We Jews are altogether too prone to become obsessed with the problem of anti-Semitism and to forget that we possess a life of our own which has to be provided for. It is well, therefore, that the very time when we smart from the wounds inflicted upon us by our enemies that our attention should be directed to the consideration of our communal affairs and to the ordering of our social and cultural institutions.
Among the annual conventions usually held at this time of the year, few can compare in the important bearing they have on Jewish life with those which took place some days ago in Detroit. The National Conference of Jewish Social Service, the National Association of Jewish Center Executives, and the National Council for Jewish Education, met simultaneously to consider the problems peculiar to each of them and jointly to consider those which they have in common. The very coming together of these three groups is an evidence of a clear recognition on their part that Jewish communal activities must henceforth be coordinated and integrated, if they are to achieve results inherently worthwhile. As these groups learn to understand one another, they inevitably come to realize the organic character of Jewish life. Before long they will evolve a philosophy and a sense of purpose in terms of abiding Jewish values. This is happening already. The keynote of the triple convention in Detroit was struck by Dr. I. M. Rubinow, when he took as the theme of his presidential address “The Credo of a Jewish Social Worker”, and pointed out in the course of his argument that it is the duty of the social worker to conceive of his task as consisting in the development of Jewish personality and Jewish community, and in the interpretation of both to the non-Jewish world.
The Jewish social worker is taken for granted as though he were part of the Jewish scene from time immemorial. The truth is that he has come on the scene only recently. Social work as a career and a profession is something very new in Jewish life. The social worker lacks for his calling the tradition which other functionaries, like the rabbis, possess. But that very lack may prove to be an advantage. Not having a tradition to save him from thinking, he is compelled to orient himself toward the realities of the situations with which he has to deal. He is apt to come to his tasks with a mind free from the clichÃ©s and stereotypes which usually render functionaries, who are weighted down by the prestige of long tradition, incapable of sensing any thing new in the problem they have to solve. The Jewish social worker, for instance, soon discovers that the apparently simple formula which describes the Jews as nothing more than a religious community breaks down at the first contact with communal endeavor, because it completely ignores the vast network of Jewish interests, both social and cultural, with which he is called upon to deal. Being compelled to arrive at the principles and techniques necessary to give to the manifold Jewish interests both unity and direction, he will probably be the one who will help American Jewry find out what kind of a group it actually is.
But if the social workers are to make any headway with their self-orientation, without which their calling cannot attain the dignity of a profession, they must vigorously disavow and repudiate as nothing less than rank apostasy the philosophy of assimilation which some of their most prominent representatives are openly advocating. In the course of a public symposium held in Detroit, one of the spokesmen of that philosophy had the effrontery to characterize the effort to organize Jewish community life in America as spiritually on a level with the movement of the Nazis. He very definitely stated that the maintenance of Jewish individuality is incompatible with the scientific and humanitarian trends of modern civilization. There were also heard in that symposium the old specious arguments and stale banalities which have been the stock in trade of those who have preached the fusion of the Jewish people with the rest of the population through intermarriage. Nothing can be more indicative of the chaos and anarchy which obtain in communal Jewish life at the present time than that men who openly promulgate such a philosophy are in a position to direct the policies which govern Jewish communal endeavor in this country. It is usually men of this type who have the ear of Jewish philanthropists. Is it a wonder then that Judaism is being killedâ€”with charity?
A second prerequisite to the self-orientation of the Jewish social worker is for him to come to terms with the social idealism of the day. From the standpoint of the social reformer or idealist, all social work is merely a salve to the conscience and a means of perpetuating social injustice. The social worker winces under this indictment, which he knows to be all too true. But instead of resigning himself to a sense of frustration because he cannot afford to be a social idealist, he must find a way of incorporating social idealism in the very theory and practice of social work. This, of course, means that he must learn to envisage Jewish life not as it was, nor as it is, but as it ought to be. In the name of that ideal Jewish life, the social worker should utilize his knowledge, ability and experience for the purpose of bringing about the removal of those conditions which are responsible for most of the ills philanthropy tries to cure. In the name of Jewish life as it ought to be, the social workers should make part of their philosophy the abolition of poverty, the socialization of wealth, and the equalization of opportunity. But to be able to live up to that philosophy, they will have to act more courageously and more unitedly than they have in the past.
The growing spirit of affirmative Jewishness among the Jewish social workers deserves watching. It may yet prove to be the salvation of American Jewish life.