At GA, active American Jews discuss the disinterested

Over one third of American Jews born after 1980 identify as nonreligious, with about 40 percent now choosing to marry out of the faith, according to the Pew Research Center.

November 11, 2014 21:24
1 minute read.

Students in a classroom [Illustrative]. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland – With a distant view of the capital on the banks of the Potomac River, the most active members of America’s Jewish community converged at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly at National Harbor, Maryland, this week to discuss, above all, their indifferent brothers and sisters.

Regardless of the crises under discussion – climaxing talks with Iran over its nuclear program, tensions between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and the White House, or the health and future of Israeli democracy – concerns kept returning to the same core question that has challenged the Jewish Federation of North America for years: How can they preach beyond the choir? The crises matter, requiring timely action in the form of political mobilization across the Jewish community in the United States.

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The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement across college campuses demands a counterweight from students themselves.

And yet the federations, represented nationwide in all 50 states, are losing the battle to convert the disinterested.

Over one third of American Jews born after 1980 identify as nonreligious, with about 40 percent now choosing to marry out of the faith, according to data published by the Pew Research Center.

Aware of the challenge, Jewish world leaders at this Maryland venue mingled at the hotel bar, where massive, modern Christmas light installations already crown the main hotel atrium above their heads and yarmulkes. The Washingtonians drove the debate: incremental battles, on each policy front before the desk of the Israeli premier, defined the topics of breakout sessions and press pit conversations.

But the question whether American Jewry is truly represented at this conference, in all its diverse political and assimilating forms, consistently pressed attendees to discuss outreach efforts, consensus-building, and the uphill public relations battle waged by the Jewish state.

Speaking on a panel with The Jerusalem Post’s editorin- chief, Steve Linde, and Aluf Benn of Haaretz, The Atlantic and Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg said that the sentiments of those apathetic on Israel are “derivative” of their own, personal Jewish experiences.

Only American Jews – not Israelis – can adequately address the problems facing American Jewry, Goldberg said.

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