Loving Critique


It was an honor to share the stage with Presidents Conference Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein, and to engage in a serious conversation on the major political and communal issues of the day at The Jewish Week Forum on Feb. 26 (“Mind The Generation Gap,” March 8). Robert Goldblum accurately captures some aspects of the generational divide that separates us, which was certainly on display periodically during the evening.

But he overreaches in inaccurately describing me as “leading a frontal assault on the Jewish establishment.” My work with the Shalom Hartman Institute in North America has been predicated entirely on the value of working in partnership with major organizations both inside and outside of the “establishment,” including UJA-Federation of New York, the American Jewish Committee, rabbinic and synagogue organizations, and many others. If I (and my organization) have a meaningful critique of the establishment, it is a loving one: in what ways can we bring ideas from Jewish tradition to make leadership in the Jewish community stronger and better?

Moreover, to characterize the entire conversation as Goldblum did as premised on the young versus the old — to great dramatic effect — tells a more accurate story about the anxieties in our community around change than it does about real generational transition. Similar ideas to my own on Israel and its use of power have been aired for decades by other intellectuals and activists inside and outside the “establishment”; that they sound countercultural against the voices of a few “establishment” leaders does not mean that they are the voices of the young against the voices of the old. It just means we are more comfortable with existing power structures in our community than we are with the full pluralism of ideas that already exists in our big Jewish community. The singular focus on the issue of age shuts down the value of meaningful debate on major issues.

President, Shalom Hartman Institute of North America

is president of the Shalom Hartman Institute.