US Jewry must work to bring the growing haredi population into the mainstream community for the good of Israel and the global Jewish community, the Jewish People Policy Institute said on Sunday, following the recent release of its Annual Assessment of the Situation and Dynamics of the Jewish People.
JPPI co-chairman and former US ambassador Dennis Ross presented the report to the cabinet earlier this summer, together with institute president Avinoam Bar Yosef and project head Dr. Shlomo Fischer. The Jerusalem-based think tank’s report includes analysis and policy recommendations to further its mission to ensure that the Jewish people and the Jewish civilization thrive.
Bar Yosef told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that it behooves the secular and Orthodox sectors of US Jewry to start a conversation about their shared responsibilities in the global Jewish community.
“Although the population of adult Orthodox Jews is yet a small minority of the US Jewish population, and its overall growth has been limited, a dramatic change is under way, the result of soaring Orthodox birthrates and a steady decline in the non-Orthodox Jewish population,” the report said.
A quarter of US Orthodox Jewish adults are between the ages of 18 and 29, in comparison with 17% of Reform Jews and 13% of Conservatives.
Orthodox Jews between 40 and 59 have an average of 4.1 children, compared with an average of 1.7 for other US Jews in that age group, the institute said, citing statistics provided by the Pew Research Center.
The researchers warn, however, that while the US haredim support Israel in sentiment, this does not necessarily translate into extra backing for pro-Israel organizations.
In fact, according to the institute, it “will likely lessen the influence of pro-Israel communal structures, as the political engagement of this growing group focuses primarily on local needs, i.e. education, housing, tax benefits, etc.”
According to the Jewish People Policy Institute, an important long-term goal is to find a way to bring haredim into the fold and encourage them to assume leadership positions and share responsibility for the future of world Jewry.
Acknowledging that the haredi community discourages its members from identifying with the broader organized Jewish community, and may oppose some of its policies, while on the flip side some non-Orthodox Jews are uncomfortable with haredi values and practices, the institute nonetheless urges members of the wider Jewish community to approach the spiritual leadership of the ultra-Orthodox, “as they hold the keys to achieving this goal.”
“One of the main lessons of this year’s assessment is the need for the Jewish community to quickly adapt to the changing demographic realities caused by the significant increase in the young generation of the ultra-Orthodox community. To ensure the future contribution of the Jewish people to humanity, and its influence, the American Jewish community should promote unified leadership,” said Bar Yosef.
“It’s a mutual effort and it’s critically important that it will happen,” he stressed. Bar Yosef added that the US haredi community needs to understand that they should use their influence in the general Jewish community, rather than just in their local community.
“They need to engage in politics and public service, to fill positions in Jewish organizations, to share the effort,” he said. “They should be invited to take part in the Jewish community.”
The institute also assesses that, despite the turbulent region Israel exists in, the Jewish state itself faces no existential threats at this time.
“While there is deeply troubling turmoil all around Israel, particularly in Syria and from radical Islamists, its most determined enemies, such as Hezbollah, are preoccupied,” the report said. “At the same time, the regional landscape seems to have shifted in Israel’s favor. The leading Sunni Arab states see Israel as a bulwark against their main threats, Iran and ISIS.
Israel’s relations with Egypt, Jordan and even Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states is unprecedented, even if below the radar.”
It is therefore recommended that Israel seize the opportunity to make political and diplomatic headway on important issues.
“Usually, when we are in the midst of existential threat we can’t come to agreement or initiative, because we need to first solve the threat,” explained Bar Yosef. “When we are in a situation that there is no threat, then there is a need to take initiative.”
One of Israel’s priorities, according to the institute, should be US-Israel relations. In light of tensions between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the impending change of US administration, Israel could benefit from “opening a new page.” Bar Yosef says that no matter which presidential candidate enters the White House, there is an opportunity to develop a better relationship “and to reinforce the mutual interests and values that helped to create the special triangular relationship between Jerusalem, Washington and the Jewish community.”
Another priority mentioned in the report is the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.
“It is understood that Israel cannot negotiate with itself, and that current Palestinian leadership is neither willing nor able to come to the table, much less make the necessary compromises for any peace agreement. Nonetheless, it is in Israel’s interest to take steps on the ground to provide more living space and more economic development for Palestinians,” the institute advises, warning against the eventuality of a binational state.
According to Bar Yosef, the time is ripe for an initiative that could create a better environment for negotiations in the region.