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Unwarranted Optimism about the American Jewish Future

April 20 2017

While a great number of American scholars devote themselves to the study of Israeli Jews, comparatively few Israeli scholars have made careers of studying American Jews. Uzi Rebhun, author of Jews and the American Religious Landscape, is a notable exception. By including children with only one Jewish parent who identify themselves as Jewish in any way, he comes to some surprisingly sanguine conclusions about demography and the future of the American Jewish community more generally. In his review, Lance J. Sussman injects some pessimism:

Rebhun warns us, [for instance], not to misconstrue [statistics about declining religious observance], for, in the final analysis, “in terms of the strength of their relations with religious identification, Jews are much closer to mainline Protestants than to the unaffiliated.” From the vantage point of a clergyman in Philadelphia whose synagogue’s origins are not far from the Main Line, I find this less than reassuring. . . .

[Rebhun likewise presents] a surprisingly optimistic assessment of the impact of Israeli immigration to the United States. Constituting, he estimates, some 5 percent of the American Jewish population, Israelis remain intimately attached to their country of origin, continue—for the most part—to speak Hebrew at home, and “have begun to establish organizations and institutionalize their activities on behalf of Israel.” As Israeli immigration continues, Rebhun suggests, and as these organizations grow stronger and, perhaps, collaborate more closely with Jewish organizations, “American Jews’ ties to Israel may gather strength as well.”

I’ve met too many second- and third-generation Israeli Americans whose connections to Israel are weak and whose knowledge of Hebrew is close to nugatory to share fully in Rebhun’s optimism on this score. Nor am I prepared, on the basis of my long experience as a congregational rabbi and my even longer study of American Jewish history, to take much solace from his overall presentation of the current state of affairs, which stresses continuity over dilution and decline.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: American Jewry, American Judaism, Intermarriage, Jewish World, Yeridah

Palestinian Unification Brings No Benefits to Israel Unless It Involves Disarmament

Oct. 17 2017

On Thursday, Hamas—which governs the Gaza Strip—and Fatah—which governs parts of the West Bank through the auspices of the Palestinian Authority (PA)—signed an agreement ending over a decade of conflict. The agreement will allow Hamas to share the governance of Gaza with the Fatah-controlled PA; crucially, the PA will again supply Gaza with fuel, electricity, and medical supplies. But Hamas will maintain control over its military and terrorist operations, and thus, writes Alan Baker, the agreement brings peace no closer:

The Hamas-Fatah unity agreement could, in principle, be seen to be a positive development in the general framework of the Middle East peace process . . . [were it] to enable a responsible and unified Palestinian leadership, speaking with one voice and duly empowered to further peace negotiations. . . .

[But in order for such an agreement to have this effect, its] basic tenet . . . must be the open reaffirmation of the already existing and valid Palestinian commitments vis-à-vis Israel and the international community, signatories as witnesses to the Oslo Accords. Such commitments, set out in detail in the accords, include ending terror, incitement, boycott, and international attempts to bypass the negotiating process. Above all, they require dismantling all terror groups and infrastructures. They necessitate a return to economic and security cooperation and a positive negotiating mode. . . .

The Palestinian Authority also has its own obligation to cease supporting terrorists and their families with salaries and welfare payments. Since the present unification does not fulfill [this requirement], it cannot be acceptable either to the international community or to Israel.

Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Fatah, Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Palestinians