gets tough (as it frequently does). In this vein, much could be done to create communities of inquiry, a professional association or regular gatherings of development professionals in the Jewish community 1975, David Dubin, The Social Work Function in the Jewish Community Center: 6) The JCC should clearly define its social work function, identify its social work staff clearly, and project this in­ formation to the center's constituency. 8) Social work principles are reflected in the administrative relationships and procedures which govern the delivery of social work services. 10) Membership and participation in appropriate professional associations should be encouraged. 13) The Center should encourage social work staff to develop and maintain communication with other social work­ers in the community.

"Change the mindset"

2010, Sales: ...executive directors and boards of trustees of Jewish organizations need to understand that fundraising is everyone's job, not just that of the development director...Changing the mindset also entails the study of Jewish teachings that underlie the work of the fundraiser. Study reminds the development professional and top leadership of the importance of this work and its profound purpose and meaning.
1975, David Dubin, The Social Work Function in the Jewish Community Center: 1) JCC's should require that all social workers, includign the agency executive director and assistant executive director carry ongoing direct practice responsibilities with  members (Boards, committees and supervision are not direct practice!)... 8) Social work principles are reflected in the administrative relationships and procedures which govern the delivery of social work services.
1981, Bernard Reisman, The Jewish Component in the Training Programs of Jewish Communal Workers: Values are important in all professions both to provide guidelines for the work of the practitioner and to engender confi­dence by the recipients of the service in the judgment of the professional. A value orientation is particularly vital in Jewish communal work.

So - did whatever we did before work? Is it time to do it again? For fundraisers?

Fruits and Roots of Jewish Communal Service Scholarship

We were proud to announce in our June newsletter that we've just added 12 master's theses by HUC-JIR School of Jewish Communal Service students to our offerings. Education in Jewish communal service has come a long way - as it turns out, the history of Jewish communal service education is full of people worried about the efficacy of social work training and whether and how it can properly prepare Jewish students to serve the needs of Jewish communities - in some cases, even whether Jewish students can be enticed into training to serve Jewish communities. Now that we have successful, effective, and selective educational programs where students learn both clinical and research skills, it would be a shame for this work to go unread and unused. Titles include

Here are some of the steps along the way of how we got here:

In 1949, Walter Lurie surveyed the six national training programs in existence (Yeshiva University, the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion, Dropsie College, the National Jewish Welfare Board, and the Training Bureau for Jewish Communal Service) and wondered "what justification is there to speak of a "Jewish communal service" as a professional field of work? And second, what is the Jewish component in Jewish communal service?" (Present Programs of Training for Jewish Communal Service).

In the late 50s, they worried about how to persuade seduce college students out of the general social work field and into Jewish social work (Do It Yourself! -- The Challenge of Recruitment: A Responsibility and Opportunity for the Profession).

In 1972, Samuel Silberman again argued that Jewish communal work must better define itself as a field (Jewish Communal Service - The Shaping of a Profession). A 1975 article somewhat puzzlingly uses the word 'new' to describe this profession: "The Jewish B.A. Social Worker: A New Professional For Jewish Communal Services". It studies the demographics of Jewish social workers and bemoans how few of them actually have degrees. Education for Social Work Practice in Jewish Communal Service studied the question of how to formulate a proper post-secondary curriculum for Jewish social work.

And coming more or less full circle, a 1998 article looks back on the transformation and evolution of Jewish social work education (at one school) since 1969: The Transformation of Jewish Social Work: Bernard Reisman and the Hornstein Program at Brandeis University.

NYC Event: Love, Hate, and the Jewish State

We're proud to be one of the many cosponsors of this great New Israel Fund and Makom's event, Love, Hate and the Jewish State 3.0: What's Jewish about a Jewish State?

If you're in NYC, register and join us for what should be a great conversation!

Love, Hate and the Jewish State 3.0: What's Jewish about a Jewish State?

Thursday, June 24 at 7:00 pm The JCC in Manhattan 334 Amsterdam Ave at 76th Street Cost $10

Do your social justice values impact the way that you relate to Israel as the Jewish state?

Social justice and Israel are often polarizing and separate conversations. Israel's Jewish character affects government policy, life-cycle events, state symbols, and everyday life for both Jews and non-Jews.

Join us for the third in a series of highly interactive, non-persuasive, open discussions with a diverse group of people in their 20s and 30s.  The program will be followed by a reception.
Hosted by Joel Chasnoff, Comedian and Author of The 188th Crybaby Brigade: A Skinny Jewish Kid from Chicago Fights Hezbollah

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