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.

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

 

A University of Michigan Professor Exposes the Full Implications of Academic Boycotts of Israel

Sept. 26 2018

A few weeks ago, Professor John Cheney-Lippold of the University of Michigan told an undergraduate student he would write a letter of recommendation for her to participate in a study-abroad program. But upon examining her application more carefully and realizing that she wished to spend a semester in Israel, he sent her a polite email declining to follow through. His explanation: “many university departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel in support of Palestinians living in Palestine,” and “for reasons of these politics” he would no longer write the letter. Jonathan Marks comments:

We are routinely told . . . that boycott actions against Israel are “limited to institutions and their official representatives.” But Cheney-Lippold reminds us that the boycott, even if read in this narrow way, obligates professors to refuse to assist their own students when those students seek to participate in study-abroad programs in Israel. Dan Avnon, an Israeli academic, learned years ago that the same goes for Israel faculty members seeking to participate in exchange programs sponsored by Israeli universities. They, too, must be turned away regardless of their position on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. . . .

Cheney-Lippold, like other boycott defenders, points to the supposed 2005 “call of Palestinian civil society” to justify his singling out of Israel. “I support,” he says in comments to the [Michigan] student newspaper, “communities who organize themselves and ask for international support to achieve equal rights [and] freedom and to prevent violations of international law.”

Set aside the absurdity of this reasoning (“Why am I not boycotting China on behalf of Tibet? Because China has been much more effective in stifling civil society!”). Focus instead on what Cheney-Lippold could have found out by using Google. The first endorser of the call of “civil society” is the Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine, which includes Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and other groups that trade not only in violent “resistance” but in violence that directly targets noncombatants.

That’s remained par for the course for the boycott movement. In October 2015, in the midst of the series of stabbings deemed “the knife intifada,” the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel shared a call for an international day of solidarity with the “new generation of Palestinians” who were then “rising up against Israel’s brutal, decades-old system of occupation.” To be sure, they did not directly endorse attacks on civilians, but they did issue their statement of solidarity with “Palestinian popular resistance” one day after four attacks that left three Israelis—all civilians—dead.

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More about: Academia, Academic Boycotts, BDS, Israel & Zionism, Knife intifada