Future of American Jewish Community Discussed at Two-day Parley
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Future of American Jewish Community Discussed at Two-day Parley

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Greater emphasis on Jewish aspects of American life and the urgent need for a democratically conceived central Jewish organization was urged today by most speakers, with one major dissent, at the second day of a two-day conference on “Planning for the American Jewish Community of Tomorrow–1975” sponsored by the Theodor Herzl Institute.

Outstanding rabbis, communal leaders and academicians spoke at the ten sessions devoted to critical evaluations of the structure and policies of Jewish communal and religious life and the projection of principles, programs and procedures for meeting the Jewish communal needs of 1975. A Jewish community for 1975 that is more Jewish orientated than that of today, and which stems from a democratically conceived central Jewish organization, was urged by Dr. Judah Shapiro, secretary of the National Federation for Jewish Culture. He said:

“One of the first issues in planning for the future is that of creating a democratic structure for the Jewish community which will include an expression of decision (voting), the presentation of alternatives (platforms and parties), and the selection of leaders on the basis of merit (elections), rather than ascription. Planning for 1975 demands the earliest attention to the establishment of democratically structured Jewish communities.”

A diametrically opposed point of view was expressed by Professor Eli Ginzberg, director of Conservation of Human Resources at Columbia University, who said that “Jewish organizations should stop their elusive search for developing a broad unified structure to encompass all or most of them,” Such an effort, he said, “is doomed because of the basic differences in values that characterize the different groups. Even if one limits the search for consensus to the larger middle groups and ignores the orthodox at one end the totally non-affiliated at the other, there is little prospect of developing a broad consensus. Each organization that is asked to give up its freedom of action can see the losses incident thereto; the gains are viewed as highly problematic.”


Devoting himself to the question of “new perspectives for Jewish community relations, Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg of Englewood, New Jersey, stated that there will inevitably have to be a division of labor among institutions currently financed by the Jewish community. Those who involve people in non-sectarian philanthropy, political and civil rights and similar activities will have to become “avowedly public institutions, to be directed and financed by a broad spectrum of the American people.”

At the same time, he continued, those agencies which remain in the specifically Jewish field will have to transform their programs, in the areas of culture and education, “so that they are consciously and clearly calculated to increase Jewish knowledge and commitment. Part of their task in character-training, of course, will be to produce for society as a whole the kind of people who are motivated, from Jewish sources, to band together with others in the general struggle for a better and more just society.”

C. Bezalel Sherman, well-known Jewish sociologist, said that this “central body” must be built on “the three pillars of Jewish community life–the synagogue, Jewish institutionalism, and Jewish world interdependence.” He described the American Jewish community today as a community of 5-3/4 million Jews, at least 80 percent of whom are American native-born, as against the Jewish community of 50 years ago totaling 2,300,000 Jews, 60 percent of whom were immigrants.

He said that “the growing indigenousness of American Jewry” has posed new problems for the American Jewish community that can only be met by the creation of a strong central Jewish organization “democratically constituted that will have the right to speak in the name of American Jews and weave a Jewish strand into the fabric of American society without tearing it out of the texture of Jewish people hood.”

Except for Israel with its 2,250,000 Jews, Mr. Sherman pointed out, the Jews of the United States–45 percent of world Jewry–and other Jews in the Diaspora are developing in the third and fourth generations without spiritual ties with their fellow Jews throughout the world. Also, he pointed out that although “Jews are in the very forefront in general education, they are almost illiterate in respect to Jewish knowledge.

“There is thus a very great difference in the United States between the first and second generation of Jews fifty years ago and the third and fourth generation today,” he pointed out. “The third generation will make fewer demands on the Jewish ness of the fourth and will display a greater acceptance of mixed marriages which are bound to increase in rate and numbers in the future.”

Other speakers included Rabbi Ira Eisenstein, president of the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation; Rabbi Herbert Friedman, executive vice-president of the United Jewish Appeal; Dr. Emil Lehman, director of the Herzl Institute; Manuel G. Batshaw, director of national services of the Jewish Welfare Board; Mrs. Avis Shulman, a prominent lecturer; Graenum Berger, consultant on community centers and camps of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York; and others.

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