LAS VEGAS (Sep. 1)
Dr. Daniel Thursz, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, warned that although the current era is a golden age for Jews, serious problems within the Jewish community threaten their future.
In the Keynote speech at the Jewish service organization’s biennial convention here, Thursz noted that “For perhaps the first time in history, Jews have a choice of being Jewish. They don’t have to identify or act out their Jewishness.”
Consequently, he said, the majority have made Jewishness a marginal factor in their lives, leaving the next generation at stake. Thursz pointed out that less than a third of Jewish youngsters participate in any Jewish education program and only about a fifth belong to any Jewish youth organization. “Then why should we be surprised at the assimilation rates?” he asked rhetorically.
Thursz declared that “there is but one inescapable conclusion: The traditional methods and institutions have failed at penetrating this mass ‘more of the same’ will not bring victory.”
A UNIFVING THEME
The B’nai B’rith official said, “It is precisely here that we find the challenge of the 21st century.” He pointed out that “informal Jewish education, as contrasted to schools and traditional approaches, is a unifying theme for much of our work.”
Informal Jewish education as both a strategy and a set of methodology has been developed, categorized, and tested, he explained. Various names have been given to such approaches, he said, listing as examples social group work, family life education, encounter groups, and group dynamics.
“All these are based on several key principles,” he said, and cited emphasis on participatory activities, experimental learning, group problem-solving, and the use of a leader as a facilitator whose goal is to secure active personal involvement of the participants as partners in the educational process.
Thursz pointed out that this approach has proven successful in the B’nai B’rith Hillel, located on more than 400 college campuses in a dozen countries; in the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, which has members in North America, Britain, Europe and Israel: in B’nai B’rith Adult Education Institutes throughout America; and in B’nai B’rith’s other program groups, as well as lodges and units.
ISSUE OF JEWISH LIFE IN THE DIASPORA
Thursz said B’nai B’rith must also come to grips with “a basic ideological issue” of Jewish life in the diaspora. “Neither the Holocaust nor the valiant spirit of Israeli soldiers can serve as magnets that will attract the next generation to identify with Jewish life,” he said. “Nor can we describe life in the Western diaspora as temporary exile.”
“In my view, the gulf between future generations of Israelis and diaspora Jews will grow wider unless we take traumatic and sustained actions to prevent that separation,” he said. Calling the maintenance of uniting the Jewish people essential to Keeping Jewish civilization, Thursz added that massive efforts by both groups are required.