MK Danny Danon 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
“We have 15 years to intervene and bring back people on the verge of
assimilation into the fold of Judaism,” Dov Maimon, a senior fellow at the
Jewish People Policy Institute, said at a special session on assimilation in the
Diaspora at the Knesset on Monday.
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Speaking to the Knesset Immigration,
Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee, Maimon said Israel needs to act now
if it wants to engage the large group of young Jews whose affiliation with their
communities is weak before it’s too late.
He suggested a fivefold program
supporting Israel trips like Masa and Birthright, strengthening Jewish education
in Israel and abroad, and even rethinking Israeli foreign policy.
hard identifying as Jewish at colleges in Europe,” Maimon said. “Israel isn’t
perceived as an enlightened country, but that’s perhaps an issue outside our
scope of conversation today.”
Committee chairman Danny Danon (Likud)
convened the panel to discuss ways of dealing with the threat.
Sergio DellaPergola, an authority on Jewish demographics, opened the debate by
giving some background.
“Assimilation is a long process that dates back
to the emancipation of the Jews,” he said. “According to a study from the first
part of the decade, approximately 40 percent of Jews in the Diaspora marry
outside the faith nowadays.”
DellaPergola said that the number of Jews in
the world is currently stable at a bit over 13 million, with 6 million in Israel
and about 7.5 million abroad. But the number of people with Jewish ancestry is
much larger than that, he said.
“The number of Americans eligible to make
aliya according to the Law of Return is between 10 to 12 million people,” the
Hebrew University lecturer said. “That’s not to say that I think they’ll show up
tomorrow morning. But this is a group that should not be entirely
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Israel Movement for Progressive
Judaism, the Israeli branch of the Reform movement, warned against alienating
the children of mixed marriages.
“We need to be careful when we process
the numbers,” he said. “To the best of my knowledge, and I’m not an expert on
this issue, there may be 55% of marriages between Jews and non-Jews, but that
does not mean there’s a 55% assimilation rate and that families in this group
are torn away from the Jewish people.
The key question is how we treat
He strongly rejected the notion that assimilation was
substantially higher in communities where Reform Judaism is practiced in
comparison with Orthodox ones.
“There are communities where there are
almost no Reform or Conservative Jews and, nonetheless, assimilation rates of
young Jews is in the high double digits and many marry outside the religion,”
Kariv said. “In France there’s almost no Reform Judaism, and a very strong
Orthodox establishment. But isn’t there still a 45% mixed marriage rate there?”
Kariv urged authorities to institute faster conversions and carry out a more
inclusive policy toward the children of mixed marriages, lest they be
MK Marina Solodkin of Kadima, a member of the Knesset committee,
weighed in with her opinion on the issue.
“In Russian there’s a saying
that I haven’t heard in any other language and is very important: ‘Half a Jew is
still a Jew,” she said.