Sir, – The Pew survey (“Pew poll: 1 in 5 American Jews have ‘no religion,’”
October 2) is startling.
For two millennia, exiled Jews living among the
people of other nations and with no nation state of their own could exist as
such. There was very little assimilation. It was a world where both Jews and
their neighbors considered them to be foreigners and strangers living in exile
in someone else’s nation state on some other nation’s soil.
It was a
world in which Jews uttered L’shana haba’a b’yerushalayim (Next year in
Jerusalem) with sincere devotion.
But in relatively recent and very rare
Diaspora experiences, such as in America, where Jews primarily have been
redefined as people who believe in a religious philosophy or adhere to certain
cultural practices, rather than as a nation, should we be surprised that Jewish
identity continues to transition into non-existence? The role of non-religious
communal organizations in the Diaspora, including (and especially) those related
in any way to Israel, is critical to any hope of maintaining a Jewish national
Identifying with the Jewish nation state is the sine qua non
for our survival in societies that are democratic, inclusive and increasingly
Undoubtedly, American Jewish communal leaders will be
studying this survey closely, but one hopes the leaders of the Jewish state are
focused on this as a serious threat to the country’s “national”
Sir, – The Pew survey reveals
what many of us have felt for a long time – that American Jewry identifies with
bagels and lox, and not with being in any way Jewish or caring about Israel. It
is a heartbreaking survey. Reform and Conservative Judaism must begin real
tshuva (introspection) and undertake an in-depth analysis of why their messages
What has succeeded in no small measure has been the
creativity of having young people come to Israel to see its dynamics. It has
succeeded in taking these young people around and ensuring that they see and
understand the uniqueness of the Land of Israel.
Perhaps – just perhaps –
the leadership of the Reform and Conservative movements should concern
themselves less with politics and their strong leadership positions, and
concentrate more on teaching the Jewish religion and Jewish history. My gut
feeling is that they have watered down Judaism so much that they are only
Judaism is not only an ethical culture, but a way of
life that is meaningful and identifies with Israel because God identified with
Let us begin to try harder.THELMA SUSSWEIN
– Many of us who accept the dichotomy, even the multiplicity, of the Jewish
experience were treated to an illustration of this by the juxtaposition of two
important pieces in your October 3 issue: “Jews in the US” (Editorial) and “Why
I’m staying” (Comment & Features).
The editorial presented disturbing
facts about the American Jewish community based on the recent Pew survey. But in
the face of this depressing and astonishing reality, readers who turned a few
pages came to Anderson Harkov’s magnificent personal account “Why I’m
I thought to myself: How prophetic that Harkov knew how to
respond correctly to an issue of such magnitude without knowing that his piece
would be printed the same day as the editorial.
He knows what many olim
know – that Israel is our home and that Jewish survival and continuity can be
guaranteed only by living here, no matter what the hardships.
(including myself) who are despondent over the negative prospects of the Pew
survey, I would counsel Jewish pride, constant historic awareness and, most of
all, work toward the ultimate ingathering of Jewish exiles to our ancient and
holy Land of Israel.YITZCHAK BEN-SHMUEL
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