Diverse Group Calls For Action To Counter ‘Self-Imposed’ Communal ‘Helplessness’


The 2013 Pew Study of American Jewry offers powerful evidence of a threat to what may be called the American Jewish Middle — engaged Jews outside of Orthodoxy — due to late marriage, non-marriage, intermarriage and low birthrates. In fact, over 2 million adults with Jewish parents no longer regard themselves as Jewish.

In response to this threat, a highly diverse group of thought leaders from all around the United States has framed a statement of strategy on how the community best ought respond. Sixty-eight rabbis, academicians, educators, communal professionals and philanthropic leaders, who differ denominationally and ideologically, have joined together to issue a “Statement on Jewish Vitality.” Their statement calls for increased investment in Jewish endeavors sharing three critical features:

A.  They build Jewish social networks by creating more opportunities for Jews to form relationships with other Jews.

B.  They convey meaningful Jewish content.

C.  They work to bring Jews together with others at the same stage in life and with common interests, particularly adolescents, college students and singles and young marrieds in their twenties and thirties.

In our editorial, The Jewish Week discusses the statement, which calls for sharply increasing investment in Jewish education for teenagers, including overnight Jewish summer camps, Jewish youth groups and educationally rich trips to Israel.  It encourages communal support for state tax policies that offset day school tuition. It seeks to increase the number of outreach-oriented and pluralist rabbis on-campusIt calls for Jewish educational investment in Jewish development zones in urban areas where large numbers of unmarried Jewish young adults live. And the statement also calls for efforts to support effective congregational schooling, particularly in the adolescent years, as well as greater efforts to encourage conversion to Judaism.

The statement struck a balance of concern with hope: “We can significantly influence the size, character, commitment and Judaic capacity of this Jewish Middle. … If current trends continue unchecked, the American Jewish community will grow smaller and less vital. But there’s something we can do about it.”

Dr. Steven Bayme, a key organizer of the statement, noted, ”This statement represents our effort to urge the community to take action to enrich the Jewish lives of the next generation. The signers constitute an across-the-board coalition of Jewish leaders and opinion-makers that spans denominational divides as well as those of geography, age, and gender. I believe that absent a communal will that Jewish life is worth living, major parts of American Jewry, the most affluent and best organized community in all of Jewish history, faces the specter of disappearing into the mainstream of American society and culture.”

Mijal Bitton, a doctoral student at NYU and another signer commented, “American Jewish leaders need to view the demographic indicators as a call to action, rather than as a harbinger of inevitable doom. If our response is imbued with hope for the possibilities of contemporary Jewish living — if we privilege both continuity and meaning – we will contribute towards the vitality and flourishing of our community.”

The 71 signers include the following:

Rabbis Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, Peter S. Berg, Sharon Brous, Scott Bolton, Angela Warnick Buchdahl, Elliot Cosgrove, Rachel Cowan, Eric Cytryn, Stephen J. Einstein, Ed Feinstein, David Frank, William G. Gershon, Arnie Gluck, Neal Gold, Laura Geller, Irving (Yitz) Greenberg, Lizzi Heydemann, David Hoffman, Sarit Horwitz, Howard Jaffe, Jeremy Kalmanofsky, Elana Kanter, Noa Kushner, Steve Kushner, Marion Lev-Cohen, Cliff Librach, Bennett Miller, Danny Nevins, Richard S. Rheins, Peter Rubinstein, Jeffrey K. Salkin, Julie Schonfeld, Michael Siegel, Alan Silverstein, Gerald Skolnik, Daniel Smokler, Steven C. Wernick, Ethan Witkovsky, David Wolpe, Irwin Zeplowitz, Sheldon Zimmerman

Philanthropists and Lay leaders: Karen Adler, Mimi Alperin, Mem Bernstein, Barbara Dobkin, Harold Grinspoon, Roger Hertog, Lynn Korda Kroll, Robert I. Lappin, Diane Troderman

Academicians and Scholars: Dr. Steven Bayme, Mijal Bitton, Prof. Steven M. Cohen, Prof. Sylvia Barack Fishman, Michelle Friedman MD, Prof. Lisa Grant, Prof. Harriet Hartman, Prof. Samuel C. Heilman, Dr. Adriane Leveen, Prof. Jon Levisohn, Prof. Deborah Lipstadt, Prof. Riv-Ellen Prell, Prof. Jonathan D. Sarna, Dr. Bernard Shapiro, Prof. Jack Wertheimer

Other thought leaders: Dr. Erica Brown, Dr. David Bryfman, Aliza Kline, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Dr. Erin Leib Smokler, Jonathan S. Tobin