LOS ANGELES (Nov. 11)
Reports of a schism between world Jewry and Israel in the wake of the war in Lebanon and the massacre of Palestinians in west Beirut refugee camps have been grossly exaggerated. In fact, just the reverse is true, Martin Citrin, president of the Council of Jewish Federations, said here last night.
Addressing some 3,000 Jewish leaders and activists from the United States and Canada at the gala 50th anniversary General Assembly of the CJF, meeting through Sunday at the Bonaventure Hotel here, he declared.
“What we have lived through in the last several months has strengthened us. Let those who feel otherwise understand clearly that there is not now, never has been and never will be a single crack in the support of all of world Jewry where the continuing strength and security of the nation of Israel is imperiled.”
Citrin, whose address dealt with “insuring the commitment of the next generation,” emphasized that to assure that commitment, it is necessary to create a joint agenda “for the people of Israel, the Jewish people, with the nation of Israel.” Furthermore, he said, the basic element in that agenda “is to do what we can to help insure peace for that beleaguered land.”
ELEMENTS OF JOINT AGENDA
But, Citrin pointed out, there is another side to this joint agenda. “As American Jews we must work with our Israeli brothers and sisters to help them understand us and we them,” he said. “As we salute the saga of their accomplishments — unequalled in modern times — as we seek to continually understand and share their fears and concerns, so must we help them understand us — our love of country, home and birthplace to most of us.”
He added, however, “This does not in one iota lessen the centrality of Israel in our spiritual and cultural lives. This does not lessen the resolve and energy that we hold ready to pour out in full measure for the security and fulfillment of every single one of our Israeli brothers and sisters.”
Another element in the joint agenda, Citrin said, “are our deep concerns about anti-Semitism and relationships here in North America and world-wide. We have recently lived through — and continue to live through, a period of violence and shocks that have caused us to take a new and sobering look at the ugly turn that world events have taken — the very real effort to delegitimize the State of Israel, to equate racism with Zionism, terrorist acts in France and Italy which seek to put the Jewish communities of the world at peril of their very acceptance and safety.”
While Jews around the world find themselves in a generally perilous situation, “the prophecy of Abraham has come to full fruition here in North America, for the people of Israel,” Citrin pointed out. “At no time or place in their history have Jews as a people — a group — been so free, affluent, accepted, influential and satisfied as now in North America.”
Their status and impact in North America is even greater than it is in Europe, Citrin said, where the Jewish legacy includes two Premiers of France, a Prime Minister of Austria, a Mayor in Ireland, Germany’s most famous poet, and intellectual and scientific giants like Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Marc Chagall, Jonas Salk and Martin Buber.
The strength of the North American Jewish community has in no small part been due to the work of the communal Federations in organizing and institutionalizing “an incomparable network for human services for our own people and for the disadvantaged of this continent and beyond,” Citrin said.
To show how well the Federations system has done, Citrin offered some comparison data — 1932 versus 1982. “As a base line reference,” he said, in 1932, the Jewish population in North America was 4,380,000; in 1982, 6,263,000, an increase of some 43 percent. In 1932, there were 125 Federations although the majority of these were welfare funds only and not full-fledged Federations. Today, there are 200 full-fledged Federations in North America.
Continuing, Citrin pointed out that there were 3,500 synagogues in North America in 1932 and 5,400 today; 2,000 Jewish schools in 1932 and 2,500 today. Within those numbers, there were 12 day schools in 1932, compared to 600 today; student enrollment numbered 200,000 in 1932, compared to 360,000 today.
In 1932, Citrin said, Jews in North America raised $17 million in their annual campaign; in 1982, Jews in North America will have raised through Federation campaigns, including Project Renewal, $640 million. Starting from an organization of 13 Federations in 1932, it has grown to 200 Federations today.
FIRST PRIORITY IS EDUCATION
What of the next 50 years? Citrin asked. What will be the North American agenda and how will it be implemented? The approach to this will require “a new element of creative and expansive thinking.” It will require, Citrin added, experimentation, blazing new trails, taking risks and bringing to bear “the full force of our people and dollar resources” in “new and daring ways.”
The first priority on the agenda of total concerns is Jewish education, Citrin said. “Without Jewish education, there is no Jewish people,” he observed. “Our best bulwark against assimilation, our best nourishment for healthy Federations and healthy Jewish communities is Jewish education.”
What would it mean. Citrin asked, “if we could provide a free Jewish education for all Jewish children and adults? Suppose we had in-North America Jewish day schools of all persuasions of the caliber of an Eton or Exeter in every major Jewish community? What an impact this would have for our future.”
Another priority on the agenda of Jewish concerns, Citrin said, is the relationship between North American Jewry and Israel once “true and enduring peace” has been established in that land. “Think about the possibilities of our understanding and working with each other in the context of peace and not war, ” he told the delegates.
“First, of course, to save the threatened Jewish communities of the world wherever they now are or might be in the future — Ethiopia, Syria, Soviet Russia — who can hear what we have heard? The longing, the courage, the privation, the reaffirmation of their resolve — that strengthens us in our commitment to aid and support heroes like Anatoly Shcharansky in their struggle. That is our struggle, to save the these imprisoned people and bring them to Israel before it is too late, before a spiritual cultural Holocaust will have last for us — for all time — this great chance.”
Continuing, Citrin also called upon the audience to “think about the possibility of developing the network of know-how and investment between the affluent and experienced Jewish communities of the world and Israel to help bring to full fruition the industrial and economic opportunities available there — a people-to-people link, not just a dollar link. We have our first glimpse of the power of this kind of relationship in Project Renewal.”
In the final analysis, Citrin said, the agendas for the years ahead, “in reality, are the same agendas that we have had for the last 4,000 years; a yearning to exist, not by sufferance but with pride and hope and worth, with comfort and meaning in our lives.”