Keep Dreaming: Not my brother’s keeper. Really?

Who are we to determine who is an authentic Jew worth saving and who is not? And on what grounds?

American Jews partcipate in the annual Israel Day Parade 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
American Jews partcipate in the annual Israel Day Parade 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In a particularly pugnacious portrayal of American Jewry (“The impact of non-Orthodox Jews on America,” October 10), Isi Leibler has relegated more than 5,000,000 of our brethren to the death camps of history. With an imprudent stroke of the pen, he proposed writing off almost as many members of the tribe as Hitler managed to annihilate after years of meticulous planning.
“We should dismiss our illusions and recognize that a large portion of American Jewry is being overrun by non-Jewish Jews,” he writes. Convinced there is no way of saving them, he concludes, “We must now focus on the significant number of American Jews who are Orthodox and traditional, and the considerable number of others who recognize Israel as a crucial factor in their Jewish identity and concentrate on encouraging and strengthening them.”
I did the math. Of the estimated 7,200,000 Jews in the United States today, some 10% define themselves as Orthodox. Of the remaining 6,480,000, recent studies indicate that approximately 21% are highly attached to Israel. That leaves another 5,100,000 whom Leibler would forsake.
Should I start bargaining with him as Abraham did with God? Isi, if I can find 10 “real” Jews among your so called “non-Jewish Jews,” will you support my efforts to keep them within the fold?
But the indignation I feel over his dismissal of them overwhelms any inclination to haggle. Who is he to determine who is an authentic Jew worth saving and who is not? And on what grounds? In railing against the community he complains, “Most non-Orthodox American Jews suffer from unprecedented levels of ignorance” and that “80% of non-Orthodox unions are intermarriages.... What exacerbates matters is that the overwhelming majority of Reform Jews only attend synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.”
Hmmm... I wonder what he thinks about the overwhelming majority of non-Orthodox Israelis who don’t attend even then.
As further reason for abandoning our cousins overseas, Leibler asserts, “Their sole link to their people is through Jewish descent – frequently, from only one parent. They have little or no conception of Jewish values or interest in their Jewish heritage.” And then the clincher: “These Jews not only adhere to, but are often at the forefront of the anti-Trump hysteria” so that “Jewish identity is submerged by the paranoid hatred against Trump by liberal Jews who continue to mourn his election” and who have the audacity to suggest in regard to Judge Kavanaugh that “Judaism would not have approved his elevation to the High Court.”
“What is even more outrageous,” he continues, “is that American Jewish leaders blame Israel for the erosion of Diaspora relations,” dismissing as inconsequential “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s backtrack on the agreement for an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall.” He contends instead that “the fault clearly lies with American Jewish leaders” for the distancing of young American Jews from Israel. These same leaders, he goes on, have added insult to injury, by doing the unthinkable: “The General Assembly of Jewish Federations of North America, which when convening in Israel always meets in Jerusalem, has moved the venue to Tel Aviv.”
NO MATTER that the GA was planned long before the move of the American Embassy to Jerusalem, belying what Leibler is seemingly suggesting, that the TLV locale should be seen as a protest against America’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The Jewish people would have been far better served had Leibler instead chosen to celebrate the decision by the leadership of North American Jewry to hold this major gathering on our shores, even after having been rebuffed by the present government on more than one occasion. In doing so, and delivering a spectacular with more than 2,500 participants, the community affirmed its unshakable commitment to the Zionist enterprise, despite any misgivings its members may have about one Israeli policy or another.
But as offensive, insensitive and belligerent as Leibler’s sketch of American Jewry is, it is primarily his conclusion that I find stupefying and want to take issue with.
For the sins of ignorance, intermarriage, liberal leanings, scarce synagogue attendance, resentment over being second-class citizens in the Jewish state, insufficient familiarity with the Jewish heritage, a penchant for tikkun olam, and applying Jewish values to civic society, Leibler has classified the vast majority of American Jewry as being beyond salvation and not worthy of our efforts to embrace.
In doing so he has forsaken a fundamental tenet of our faith: Kol Yisrael areivim zeh b’zeh – all Jews are responsible for one another.
Don’t misunderstood. I am as concerned as is Leibler about many of the erosive phenomena he highlights. The difference between us is that I am not prepared to throw in the towel. Neither are those leaders of American Jewry he so casually dismisses; leaders who are also troubled by trends within their community; partners of ours here in the Jewish Agency who welcome the nearly 2,000 emissaries we send abroad every year to work in Jewish community centers, synagogues, Hillel houses, youth movements, schools and camps; partners who encourage their constituencies to participate in Israel experience programs such as Birthright and Masa; and partners who are eager to twin their cities and schools with suitable matches in Israel.
These are partners, as well, whom we recognize as having much to teach us in the Jewish state about crafting a Judaism that is dynamic, vibrant and accessible; partners who, with all the trials they are up against, must still be credited with having created what is probably the most fertile and fullest Jewish society the Diaspora has ever known.
These are partners we must never consider abandoning because they don’t measure up to one set of standards or another, and who we expect not to abandon us regardless of any disappointments they might harbor over what we have thus far done with the Zionist dream; partners who are not only a strategic asset of the Jewish state but also an integral part of the Jewish family.
These are partners who – true to the “we-need-to-talk” theme of their General Assembly – welcome the opportunity for open and honest dialogue focused on meeting the challenges we are all facing.
These partners, then, are our brothers and sisters with whom we are bound in a relationship in which we have always been, and must always remain, each other’s keepers.
The writer is deputy chairman of the executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel and represents the worldwide Masorti/Conservative movement within Israel’s national institutions. The views expressed herein are his own. [email protected]