Reporters on the Job: Do Jews have a future in America?

I know A.B. Yehoshua said this, and I know some other important people have said this, and many others quietly believe this, but this is coming from the head of the Jewish Agency.

amir mizroch 88 (photo credit: )
amir mizroch 88
(photo credit: )
The Jerusalem Post news editor is on a trip to the United States to cover the United Jewish Communities General Assembly in Los Angeles. Do Jews have a future in America? "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. Assimilation is unstoppable and inevitable in a country of this size and with such a mobile population. We have to get them to move to Israel, and then Ariel Sharon's vision of 1 million olim from America will come true," Jewish Agency Chairman Ze'ev Bielski told me at a meeting in New York on Friday. "So are American Jews fighting a losing battle to stay Jewish?" I ask Bielski. "Yes," he answers. So why are they (caveat: "they" being organized Jewish Federations, not your average unaffiliated US Jew) spending so much money on Jewish Renewal projects and Jewish education and Jewish outreach and Jewish Community Centers? It doesn't seem like they want to give up and assimilate. "Are you saying they should just quit doing that, and save their money to buy nice homes in Israel once they get there?" "Not at all; I want them to spend all this money on Jewish education and outreach because they're providing me [the Jewish Agency] with quality aliya material: more 'Jewish' olim, more aware of Jewish history, traditions and rituals." In any case, there is no future for Jews in America, they will eventually disappear, the head of the Jewish Agency asserted to The Jerusalem Post. I may be way off track, but I thought immediately that this was big news. I know A.B. Yehoshua said this, and kind of retracted it later. And I know some other important people have said this, and many others quietly believe this, but this is coming from the head of the Jewish Agency. And besides, I've been schlepped around this country this past week to Jewish Federations who proudly tell me about how much money they're all spending on keeping American Jews Jewish and finding other American Jews who may not even know they are Jewish and telling them they are part of the tribe. They build buildings and publish books and magazines and hire rabbis and professionals and they have thousands of volunteers all over this country. Organized American Jewry is fighting assimilation tooth and nail. So I ask Bielski twice more, after he initially made that comment earlier in the evening, if he stood by it, and if he had thought it through, and what he thinks about me publishing this, and what the potential fallout of that could be for him personally. He stands by it, and he has thought it through, and he has no doubt of the eventual outcome of the American Jewish experiment: assimilation and disappearance, or mass aliya. And he has no problems with me writing this, so there it is. I'm now in Los Angeles at the largest gathering of American and worldwide Jewish leaders anywhere in the world this year, and I plan to get reaction from some of them to Bielski's prediction. My hunch is that some people will agree with him, but many others may not, and may feel slightly insulted. Bielski also said sixty to seventy percent of American Jews have never been to Israel and likely never will. Clearly then, Israel is not central to the life of Jews here. So why do they give to Israel through the organized Federations? Why do they donate so much, and why do they want to see a strong Israel? Bielski says that because, perhaps, they want to invest in a sanctuary for themselves one day if things get bad. Obviously Israel is important to many US Jews who realize the miracle of the Jewish homeland to the people of the book, and are Zionists, and because they may have family and friends living there. According to Reform Rabbi Eric Yoffie, about half of American Jews are affiliated with some stream. The other half is 'lost' and need to be connected with. Of the half that are affiliated in some way to organized Jewry, 40 percent are Reform, 33% Conservative, and 20% Orthodox. The rest are somehow cross-affiliated in some mixture or other. Without insulting anyone reading this, I must admit I find these cross-affiliations quirky and interesting, a sort of open-source Judaism: Conservadox, Reformative, Modern Conservadox slash Reformodox and so forth. Some interesting facts about Jewish donors to the UJC: The Federations have less and less donors every year, but they are managing to raise more money than ever before. Instead of finding new donors, the Federations go to the same donors and ask them to give more money. Endowments are also growing - as the Jewish population ages. Jews are also a highly mobile bunch, and once a Jewish family leaves one area and moves to another, there is no guarantee they will make contact with a synagogue, Federation, Jewish community center in their new hometown. The rate of donor loss is not so steep though, and is slowing down, a top UJC official told me. But in essence, the UJC is raising more money from less people, so I wonder how long this trend can be sustained. According to UJC numbers, 30 percent of its donor base has been lost in the past 15 years. The UJC is going online to attract young Jewish philanthropists. There are 1.6 million non-profit organizations in the US. * * * Previous entries: My problem with Jewish skydiving The Jews of DC My first face-to-face with organized American Jewry Sunday evening in Chicago