Chairman's Message

Chairman’s Message – Winter 2016

How appropriate that as Chanukah approaches, we focus on one of the major themes of the holiday: assimilation. When the Syrian-Greeks ruled over Eretz Yisrael, tragically, many Jews succumbed to fear and oppression. Becoming Syrian-Greeks, they adopted the Hellenistic worldview. Some of these Misyavnim, as they were called, even assisted the Syrian-Greeks in their war to eradicate Judaism.

Remarkably, some of the same issues facing the Maccabees back in 167 bce continue to plague us today—issues such as Jewish continuity, Jewish identity and concern about the Jewish future.

How do we ensure that our grandchildren will be Jewish? This was the question I imagine the Maccabees asked themselves before launching into a courageous war to preserve their Judaism and their way of life. This is the very question we must ask ourselves in 2016.

With an intermarriage rate that exceeds 70 percent, American Jewry is heading on a path toward self-annihilation. Some might have a different perspective on this (see, for example, Dr. Marvin Schick’s essay on page 53 in this issue). But irrespective of the different viewpoints, the question of how to ensure Jewish continuity should trouble every thinking Jew—even those of us not directly involved in kiruv or chinuch. “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh la zeh.” We are our brothers’ keepers, and when such an overwhelmingly large number of Jews are so far from Torah and so sadly estranged from our shared heritage, each and every one of us should feel distraught.

Some of you may recall the well-known Jewish population chart entitled “Will Your Grandchild Be Jewish?” that vividly depicted the disintegration of American Jewry. Created in the aftermath of the 1990 National Jewish Population Study, the chart caused quite a stir when it first appeared in the mid-1990s.

We are proud to present a new version of the chart, appearing for the first time in print in our pages. Updated by Antony Gordon and Richard Horowitz, the new chart is based on the raw data of the 2013 Pew Research Center’s survey of American Jews.

In the pages ahead, we present two essays—one by Dr. Schick and one by Gordon and Horowitz—analyzing the updated chart and its implications. The essays, entitled “American Jewry: Where Are We Now? Where Are We Heading?,” provide much food for thought.

In the days of the Maccabees, the Jews were engaged in a full-fledged war to preserve the Torah way of life. We too are engaged in a war—a war against assimilation and ignorance. Our ammunition: education, outreach and, of course, the light of Torah. Perhaps in this ongoing struggle, we can draw inspiration from the Maccabees themselves. They were a small band of Jews, vastly outnumbered and poorly trained, who fought against seemingly impossible odds. Yet they persisted, and mounted battle after battle against the formidable Greek army. Miraculously, the Maccabees won.

In our war against Jewish apathy and assimilation, victory sometimes seems impossible; the situation appears dire and depressing. However, Chanukah reminds us that miracles do happen. They occurred in the past and they still do occur. With much hishtadlus (effort) and prayer, the Maccabees succeeded. With hishtadlus and prayer, perhaps we can succeed as well. Despite the discouraging statistics and dire predictions, who knows what the future really holds for American Jewry?

Aside from this special section on the future of American Jewry, this issue is jam-packed with an array of thoughtful and engaging articles including a delightful piece on volunteerism in Israel. Author Irv Cantor, himself a retiree who made aliyah, explores how retiree olim are giving back to Israel in the most unique ways. Some of the interesting folks we get to meet include a woman who spends her days as a volunteer zookeeper at Jerusalem’s Biblical Zoo and an ingenious senior citizen who fixes defective wheelchairs for an organization that lends medical equipment to those in need. Additionally, authors Eli Genauer and Faigy Grunfeld explore a little-known piece of Jewish history: the role women played in early Hebrew publishing. Reminding me of the days I spent as a teenager working for Hebrew Publishing Company in Manhattan (where, no doubt, I developed my lifelong love of the printed word), these articles describe the significant contributions women made to the world of Hebrew printing. This is a fascinating subject we hope to more fully explore in future issues. I also want to mention the profile of my former classmate, Cantor Sherwood Goffin, who recently retired after serving as the chazzan at Manhattan’s Lincoln Square Synagogue for fifty years. Finally, please remember to check out our delicious Chanukah recipes, courtesy of Norene Gilletz, and best wishes for a happy Chanukah!

Gerald M. Schreck is chairman of the Jewish Action Committee and vice chairman of the OU Board of Governors.

This article was featured in the Winter 2016 issue of Jewish Action.