Since assuming the Presidency of the Orthodox Union nine months ago, I have had the honor of visiting a number of our communities within the United States; representing the OU in Israel, Russia and Belarus; and meeting or talking with the leaders of Jewish communities throughout the world.
It is now clear to me that the problems we are facing here in America, such as intermarriage and assimilation, are present throughout the world. In some countries the sense of crisis is even more acute.
The most serious impediment to a resolution of these problems is the lack of communication within our broad worldwide Orthodox community. We have failed to share our successful programs with one another.
Despite outstanding rabbinic and lay groups worldwide, there is little opportunity for us all to share our concerns and project our goals.
I believe the Orthodox Union must become the trend setter. We feel most qualified to coordinate this effort as we face these challenges together.
Since this past January, I have been corresponding with a number of world leaders regarding such an initiative. More recently, I approached Israel’s Ministry of Religious Affairs and the World Zionist Organization’s Department of Leadership Development and Dor Hemshech on this matter as well.
During my July visit to Israel with a group of other Orthodox leaders to meet with Prime Minister Rabin, the effort continued to gather momentum.
During the visit, while working on plans for our own January 1996 Jerusalem 3000 Convention, I introduced the idea of a gathering of the Conference of Orthodox Synagogues and Kehillot in Jerusalem to coincide with the OU’s plans for January, 1996.
My suggestion was met with great enthusiasm by both Israeli officials and our counterparts worldwide. We have since issued initial invitations worldwide in hopes of bringing together some 100 to 200 rabbis, lay leaders and academics for the purpose of tackling the problems that unite and concern each and every one of us.
The agenda, I suggest, should include a discussion of:
1. Assimilation and Intermarriage: How do we grapple with the burgeoning crisis? How do we reach our youth more effectively?
2. Pluralism: How do we intensify our support for Torah and mitzvot? How do we project our agenda to a skeptical Jewish world?
3. Effectively Servicing our Synagogues and Constituencies: creative modules that should be replicated worldwide.
4. Youth: Outreach programs for youth; their efficiency, is there a way of improving them or standardizing them? How do we reach new individuals and groups?
5. Kashrut: Standards and New Technologies. How do we elevate these on a universal basis so that the kosher consumer has universal standards worldwide?
6. Religious Education: Are we doing the best for our children? Are we teaching them in the most efficient manner?
7. Ethics, Morality, Sexuality and Family Values: Is our community meeting the needs of teaching Torah in the business world, in sexual matters, in our relationship with the government, in the payment of taxes and in community responsibility? Do we accept a double standard in many of these areas?
8. Telecommunications: How can this growing area be made to service the Torah and halachic community in a more impressive way?
9. Rabbinical Respect: How do we increase respect and visibility worldwide for the Chief Rabbinate of Israel?
10. Seniors: Are we doing enough for our senior citizens who are retiring at earlier ages in a healthy and often affluent manner yet are not involved in the community?
11. College Youth: Is the Orthodox community doing enough on the campus, and how do we go about doing more?
12. The Orthodox Single: What methods can we use to attack this very serious problem?
13. The Single Parent: A growing worldwide problem that we have never really faced.
14. The Disabled: Can we have programs and projects that will integrate the disabled into our everyday communal life?
15. Jerusalem: The Eternal Jewish Capital. What is our role in keeping it so?
I have recommended that these topics be among those that we should consider discussing at this first meeting. A preliminary meeting has been set for October in Jerusalem, at which we will create a format for the January conference. It is my hope that the decision will be to either create a new international organization that will function on a regular basis to focus on these issues and to reinvigorate the World Conference of Orthodox Synagogues and Kehillot.
In my opinion true success requires that all of us work together to unite our flourishing community.
Shanah Tovah to all.