(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Acknowledging that assimilation and intermarriage are a very real threat to the survival of Jewry in America, several leading Jewish leaders on Monday rejected comments made earlier in the week to The Jerusalem Post by Jewish Agency Chairman Ze'ev Bielski.
Michael Kotzin, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, said American Jews had to deal with the present and the immediate future.
'US Jews have future, present and past'
"Even the foreign minister of Israel said that US Jewry is a strategic asset for Israel," he said. "There is a vibrant Jewish life of magnitude in the states. I think that Bielski understands Israel better than he understands this country and maybe he needs to be more exposed to this country. But in terms of the survival of Jewry in America, who knows how to predict the future, who can predict Israel's future?"
Bielski told the Post while in the US to participate in the UJC's General Assembly that "one day the penny will drop for American Jews and they will realize they have no future as Jews in the US due to assimilation and intermarriage."
On Monday, Bielski wished to further clarify his position. "Being the home to the largest number of Jews in the world, Israel will continue to strengthen its position as the center of Jewish life. Within this context, I believe that we should also act to strengthen the communities in North America and throughout the world through Jewish education, Jewish identity programs and visits to Israel," he said.
According to Bielski, "We fully appreciate the role of American Jewry in strengthening Israel and its position in the world, both through moral and financial support, since the establishment of the state."
"It should be noted that only a few months ago, I personally opposed A.B. Yehoshua's unfortunate negation of the Diaspora. Striving for a strong Israel at the center of the Jewish world does not negate strong Jewish communities. We will continue fostering our partnership and bond with Diaspora Jewry for years to come. This has been my belief for many years and any other interpretation is a misrepresentation of my position," the Jewish Agency chairman stated.
Bielsky told a press conference at the GA Monday night that he had no intention of minimizing the importance of the Jewish federations.
Asked about the timing of his comments to the 'Post,' Bielski said: "We came here to say thanks to the Diaspora but that does not change the priority of the GA."
"We have to deepen the involvement of the Diaspora to Israel," he added.
"American Jews do have a future, a present and a past. We are going to work very closely with them. They have raised a lot of money for Israel in times of crisis.
"My position is that of the Israeli government; that we encourage aliya, but that we also encourage continued growth and development here (in America)," said the Jewish Agenct head.
Asked how his comments would affect his relationship with American Jews, Bielski said, "I get along with them, they get along with me, everything is fine."
"We didn't disappear for two thousand years, and I don't see any reason for us to disappear now," Misha Galpern of the Washington Federation told the Post in reaction to Bielski's comments.