The American Jewish community was called upon today “to know more about itself” at the opening here of the 34th General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare-Funds. The parley is attended by more than 1,000 top communal leaders, representing 220 Jewish federations and community councils serving 800 Jewish communities in the United States and Canada.
The five-day General Assembly is the annual meeting at which the representatives of the Jewish communities exchange opinions and define major welfare objectives and programs as guides to communities. They also set the policies of the CJFWF. Addressing the first general session of the Assembly today, Louis Stern of Newark, president of the CJFWF stressed that “there is an urgent need for the Jewish community to know more about itself.”
No enterprise as large as Jewish communal service knows so little about itself as does American Jewry, Mr. Stern pointed out. Even the estimate of the number of Jews in the United States is only a guess. Canadian Jews have their own census figures. “We don’t know our birth rates and death rates,” he said. “We don’t know how many we are gaining or losing through intermarriage. There are too many slogans and too few facts on the vital question of intermarriage.”
To fill this knowledge gap, Mr. Stern reported, the first comprehensive national study ever made on American Jews is being planned by the CJFWF. Cost of the study is expected to be about $650,000 over a three-year period, to be sought from foundations. It will provide the first accurate facts on age patterns, their geographic distribution, economic status, family size, the intermarriage rate of Jews, education, occupations, synagogue affiliation and participation in organized Jewish communal groups and activities.
The study, said Mr. Stern, will show “not only who we are, but what we are, what our communities are like, what our people are like–what they think about their Judaism and what they do about it.”
DETACHMENT OF YOUNG JEWISH ADULTS FROM JUDAISM ANALYZED
In preparation for the General Assembly, outstanding young Jewish adults in communities and on campuses across the country were asked by the CJFWF to prepare papers on how they viewed Jewish life in the United States. “The common threads which run through these papers need to be examined,” Mr. Stern declared. In the papers, it is noted that Jewishness, linked only to ritual and custom, does not answer the problems that concern young people most as citizens and as human beings, he said.
“The apparent lack of relevance of the Judaism they know, to the problems of modern society, is driving a number into detachment. These are not people who are indifferent to the issues facing mankind. They are often deeply concerned. And they are manifesting that concern in our leadership training programs, where they ask not only how, and when, but why.
“If Judaism had no answers, if ritual and customs were all we had to offer, we would indeed be in difficulty. It is almost tragic that too often we have failed to translate the ethical concepts which are the heart of Judaism into language and terms which our young people could know and understand,” said Mr. Stern.
The task facing the American Jewish community, he declared, requires all the communal, intellectual and rabbinical commitment that can be brought to bear. “If we cannot provide solid answers to the problem of relevance, nothing else will be effective,” he pointed out.
GROWING CONCERN FOR FUTURE OF JEWISH COMMUNITIES IN U. S. CITED
Declaring that Jewish leaders must re-evaluate their Federations and ask: How relevant is what we do to the big issues of our time?, the CJFWF president noted that there is a growing concern in North America for the future of Jewish communities. “We need a healthy concern, not for fear of what may happen to our Judaism, but rather a concern for what we want it to be,” he said. “And if my observations are correct, many of the people becoming somewhat hysterical about the ‘vanishing Jew’ are people swayed by magazine article headlines and by slogans–people who are most distant from the realities of Jewish responsibilities and from what is actually happening.”
What is taking place in communities, Mr. Stern pointed out, is stimulating a vital outlook within Jewish agencies and the rise of highly qualified young men and women into Jewish communal leadership. These developments are most reassuring, he stated. “Many non-sectarian agencies, governmental and those sponsored by religious groups have told us that they would give much to have the same drive, commitment, dynamism and quality,” he said.
JEWISH AGENCIES SPEND ANNUALLY $650,000,000 FOR HUMAN NEEDS
“When we add up all that we do each year–the $200,000,000 we provide for operations, capital needs and endowment purposes as part of the $650,000,000 annual expenditures by Jewish agencies for almost every kind of human need–even more when we add up what these funds and our agencies accomplish in the perspective of our members–it’s a remarkable achievement.”
Mr. Stern pointed to the importance of voluntary agencies within the framework of the U. S. and Canadian democracies. At the core of these societies is the freedom of groups to undertake what will best serve their group purposes and what will most strengthen the country as a whole, he said.
Turning to the critical personnel crisis facing the North American Jewish community, Mr. Stern said this serious problem can only be solved in our own cities, “If the social workers, rabbis and educators don’t come from each of our own cities, where are they coming from? And if we don’t build the prestige and importance of these positions and provide responsibilities that will attract the best of our young people, how are we going to get them?” Mr. Stern declared.
HAYES REPORTS ON PROBLEMS OF JEWISH COMMUNITIES IN CANADA
Saul Hayes, executive vice-president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, addressing the CJFWF General Assembly, stressed the fact that there is a major linguistic and cultural crisis now prevailing in Canada, arising out of the conflict in relationships between French Quebec and the rest of Canada.
“In Quebec,” he said, “the Jewish community has to conduct itself in the light of realities in which the priority of the French language is becoming a reality.” He also cited the concept of the “two Canadas” and the thesis of Quebec’s Premier Jean Lesage that the original treaties between the English and French gave the French a special status and an advantage over all other minority groups.
In the light of this situation, he added, the Jewish community in Canada is confronted with the possible danger of a second class citizenship in a two Canada situation. At the same time, it faces all the other problems that confront Jewish communities every where as a result of the affluent society, the mobility of population and the effects of automation.
“We certainly do not have the answers to the problems which we encounter in this period of great flux. There are, however, a number of imperatives with which the Jewish community should concern itself. We must maintain our vitality and not merely our identity. We must maintain a heritage and not merely a memory and we must inculcate our Jewish identity with meaning and not merely with folklore.”
Pointing out the difference between the Jewish communities in Canada and the United States and emphasizing that there are only 250,000 Jews in Canada, Mr. Hayes said: “There is no typical Canadian Jew who may be easily identified from one end of the country to the other. Apart from certain distinctive Jewish interests held in common, the Jew in British Columbia is more like the typical resident of British Columbia and the same thing holds true in Manitoba, Ontario and other provinces. The only exception to this regional typicality is in Quebec where the situation is much more difficult to analyze.”
“In the United States,” Mr. Hayes noted, “Jewish organizations are among the leading opponents of the use of public funds for private schools, considering this a breach in the separation of church and state. In Canada, the church-state separation tradition is not so great and, in Quebec, it is non-existent. Even in Ontario, with a recognized public school system, the Jews are divided on the question of seeking public funds for private schools.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.