A leading university president warned here today that “American Jews are in peril of losing the spiritual and cultural wealth of their Jewish heritage.”
Addressing almost 1,000 delegates and guests at the opening session of the 1982 five-day biennial convention of the JWB, at the Marriott Hotel, Dr. Alfred Gottschalk, president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, said that assimilation is accelerating to the point where “one out of every three Jews who marry now marries a non-Jew.”
He noted that while it “may be theoretically true that intermarriage provides an opportunity to bring others into the Jewish faith, the fact is that intermarriage is a harbinger of decline and a threat to our existence.”
Gottschalk told the JWB delegates that other demographic trends in American Jewish society that pose a danger to its future are: the declining population; the disproportionate number of older Jews; and the fact that “more than half the Jews in America play no part in Jewish communal life.”
WANING OF TWO FORCES IN MODEM JEWISH HISTORY
Continuing, Gottschalk declared; “The future coherence and sense of identity of the American Jewish community is also threatened by the waning of the two most powerful forces in modem Jewish history — the Holocaust and the State of Israel.
“The power of the Holocaust to keep alive, our sense of Jewishness must recede with time. For our grandchildren, the Holocaust is likely to be a historical event, different, perhaps, in degree but not in significance from such other events in Jewish history as the expulsion from Spain or the Czarist pogroms.”
Gottschalk expressed fear that “time is also eroding the powerful influence that Israel has had in sustaining and uniting American Jews. Already there is plain evidence to indicate that the idea of Israel has lost something of its hold on the imagination of American Jews.
A certain disillusion is apparent in some quarters, a certain emotional fatigue is felt, a certain disaffection can be discerned.”
The time has come, he observed, “for the American Jewish community to work out a new modus vivendi with Israel. Jews cannot go on living their Jewishness vicariously through Israel. They must build a foundation for Jewish life here, too.”
SUGGESTS A COUNTER-BALANCE
As a counter-balance to the factors which are likely to adversely affect American Jewish life, Gottschalk called the JWB delegates’ attention to the “increasingly harmonious and cooperative relationship between Jewish secular and religious institutions.”
“The tensions between the synagogue on the one hand,” Gottschalk said, “and the Federation, Jewish community center and similar organizations on the other, which were once a source of great concept, are easing. That spirit of cooperation must be encouraged. There is no reason for division. All of us must share in as many institutions in Jewish life as possible, thus multiplying the guarantors of our continued existence.”
Gottschalk asserted, “Nothing is more important than to devote more of our energies and resources to Jewish education at every level. It is the growth of a knowledge of Judaism, an understanding of its ideas, and a familiarity with its history and culture which is the surest safeguard against the dangers which confront American Jewry.”
ESTHER RITZ ELECTED NEW PRESIDENT OF JWB
At another session, Esther Ritz of Milwaukee, a leader in local, national and international organizations, and the recipient of many awards, was elected president of the JWB. She succeeds Robert Adler, a Chicago insurance executive who has served as JWB president since April, 1978.
Mrs. Ritz is president of the World Confederation of Jewish Community Centers, a vice-president of the Council of Jewish Federations, a board member of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and president of the Florence G. Heller-JWB Research Center.
In Milwaukee, she is the immediate past president of the Jewish Federation, vice chairman of the board of the United Way, and vice chairman of the special advisory committee to the Combined Community Services Board of Milwaukee County. She was president of the Milwaukee Jewish Community Center, the first woman to achieve that honor.
During World War II, Mrs. Ritz served as an administrative analyst and economist for the Office of Price Administration in New York, Washington and Chicago. She is the second woman president of JWB. The first was the late philanthropist, Florence Heller, who served from 1964 until her death in January, 1966.
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.