Birthright participants 311.
(photo credit:Ofer Shimoni)
The current period is critical for the Jewish people, with Israel facing its
greatest existential challenges since independence. Today, the largest Jewish
community in the world is under threat from the advancing Iranian nuclear
program, placing an enormous burden first on Israeli leadership but also on
The Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) has recently
developed a systematic set of indicators to measure and track key trends among
the Jewish people. This tool, in the form of a “dashboard,” gauges Jewish
well-being over time. Besides the geopolitical developments, which have shown a
very problematic dynamic in the past year mainly because of the Iranian nuclear
program and the turmoil throughout the Arab world, in other dimensions, the
dashboard indicates that the Jewish people are actually performing better this
year than in previous years.
Global Jewish demography shows a recent
boost, mainly due to Israel’s robust birth rate, though in the Diaspora the
demographic challenge is much more problematic. The bonds between Jews and
Jewish communities are also in better shape than in the past; new initiatives,
more trips to Israel by Diaspora Jews, Birthright and Massa, more visits to
Jewish sites and a significant increase in attendance at Jewish gatherings,
especially at AIPAC’s annual policy conference.
In Jewish identity and
identification, we are seeing numerous new ventures, particularly among the
While these sometimes give voice to criticism of
certain Israeli policies and of the Jewish establishment, the interest they show
in Jewish civilization and their common roots is beginning to
Even the economic dimension is improving. Jewish philanthropy
is showing signs of recovery from the 2008 financial crisis and the new natural
gas fields discovered in Israel’s territorial waters promise the Jewish people
enhanced resources globally.
We Jews often prefer to see the half-empty
glass. What I would like to suggest is that we take a longer perspective and be
proud of what has been achieved in the last 70 years, by the past two or three
Take just as one example the intermarriage rates in the
West. Fifty percent in-marriages in North America is a huge achievement – it
could easily be much worse considering that only 2 percent of the North American
population is Jewish.
There is no other ethnic group that maintains these
rates of in-marriage beyond the first immigrant generation.
IF THINGS are
getting better, though, why did 120 of the Jewish world’s leaders, professionals
and academics deem it necessary to devote two days to discussion in Jerusalem on
the future of the Jewish people? The faithful could have skipped the conference
and trusted in God and prayer.
The others could have ignored
Some of the improvement we have seen is due to the Diaspora’s
committed lay and professional leaders, especially in North America. It is,
therefore, essential to understand the need to prepare for the transitions of
leadership many major Jewish organizations will undergo in the next few years.
This important challenge is not limited to organizational and communal
leadership. The effort should address the next generation of Jewish elites in
politics, civil service, business and academia.
The distancing discourse,
encouraged by greater individualism in the new digitally connected virtual
world, opened the door to a tense discussion about the necessity of bonds among
the various Jewish communities.
This was accompanied by a deepened
approach to questions of Jewish identity and identification. These serious
issues shouldn’t be left to an open-ended conversation that goes nowhere. They
do not only represent red lights. They also open opportunities that should be
structured to create new paved avenues to peoplehood and mutual responsibility
in the 21st century.
The comeback of Jewish wealth and philanthropy in
the past couple of years in the Diaspora, and the promising Israeli economic
picture, requires a reevaluation of the efforts that succeeded in the past as
well as innovative ideas for the future. We need to find a way to direct Jewish
investment toward the Jewish future. Memorials and current pressures should not
be ignored, but the vibrancy and vitality of the next generations are crucial to
the continuity of the Jewish civilization.
Today much of the
responsibility rests, and rightly so, on the shoulders of the Israeli
government, which represents the largest Jewish community in the
Diaspora Jews are an asset to Israel just as Israel is an asset to
them. This mutuality needs better coordination and unified planning.
Jewish people in its totality has limited sway over the geopolitical situation –
the shift of power from West to East, the turmoil in the Arab world, and the
continuing Iranian nuclear threat. Having said that, this problematic picture
needs to have its complexities and nuances better understood to encourage an
ongoing treatment and avoid crisis flare-ups. Here, Jewish elites may have an
That 120 leaders showed up for JPPI’s 2012 Conference on the
Future of the Jewish People, in spite of American elections, Israeli elections
and a major hurricane, demonstrates not only that they care, but that they
understand that in the modern world, a systematic approach, strategic thinking
and action-oriented policy planning are indispensable.The writer is
president and founding director of the Jewish People Policy Institute.
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