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Jerusalem Conference to Focus Attention on Jewish Education

“There will be a minimum of ceremonies and a relative large number of worring sessions” at the World Leadership Conference for Jewish Education which opens here tomorrow, according to Morton Mandel, the conference chairman. The gathering will be attended by about 160 delegates from abroad and 50 Israelis. Most of the participants are community leaders; only a quarter of them are professional educators. The conference, being convened by Premier Yitzhak Shamir, Education Minister Zevulun Hammer andoleon Dulzin, chairman of the Jeiwsh Agency and World Zionist Organization Executives, will concentrate on the survival of Jewry in a secular age when assimilation and inter-marriage are rampant.

“Our main aim is to raise interest in the subject (Jewish education) among those who until now have been standing afar,” Dulzin said at a press conference here today. The survival of the Jewish people is the issue, he declared. “Today, more than ever in the past, the Jewish people are aware that it faces a real danger.”

CENTRAL ISSUE

Dulzin noted the increasing number of mixed marriages. More Jews are drifting away, he said and “therefore, it is time to place Jewish education as the central issue.” He recalled that “In the past, the Jew was protected as a Jew. The Jews lived among other nations, but they lived within themselves. The Jewish world was predominantly religious. In oreder to pass the border, one had to convert to another religion.

“Today, the world is open and secular. Most Jews lead a secular life and one doesn’t need to convert, one simply drifts away from Judaism, ” Dulzin said. “Suddenly we have realized that we are facing a danger, that we are far away from what we ought to be. This will be a conference of a loud cry to preserve the existence of the Jewish people, to be followed by action.”

Mandel observed that the emphasis on working sessions promises to lead to some positive action to improve Jewish education.

Prof. Uzi Schmelz of the Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University told the press conference that diaspora Jewry is facing a grave crisis. The number of Jews living in the diaspora has decreased from 10.2 million in 1970 to 9.6 million now, a loss of 600,000 Jews. He said three factors are responsible: low natural growth; assimilation; and the aging of the Jewish population.

Schmelz said Jews have fewerchildren than their non-Jewish neighbors. Most mixed marriages do not involve religious conversion by either partner, he said. “The problem arises with the children.”

LOW PERCENTAGE RECEIVE JEWISH EDUCATION

The Institute of Contemporary Jewry recently completed an international census of Jewish schools in the diaspora, the first of its find. It covered 3,535 in stitutions, including day schools and supplementary schools at all levels, from pre-kindergarten through high school. A totla of 535,000 Jewish pupils were covered by the study, 69 percent of them living in the U.S.

The census showed that in the early 1980s, 37-41 percent of all Jewish children aged 3-17 were enrolled in Jewish schools in diaspora. If the Soviet Union and other Eastern bloc countries are excluded, the proportion rises to 41-45 percent.

The rates vary from over 70 percent in the smaller Latin American communities; over 60 percent in Argentina, South Africa and Australia; between 45-55 percent in the United Kingdom, Canada and Brazil; between 40-45 percent in the U.S. and in the small communities in Moslem countries; and under 40 percent in Western Europe. Of the major Jewish communities there, France, with the largest Jewish community, has only 25 percent of its children enrolled in Jewish schools.

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