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In Search of the Next Great Jewish Band-Aid

Gary Rosenblatt’s op-ed in the Jewish Week titled “The Next Great Jewish Idea” should read “The Next Great Jewish Band-Aid.”

What is remarkable about the piece is that it contains not one idea. Instead of realizing that Jewish outreach and life is totally devoid of any powerful ideas and vision, Rosenblatt, who I consider a friend and deeply respect, continues the madness of confusing the word “idea” with public policy band-aid initiatives that try to make Jews more Jewish. A few of the more laughable initiatives he mentions are Rabbi Elliot Dorf’s suggestion that the Jewish demographic and intermarriage crises could be solved by convincing Jews to get married in graduate school.


Sure thing Rabbi Dorf, that’s really gonna fly in country whose average marriage age is only getting older and older. Besides, what would it even mean to encourage people to marry young? Should we give an extra $100 U.S. Savings Bond to every bar-mitzvah boy who chooses a bride at his bar-mitzvah celebration?

Another idea came from Dr. Bethamie Horowitz, research director of the Mandel Foundation, who for some reason asserted that “Jews don’t have to be cloistered” to live Jewish lives anymore, and that rather than ask “why be Jewish?” the question should be “why not be Jewish?” Hmmmmm. I think the Jewish Week should pay for Dr. Horowitz to go to New York City’s West Side for a Shabbat and see if Jews need not live in cloistered environments.


Today there is no longer one story–such as God’s decree, Zionism, or refusing to give Hitler a posthumous victory–that provides a persuasive rationale for being Jewish. Instead of working toward developing a new cadre of intellectual and moral leadership, instead of trying to explain to young people why investing in Judaism is worthwhile, the Jewish community continues to promote programs and short-term gimmicks to bring more Jews into the fold.

The biggest problem with the whole article (by the way, I am not the only one who was laughing or crying at this piece. The fact about the myriad outreach initiatives being put on the table is that almost none of them have any real long-erm vision. None of them respect the decisions that young people are making. None of them deal with the most important question–Why be Jewish?

Finally, none of them are ideas. They are all programs, and programs are not the same as ideas. Ideas provide vision, direction, and long-term attachment. Programs are there to implement ideas, and when you don’t have ideas, all you have are short-term gimmicks.

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posted December 9, 2006 at 12:35 am

I used the hyperlink that Rabbi Stern provided and i have to agree with him(that’s scary in its own right). My mom was one(is somewhat) one of those ultra-right wing Zionist types who raised her Children on a diet of How the Zionist dream was alive, et al. yet when it came time to send her Children to hebrew school, perhaps because I had been in a Hebrew day school for a few years at one time, got interesting results. namely that she sent us to an Afternoon hebrew school at a Reform Synagogue, and neither of us liked it there. My sister actually ran from religious practice totally. I atleast challenged myself, and my teachers(it wasn’t hard at times); and came into my OWN love of Jewishness in College, after taking a few classes on Jewish History. I even reccommended a few books to my mom on jewish Philosophy. I guess i’m trying to say is that if someone is going to attach themselves to Judaism, its got to be done in love, exposing them to EVERYTHING! Until I got to College, My jewish history knowledge basically ended after the destruction of the Second Temple(for all practical purposes) and didn’t really restart till the Holocaust. I really didn’t know that jews wrote some of the best love poetry, that Jews were important in bringing back the knowledge/philosophy that became the rennaisance(RAMBAM) and a whole host of other things. If one wants to invest in jewish life, that others may invest, you have to invest in everything, from Museum outings(my local jewish Museum had an exhibit I missed on jewish Contribution to the world of fashion, called “Hello Gorgeous”) to getting parents involved in synagogue life.

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posted December 10, 2006 at 1:04 am

Very good critique. I mean this sincerely. But what, may I ask, are your ideas? What is the answer to “Why Be Jewish?” that you would have out in the target demographics? Many thanks.

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posted December 11, 2006 at 2:49 am

I think part of the “ambiguity” and ambivalence in american jews also stems from the fact that many are only the 2nd Generation, that in many cases their parents were Born elsewhere. I remember seing a study once about how imigrant familyies there’s a generation that rejects the “old ways” in favor of the American way, and that the Children of these “rejectors” try to have a return to the old ways.

