A wide-ranging, stimulating, and at times controversial discussion held the members of the Board of Governors to their seats after their morning coffee. The theme was Jewish Continuity, a subject that is slowly being recognized as heading the agenda of Jewish concerns, especially in the Diaspora but in many ways no less so in Israel. The Unive rsity has contacted Jewish Federations and other bodies in the United States to conduct joint programs that will deal with this important subject. As a start, Prof. Miriam Ben-Peretz, Head of the Unviersity's Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, was appointed by the Rector to head a planning committee for joint dialogue with representativ es of the Jewish community of Boston.
The breakfast discussion that was part of the Governors events represented a kind of prelude to these programs, and gave some indication of what awaited involved participants.
Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the Commonwealth, was the keynote speaker at this session. Excerpts from his speech:
I believe that the theme of Jewish Continuity will dominate Jewish concerns for the next century. Future historians will see the present period as a turning point in Jewish history. In the last 100 years, the overriding challenge facing the Jewish people was to build the state of Israel. It was an extraordinary challenge to regather a people exiled for 2000 years, bring them back to Israel, and to establish a sovereign state. It called for the capacity to dream a dream.
During this time, we had the ability to dream of our Jewish state while at the same time experiencing anti-semitism (notably: the 1881 pogroms in Russia and the Dreyfus Affair). This antisemitism culminated in the Holocaust. Thus the overriding question was, “Where can the Jews live? and the dominant theme was “Pikuach Nefesh, saving Jewish
There has been astonishing success by the Zionist enterprise in the last 100 years. We have been privileged to live at a time where the dreams of our grandparents came true. Now, another challenge has begun—the challenge of Jewish Continuity. From 1985-90, 57% of U.S. Jews married non-Jews. Only a small percentage of the couples planned to raise their children as Jews. In Britain, during the same time period, 44% of Jews married non-Jews.
But Jewish Continuity is not only a problem of the Diaspora. It is also a problem in Israel. While the Diaspora is experiencing an increase in mixed marriages and an increased number of Jews who are dropping out of Judaism, Israel is experiencing the problem of the secularization of Judaism and the loss of Jewish values.
Israel realizes it shares the problem of Jewish Continuity with the Diaspora. With this problem in common, Israel and the Diaspora can work together toward solutions. I believe that the 50th anniversary of the Zionist conference will begin to tackle the new problems of Zionism.
Old Zionism New Zionism Enemy Outside Enemy Inside Building the Land Building the People Saving Lives Saving the Jewish People Pikuach Nefesh Pikuach Neshamah
There were never a people in history that valued education as much as we do. We must strengthen Jewish education. Every child must know his or her heritage. It is not enough that Jewish children go to Jewish schools. If one generation doesn't teach its children about Judaism, the whole history of Judaism will disappear. Example: The Yiddish langu age has existed for 800 years. Recently, one generation decided not to teach their children. As a result, the whole language is disappearing. The same can happen with Judaism. 2. Education Alone Is Not Enough
Education brings knowledge, not commitment. In all of the research that has been done, one factor shows to be most significant in determining Jewish children's identity: the home. Of those Jews that marry out of the faith, 92% of men and 99% of women say that there was a low to minimum Jewish observance in their homes. To strengthen Jewish identity, strengthen family. Just little things lighting Shabbat candles, saying kaddish might determine if the child stays in the religion. The greatest gift that we can give children is to show them, through the home, what we value. We can’t ensure Jewish Continuity by writing a check. 3. What is a Jew?
For the last hundred years, our people have been dominated by the fear of anti-semitism. Today Jewish antisemitism continues to be apparent and spreading to our kids. It has created scars and wounds. But, at the same time, we, the Jewish people, are admired like we never were before. We are admired for our family life, our communities, our contrib utions to charitable causes, and the priority we place on education. It is about time that we admire ourselves also. If we have pride in our religion, our children will as well. We must be proud to be what we are. This Jewish heritage is ours. We must give a positive content to our Jewish identity.
Following are summaries of the remarks of some of the other speakers on the panel:
Dr. Jean Kahn, France Israel needs the Diaspora and will need the Diaspora in the future. Israel needs people in the world to express and defend the importance of the Jewish State, the status of Jerusalem, etc. Prof. Leonard Saxe, Brandeis University Jewish Continuity is not a part-time obligation. If we want to continue our Jewish heritage, we need to find a way to pass it on to our children. It is difficult to think about Jewish Continuity without a knowledgeable Diaspora Jewish community. Israel is the key. The University's Overseas Program is crucial for university and graduate students from the Diaspora, as is the University's Elderhostel program.
Prof. Miriam Ben-Peretz, University of Haifa The importance of forming contacts between Diaspora and Israeli Jewry to contend with common problems of Jewish identity in a rapidly changing world and under conditions of growing tension between secular and observant Jews cannot be stressed enough. The safeguarding of Jewish unity is a task of prime importance as is handing down to the next gene ration the values, heritage, and special culture of the Jews.
We must also pass on the common language in the widest sense, meaning not only Hebrew itself, but also all associations with our common history. Jewish education is the key to this task. More contact is needed between Jews in Israel and the Diaspora to discuss Jewish Continuity, so that we can assure our common future.
Mr. Donald Carr, QC, Canada Of the 30 million Canadians, 356,000 are Jewish (1% of population). We need to ensure that being Jewish will continue to be important to Jews. Project Sara developed in Canada—Jewish daycare centers set up, one-week courses teaching basics of Judaism, arranging “buddies” between children of Russian immigrants and Jewish Day School children.
We need to bring as many young Jews as possible to Israel. In addition, we need to bring young Israelis to Jewish communities in the Diaspora. Prof. Menachem Kellner, University of Haifa Religious Jews are not interested in non-religious Jews and vice-versa. The non-religious Jews think that the religious Jews can carry on the religion.
Israeli students do not study Jewish studies. Israeli Jews often feel secure about Jewish Continuity. The Arab-Israeli conflict helps them feel this way. If there were more non-Jews in Israel, there would be a higher rate of intermarriage.
Is Israel the State of Judaism or the State of the Jews? What is the meaning of State of the Jews? If there is no content to this, we will become “Medinat Israel, the state of all its citizens. What kind of Jewish state do we want?
Prof. Helena Lewin, Brazil In Latin America, we are still fighting for human rights, for equality for all citizens, and also, as Jews, to be different at the same time. The Jewish community is weak in Latin America. We realize that Jewish schools are not enough to strengthen the Jewish community. Family education, carrying on Jewish traditions, is extremely important. We ca n't leave everything for the schools. Families must build strong Jewish identities. We must deal with Jewish Continuity in school and family. A wonderful project has been developed in which children trace the history of their families. Let's make these histories spur dialogue in the home.