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Opinion: Op-Ed
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Freedom in Jersey City, extreme caution toward Iran

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The great American scholar and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “Judaism revolves around three sacred entities: God, Torah, Israel. The Jew never stands alone before God; the Torah and Israel are always with him.” He continues, “It is not only a certain quality in the souls of the individuals that is Jewish but it is primarily involvement and participation in the covenant and community of Israel.”

So we rely upon my Jewish experience and belief in our involvement and participation in the civic life of American society. When we do what is right, what is just, what is merciful, when we abide by the tenets we have learned by living in the Jewish community, then we begin to experience the good and the holy. As Rabbi Heschel instructed, what we do as individuals may be trivial; what we attain as Israel causes us to grow into the infinite.

 

 
 

A view from the pew

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The present as a gift

The May 28 Jewish Standard news report on the Rockland County Federation survey of the non-Orthodox Jewish community (“Why do they leave?”) serves as a proof text for the growing disconnect between Jews and the institutions of our Jewish community.

Yet the study also found that the percentage of unaffiliated Jews who positively identify as Jews remains high. While we have focused upon synagogue affiliation rates, I have no doubt that if we looked at the numbers of contributors to federation campaigns, we would see a similar drop, and a similar trend in federation donors as the Rockland survey shows about synagogue members. An immediate response to this survey, and to the overall trend of declining rates of affiliation and participation among American Jews, is to scream oy gevalt.

 

 
 

The Zionist Congress elections as an index on American Jewry

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The results of the elections for the American delegation to the 37th World Zionist Congress are worth reflecting on.  While the election plays a key role in influencing the policies of the World Zionist movement and in mapping the Israel-Diaspora relationship, the data are also important as an insightful index into the nature of the American Jewish community.

The big headline is the success of ARZA, representing the Reform movement, coming out on top. It won 56 of the 145 seats allocated to the American delegation; the Congress has 500 seats overall. What strikes me is that the 39 percent the Reform movement won here matches with almost scientific precision the Reform movement’s share of religiously identified American Jews in the 2013 Pew report. The Pew report found that 40 percent of religiously identified American Jews (as opposed to Jews-by-ethnicity-only) call themselves Reform.

 

 
 
Truth regardless of consequences

Jonathan Sacks should tell Jews to fight for Israel — not to surrender

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This week, England’s former chief rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, gave a speech described by the media as doom and gloom at a conference in Herzliya.

Rabbi Sacks admitted a belief that the BDS movement had succeeded in making the state of Israel a “divisive factor” in Jewish life, and he claimed that as a result, supporting Israel was “almost impossible” for European Jews.

It was an astonishingly defeatist speech, which is troubling enough. But most disturbing was the false dichotomy he presented to European Jews. In his own troubling words, he said, “Jews have been faced with a choice: live in Europe and criticize Israel or be silent, or leave Europe…” In other words, the only solutions left for Europe’s Jewish community is to embrace and succumb to BDS or get out. What he shockingly neglected to mention is the obvious third option: to stay in Europe, embrace Israel, and fight for the Jewish state.

 

 
 

Thank you, Avi

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In our story about Avi Lewinson, we quote many people who have been touched by Avi in some way, but we retain our editorial distance.

Here, in this space, we are able to eliminate that distance and add our feelings to everyone else’s.

Avi Lewinson is a gem of a man. His love for the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, filtered as always through his Jewish heart and soul and his social-worker’s eyes, is pure, unstinting, and unending. Those of us who have had children in JCC programs knew that we’d see him at drop-off or pick-up, and that he’d know our kids’ names. We’d known that although he is a preternaturally gifted fundraiser, his interest in those of us who did not have funds that could be raised was warm and deep and real.

We knew about the programs at the JCC that take care of the most vulnerable among us — the autistic children at the therapeutic nursery school, the cancer-stricken children at Camp Dream Street, the older people who suffer from dementia at adult day care. And then there are the programs that develop talent — the Thurnauer School of Music, the extraordinary drama and musical theater classes that stimulate both children’s and adults’ creativity, their yearning to explore, and their sense of magic. And then there were all the performances, the talks, and the communal responses to joy and tragedy and natural disaster that so mark the JCC.

All of them are either Avi’s brainchildren or the results of his gifted midwifery.

We celebrate Avi’s nearly quarter century at the JCC, we are glad to learn that he will keep his hand in fundraising there, and we hope that he stays in the community as he explores his options. We know that any organization that he chooses as his professional home will be lucky, just as we have been lucky all these years.

—JP

 

 
 
 
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