(October 11, 2018 / JNS)
American Jews and their leaders, except for the Orthodox, have distanced themselves from their Jewish identity. This is reflected by an indifference to global Jewish issues, and often, contempt towards Israel.
Many express their Judaism by promoting a distorted version of tikkun olam, which amounts to an espousal of liberal policies and universal values.
Non-Orthodox American Jews suffer from unprecedented levels of ignorance. The Conservative movement, which once fought for Jewish education, is today a mere shadow of its former self. Its leaders now frequently echo the sentiments expressed by radical Reform rabbis.
Reform is the largest denomination, and nearly all of its rabbis perform intermarriages. The overwhelming majority of Reform Jews only attend synagogue on the High Holidays. When they do, their rabbis, overjoyed to have the opportunity to address large audiences, often use the occasion to promote Democratic Party politics rather than concentrating on Jewish themes.
Today, the bulk of non-Orthodox Jewish youngsters are what could be described as non-Jewish Jews. Their sole link to their people is through Jewish descent—frequently, from only one parent—and they have little awareness of Jewish values.
These Jews are often at the forefront of the anti-Trump hysteria. Non-Orthodox Jewish organizational leaders, even traditional Zionists, remain silent or cozy up to their liberal constituencies even as U.S President Donald Trump treats Israel better than any previous American president.
Nothing symbolized more the deterioration of American Jews than when 42 percent of them opposed Trump’s transfer of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. To make matters worse, the General Assembly of Jewish Federations of North America, which has always convened in Jerusalem, will convene in Tel Aviv this year.
At this year’s graduation ceremony for Reform rabbis, the commencement address was delivered by virulently anti-Israeli author Michael Chabon, who excoriated Israel and called for intermarriage. It’s hardly surprising that rabbis educated in such an environment frequently adopt negative attitudes.
More recently, Rabbi Hara Person, chief strategy officer of the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis, pronounced her “halachic” conclusion that Judge Brett Kavanagh’s alleged sexual assaults had not been properly investigated and that Judaism would not have approved his elevation to the High Court. Is this Judaism?
A minority of Reform rabbis, such as Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch of New York’s Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, remain passionate Zionists and unequivocally condemn these trends.
This extract from his Yom Kippur sermon is explicit:
“We liberal Jews never seem to speak about Jewish solidarity anymore. … Thus, for many Reform Jews, ‘tikkun olam’ implies everyone in the world except Jews. It is rare to meet an American Reform youth or activist who considers it tikkun olam to assist, say, impoverished Jews in Israel or the former Soviet Union. A Reform tikkun olam mission would more likely travel to a poor African village than a soup kitchen for Jews in Ukraine. … The growing inclination among liberal Jews to de-emphasize Jewish distinctiveness is the greatest threat to liberal Judaism. … In the modern world, those who are not committed to Jewish survival will not survive as Jews.”
Others in the Reform movement share these views, but they represent a shrinking minority.
In the current atmosphere, Jewish identity is submerged by the paranoid hatred against Trump by liberal Jews who continue to mourn his election. This is reflected in repeated anti-Trump outbursts by organizations that have traditionally avoided partisan politics—the most notorious offender being the Anti-Defamation League.
An ever-increasing number of Jewish youth describe themselves as secular rather than Reform. Judaism and Israel are very low in their priorities. Indeed, some find it socially advantageous to demonstrate their cosmopolitanism by condemning Israel and spurning so-called ethnic pride.
Reform Jewish leaders outrageously blame Israel for the erosion of Diaspora relations, and specifically Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s capitulation to the ultra-Orthodox on the issue of egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall.
This became headline news in America with some rabbis even calling on their members to divest from Israel Bonds. Most Reform Jews have not even visited Israel and only a minuscule number would have been aware of the issue had their rabbis not used it as a tool to berate Israel.
Israel cannot be blamed for the fact that American Jews, especially the younger generation, are distancing themselves from Israel. The fault lies with the leaders who have failed to invest sufficient resources and utterly neglected their children’s Jewish education.
Little can be done. The current Jewish leadership’s lethargy and its reliance on liberal supporters ties its hands. We should dismiss our illusions and recognize that a large portion of American Jewry is being overrun by “non-Jewish Jews.”
We must now focus on the significant number of Orthodox and traditional American Jews, and the considerable numbers of others who recognize Israel as a crucial factor in their Jewish identity and concentrate on encouraging and strengthening them.
Isi Leibler’s website can be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com. Email: email@example.com.