U.S. Reform Rabbis Open Five Day Convention: Discuss Assimilation

The assimilation of America’s Jews in a few generations was forecast today unless the Jewish community shifts its direction from an emphasis on organizational competition and fund-raising to a program of Jewish values of learning, worship, culture and family life.

This prediction was made by Rabbi Leon I. Feuer, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis at the opening session of the rabbinical association’s annual meeting at the Ambassador Hotel. The five-day meeting marks the 75th anniversary of the Conference as the oldest rabbinic body in this country. The CCAR represents 850 Reform spiritual leaders in the United States and Canada and throughout the world.

“There is a desperate need in American Jewish life of a re-established and re-asserted sense of priorities which will introduce for our laity some sort of clarity which can help them to understand once again that the continuity of Judaism as represented by Jewish worship, Jewish learning, Jewish family values, and the bearing of these upon our personal lives and upon the social order are fundamental and that everything else is peripheral,” Rabbi Feuer said.

The CCAR president, in his keynote address, told his colleagues that the time has come to re-evaluate the relationship of the rabbinate to the Jewish community. He deplored the “duplication of expenditures and the waste of funds.”

“The so-called organized Jewish community, locally and nationally, is a kind of hodgepodge of innumerable organizations, federations, agencies, institutions, and power structures, vieing for funds, manpower and time for program schedules in a complex of areas–religious, philanthropic, recreational, defense, educational, overseas and Israeli aid and investment. These stumble all over each other with their activities and meetings and often wastefully duplicate each other’s efforts,”Rabbi Feuer observed.

AVERAGE AMERICAN JEW FOUND CONFUSED BY CONFLICTING CLAIMS

He felt that the “poor, bewildered average Jew is confused by all this and by the conflicting claims upon his attention, loyalty and financial support.” He pointed out that “there are not enough evenings in the week or energy for the earnest, interested Jew to attend all of the organizational programs and committee meetings, let alone worship at Sabbath services. Each organization claims prime consideration and the cause it Represents to be essential to Jewish salvation,” he noted.

“Unless the American Jewry can be made to grasp this basic truth that a change of emphasis is needed, all of the motivations for the support of ancillary programs, indeed for survival altogether, will vanish in a few generations,” Rabbi Feuer warned: “We shall not even have to be concerned about mixed marriage.” He called upon the Reform Rabbinate to express themselves on this issue in the communities in a “loud and clear voice .”

The religious leader decried the “millions upon millions of dollars which go into building funds and the operation of scores of Jewish centers which have been imposed upon Jewish communities all over the country, while those institutions which are dedicated to the religious and intellectual enrichment of Jewish personality, to the preservation of Jewish traditions and values go begging for a pittance, and no one has yet rationally explained what these centers contribute toward the survival of Judaism.”

“Jewish rescue, rehabilitation, and resettlement in Israel and elsewhere are and always will be deeply and traditionally Jewish in their claim upon us, but can one say the same for many of the myriad collateral appeals which often attach themselves to these major causes” the rabbi asked.

Dr. Feuer remarked that some national Jewish organizations have already begun to recognize the fact that the younger generation of American Jews scorns this duplicity in Jewish life and competitiveness among the organizations. He said that these groups were already concerned about the “possible disappearance of motivations for philanthropic and other types of community giving on the part of succeeding generations.”

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