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posted December 11, 2006 at 4:51 pm

I think Rabbi Stern’s concern for “ideas” is enviable, but I certainly think there is more than enough room for “gimmicks”. As a young boy I hated math. There were too many diversions- sports, dozens and dozens of hatchling baby-boomers to play with, TV, etc. I had no time to study math, let alone grow to LIKE math. I also didn’t like to read much- let’s see, read a book or watch “Leave it to Beaver”? No contest. My teachers would tell my parents, “Harris has great potential, but he doesn’t read his assignments and doesn’t work hard enough at math”. My study habits were bad because I was acting out a few family issues, but that’s another story. The truth was that I really didn’t care much for reading or for doing math. The teacher offered a suggestion to my parents that she had used for years with children who had similarly poor habits. She suggested getting me comic books. She also knew I loved sports and suggested that my father should “work with me” on figuring out the batting averages of the players on my favorite team, the Yankees. Before I knew it, I was using a dictionary to look up words. I discovered the encyclopedia and started reading little blurbs on subjects that caught my interest. I discovered the library and read every sports related book I could get my hands on. Soon, I found it much easier an more satisfying to do my assigned reading and book reports. As for math, not a kid in the neighborhood could figure out Mickey Mantle’s (or anyone’s) batting average faster than me. I soon started getting A’s instead of C’s in math. Imagine that a few “gimmicks” got me on the right path. In retrospect, I truly believe that more traditional attempts to motivate me would not have worked, if anything, certainly not as well. No, I didn’t become an English teacher, engineer or lawyer. My profession is marketing. We use gimmicks, but of course we call them “creative ideas”. In marketing we know that we have to get someones attention first. I always wondered why so many Jews have wandered from their religion or have otherwise lost close ties to it. I don’t profess to have the answer, because it is far from simple. What I do know is that the “marketing” of our religion has not been lacking. It could be that even relating the term “marketing” turns off the mainstream. There are many levels to the problem, but like comic books or batting averages, what could be so wrong with using gimmicks AND ideas to get attention? Any gimmick, idea, exposure or connection could lead to the next step of continuity. Marketing, yes.

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posted December 12, 2006 at 12:29 am

It’s Rabbi’s such as the one who wrote this article that drive jews away with their negative streams of babble! The Torah makes it very easy to be Jewish in ANY age. Hey…get away from the T.V. and your X-BOX Rabbi! Go help someone and in turn…help yourself. What unbelievable defeatism. Shame on you!

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posted December 12, 2006 at 6:42 pm

Kazel, in reading your post, I hate to say it but the Torah does NOT maken it easy to be jewish. The Torah, as written has incredible instructions on how to found a nation, Give animal/ritual sacrifices, punish those who break the laws of that nation,; but it ereally does NOT explain how to encourage others to be jewish. The Rabbis of the Talmudic period didn’t even have an answer to that. I can take it you are not familiar with jewish Philosophy(I forgive you, if you are Orthodox, many can read laws, but few understand the IDEAS). You might want to read the book “I and Thou” by M. Buber or “Lights of Penitence” by Rav Kook; or even anything by Rabbi A.J. Heschel. the idea of these rabbias and philosophers is that when we loom at life as a moment to encounter, we are changed, and the world gets changed and our community is changed(simplistic version of Rav Kook). So I say that the Birthright Israel is important, but it needs to be supplimented in the USA. My final semester in college, I did an internship with my local Jewish Historical Society, and had to catalog letters wriiten by service people during WWII to the Local Jewish Welfare Board. I can tell you about all kinds of things ranging from how the letters changed as the war went on, to where the Soldiers were based on what they used to write the thank you notes(jewish mom’s taught their sons to write thank you notes back then), to the fact that almost every letter referenced a Salami which was included in all the care packages. I never went to israel, but working on a project like that connected me to jews who went to war to save their homes and the world from Hitler and the Nazis, and i wish that other jews could experience communal work like that, even in the USA. Then again, I was a History major, other jews might not find that interesting, for others it might be reading folktales, and rebulding lost knowledge, you can’t say.

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