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

Reviving the Peace Process Brings Great Costs and Little Potential for Success

June 26 2017

Now that President Trump has sent envoys to meet with Mahmoud Abbas, it seems clear that he will try to revive negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, which he has declared to be “maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years.” Even those less sanguine argue that there is little harm in trying. Not so, writes Elliott Abrams:

To begin with, it is always harmful for the United States to fail—and for a president to fail. Influence in the world is hard to measure, but when a president devotes himself . . . to any project and fails to pull it off, his influence and that of the United States are diminished. . . .

What’s more, the United States has been championing the “peace process” now for about 30 years. . . . On the Palestinian side many view the “peace process” as a formula for sustaining the occupation. Many Israelis see it as a shield protecting Palestinian malfeasance and worse: when they demand a stop to official Palestinian glorification of terrorism, they hear, “Don’t rock the boat now, negotiations may start.”

A further reason to be wary of another big peace effort is the opportunity cost. When each successive American administration works for a comprehensive peace deal, it tends to neglect the many opportunities to make less dramatic but still consequential real-world progress. . . .

During the George W. Bush administration, those of us on the American side often demanded concessions from Israel to “set the tone for talks” or to “get things moving in the talks.” These steps often gave Abbas symbolic victories, but they rarely contributed to state-building. For example, we were more concerned with getting Israel to release some Palestinian prisoners—who may have committed acts of violence—than we were about getting Israel to remove checkpoints or barriers that prevented Palestinian mobility in the West Bank and thereby made both normal life and economic activity harder. How returning convicted criminals to the streets contributed to building a Palestinian state was never explained.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Donald Trump, Israel & Zionism, Mahmoud Abbas, Peace Process