Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Effect of Standing With Israel on the Falling of Judaism - Part 5

Today is Day 14,311 of the Maintenance of the Immoral (and Illegal) West Bank Settlements and almost the 40th anniversary of the start of the immoral (and illegal) occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Micah.6:8 “He has told you, O man, Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God

Thoughts from reading the June 15 edition of the local Jewish Journal.


One Page 1 headline story is titled “Schulman Named CHA Head of School” The article notes that in 1999 there were 270 students and next year the enrollment will stand at 160. While increased cost is cited as a barrier, educators around the country say that another reason is that “there is less of a commitment from parents to giving their children a Jewish education”. The new head of the school notes “there are fewer Jewish children in pre-school. We don’t know whether there are fewer Jewish kids living here. I’m not sure there is the same level of commitment to Jewishness. Look at how hard it is to get a minyan. Maybe Jews are putting their energies in different directions.”


As you recall a lead story on the front page of the June 1 edition was titled “As Solel Fades, Fed Moves On” about how Solel was stalled, possibly for good. On.Page 12 is a letter to the editor “A loss of Confidence in Federation” The writer suggests that the federation is fiscally and administratively uninformed. He goes on to criticize the federation for allocating $100,000 to a consultant “when, through the media at varying levels, it is made known that revenue is off from prior years…. When decreases in philanthropy of the magnitude Federation asserted its revenues are off by, one looks to scale back on expenses.” He suggests that the board, officers and executive director should resign. The irony, of course, is that the purpose of the project was to follow up on an initial study that found that the local Jewish community: lacks knowledge about Judaism; lacks a communal Jewish identity; lacks a communal Jewish purpose; is uninspired by local synagogues, rabbis and Jewish educational programs; and has weak professional and volunteer leadership.

By the way, I read the summary of the report of the consultant and among its many recommendations were projects that would have brought to the community more of an orientation towards social justice and tzedakah.

Maybe not coincidentally, another Page 1 headline is titled “Search is on for Fed Interim Head” Here is the first paragraph of this story. “The Jewish Federation of the North Shore has confirmed that it has formed a search committee to find an interim executive director: however it is not saying that the current executive has been terminated.”

This federation recognized the serious problems that have existed within the Jewish community for decades, subsidized a study which came up with a road map to remedy many of them and then rejected the study’s recommendations.


On Page 4 is a story entitled “New JCC Chief Ready to Take on Challenges” The story begins “Fundraising, making up for a reduced subsidy from the Jewish Federation and competing with the new Marblehead-Swampscott YMCA are major issues that the new president of the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore will face…. The new president of the board said ‘There are many challenges with an agency of this size - stabilize the finances, help get it to run in the face of the competition, maintain the mission, which is to offer Jewish programming and Jewish education.’ He intends to add new programs. Of the 2100 units of membership, 1000 have memberships for only specific months of the year. He also plans to ‘attempt to ascertain what the Center does well and what we don’t do so well, and find out what the community and our members want,’ in order to improve it. And added ‘It’s about being organized and thinking strategically.’” Recently, the size of the board and the executive committee have been reduced “which made conducting strategic discussions easier” and the JCC reached out to synagogues “to develop more positive relations”.


On Page 5 is a story entitled “New Crop of Teens Off to Israel” The teens, their parents and siblings read prayers about the 2000-year-old dream of Israel, recited Psalm 26 about the “blessed Negev.. and the awesomeness of Hebrew” and sang inspirational songs along with …… The Y2I sendoff ended with Hatikvah, The Hope, Israel’s National Anthem.” The cost for the 112 teenagers is almost fully subsidized by local federations and one individual.

The Y2I (Youth to Israel) program has been a constant major presence in my community. While I don’t have the figures, over the last 25 years, perhaps more than two thousand local high school juniors, including our son, have taken advantage of this offer to visit Israel during the summer.

What I do recall, however, was someone at a federation board meeting about ten years ago raising a point from a study he had read that found that there was no more likelihood that someone who goes on such a trip will consider to consider himself or herself Jewish than those who had not gone on such a trip.

At another board meeting the topic was financial subsidies for the Y2I program. While a local philanthropist was willing to subsidize half the cost, the parents were being asked to provide the rest. There was intense criticism of many of the parents who were unwilling to do so focusing primarily on their miserly non-charitable nature. There seemed to be little willingness on the part of the board to entertain the notion that the lack of financial support from the parents indicated their lack of interest in having their children go to Israel. Eventually, supporters of the program were able to find sufficient funding to subsidize most of the entire cost.

What does the participant in the Y2I program learn about the core values of Judaism? Will there be a signs at the sendoff saying “Justice, justice, shall you pursue” and “You shall not wrong the stranger for you were a stranger in Egypt”?I doubt (but am not sure) that before they leave, they will sit around and discuss the article I linked to in my most recent post in the Boston Sunday Globe about the about the Hassouneh family of Gaza entitled “Lost Hopes in Gaza – A Family’s Dreams Collapse amid the Fighting.. I doubt that there will be conversations while they are on the trip with Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza. I doubt that they will ask Devorah Brous to take them on a tour of the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev.

I have often said that one step in the attempt to ensure the continuity of Judaism is for the community to invite Jewish Israeli teens to visit here and learn about tzedakah, civil rights and human rights projects in this country.

For one person’s perspective on such a trip, read Brad Brooks-Rubin’s article http://semitism.net/2007/06/11/lech-le-chem/

Before I get carried away, however, we may have to wait a while before the local Jewish institutions sponsor an open public discussion about how we as American Jews should apply the core values of Judaism to the conflict involving the United States, Palestinians, Hamas, Fatah, Israelis, Orthodox Jews, Reform Jews, Iraqis, Sunnis, Shiites, Taliban, and Al Qaeda.


Interest in the local Jewish day school is one the wane, contributions to the Jewish federation are down, the local JCC is working hard to attract more members, two local temples formerly the largest conservative temples in the area have been forced to merge in order to survive while 112 local teenagers are off to spend the summer in Israel.

The new president of the JCC plans to find out what its members want. That is so reasonable. Find out what your members want. Design programs to meet that need. Watch the contributions come in. Isn’t that what Solel was supposed to do for the federation? Now What? How does it hope to encourage more participation? Could the stalling, perhaps for good, of Solel which had as its goal “enriching the community”, mean that the federation is planning to simply observe the further decline and impoverishment of the community?

Sad, isn’t it?

Deuteronomy 16:20 – “Justice, justice shall you pursue that you may live and inherit the land which God gave you” and the footnote in the 1980 Hertz Edition “(T)here is international justice, which demands respect for the personality of every national group, and proclaims that no people can of right be robbed of its national life or territory, its language or spiritual heritage.

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