Question #37Some critics claim that this week's Conference on the Future of the Jewish People is overly focused on threats to Israeli security and anti-Semitism and less focused on "softer" issues such as education, identity, assimilation and conversion. Do you agree? Which agenda would you play up?
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Calev Ben David
The Jewish People have never been short on ideas. With all modesty, we have good heads on our shoulders. We certainly know how to identify problems and crises - lots of experience in that area! - and we also are pretty good at
coming up with innovative approaches to solving those crises.
But what is
often lacking is a means and a method of implementing
those ideas and bringing them from drawing board to reality.
Take the issue of Jewish identity. We all agree that having a strong Jewish identity is a key to our continuity, to higher levels of charity-giving, to identification with Israel. And we know that tieing Jewish life up with Israel - visiting here, supporting Israeli institutions, making aliya - strengthens Jewish identity immensely. But until a few creative, resourceful and generous individuals came up with programs like birthright, nothing concrete was ever done to link up idea with reality.
Same with Western aliya. We talked about it incessantly, like the weather and government corruption, until Nefesh B'Nefesh stepped up and actually did
something about it. And now - as this week's latest NBN installment shows - the airplanes are arriving in ever-greater volume, filled with eager, high-performing olim from the USA, Canada and the United Kingdom. They will invariably influence Israel beyond their numbers.
So to all those sitting in "leadership" positions: You will be judged not on your rhetoric or brilliant proposals; you - and Israel and the Jewish People as a whole - will be evaluated by the final result that emerges on the ground. So don't just deliberate - do it!
I agree that the softer issues focusing on questions of education, identity and Jewish pluralism should have a higher place on the agenda of a conference confronting issues of concern to the Jewish people around the world.
The Zionist movement has always placed an emphasis on the centrality of Israel to the Jewish people, and that is important, however it is time to recognize that Jewish renewal, Jewish education and Jewish pluralism is taking shape and developing new forms of expression which far surpass what is happening only in Israel.
Successful experiments and experiences of Jewish communities in Russia and in the United States, for example should be shining beacons of new forms of Jewish expression and compelling examples of Jewish communal life that are stymied by the Orthodox hegemony of Jewish life and education in the State of Israel.
Assimilation issues confronting the Jewish people are enormously important to the future of the Jewish people. The most interesting examples of confronting assimilation and finding innovative ways of bringing Jewish youth to identify with the Jewish people and the State of Israel are happening throughout the Diaspora and should be brought into the discussions on the future of the Jewish people.
The conference being held in Jerusalem this week looks too elitist and does not bring enough different Jewish voices into its agenda. This is a pity and the organizers should think in terms that go beyond what they have already achieved.
These Jewish conferences invariably focus on threats to the Jewish people as if we have no control of the situation. It's the standard, "woe is us, they hate us and we don't know why." How about looking at precisely how Israel and Jews got into a situation where the adulation of '67 has been transformed into the almost universal disdain of 2007. Could it be something we did?
After all, the most popular international leader in the world in the early 90's was Yitzhak Rabin, the consummate Israeli soldier. His death was mourned as none since President Kennedy and few others in history. The anti-Israel animus of today essentially did not exist when Israel was seen as people determined to end the occupation and reconcile with the Palestinian people.
"They" don't hate Israel. They hate the occupation.
Jewish conferences might try, for once, to stop the weeping and teeth gnashing and look inward. Even the Iranian government has said that a two-state solution acceptable to the Palestinians is acceptable to them.
This is not 1938 when a faultless and defenseless Jewish people was attacked by monsters. This time many of the problems we face are of our own making. In 2007 it is profoundly non-Zionist to constantly bemoan the Jewish fate as if we have had no role to play in creating it.
I say to those delegates at this latest conference. Look in the mirror. "The fault is not in the stars but in ourselves." Or at least some of it.
When your house is burning, you don't take time off to figure out weekly grocery bill before putting out the fire. The threat of a nuclear Iran and radical Islamic terrorism is an immediate, existential threat to Israel and the Jewish People, and it's obvious this should top the agenda at a conference of the future of the Jewish People.
That doesn't mean that other issues should be ignored; after all, you need those groceries to survive too. Of course Jewish education, assimilation and conversion should also be addressed at the conference, but these are more long-term issues. Unfortunately, we first have to make sure that Mahmoud Ahmadinajed doesn't have the chance to carry out his own solution to the Jewish demographic issue, before we deal with it ourselves.
Israeli security isn't going to be determined by community leaders around the world. Jewish education and demography should be at the top of the list of this forum.
There's usually a negative relationship between education and demography-the more educated a population is, the fewer babies.
But this isn't true with Jewish education. Those who are best educated Jewishly have the largest families. But I have to wonder about a group dealing with education and demography that has-at least according to the lists published in the paper-less than 20 percent women. Talk about getting off to a bad start!
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