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Jewish Communal Workers Get ‘bleak’ Picture on Jewishness in U.S.

September 8, 1966
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The role of Jewish communal services in strengthening Jewish identification was emphasized here tonight at the opening session of the International Conference of Jewish Communal Service, organization of Jewish communal workers, which is being held here concurrently with the biennial International Conference of Social Work.

It was announced at the opening session that the conference of the organization next year will be held in Jerusalem, in August. Dr. Bertram Gold, president of the National Conference of Jewish Communal Service, opened the parley tonight at which Graenum Berger, consultant of the New York Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, was the principal speaker.

Declaring that “strengthening of Jewish identification is the raison d’etre for Jewish communal service,” Mr. Berger told the Jewish communal workers that the continuity of Jewish life depended upon the success of Jewish welfare, educational and religious organizations in educating the Jewish layman to greater “Jewish knowledge, Jewish belonging and Jewish behavior.”

Mr. Berger said that the problem of educating the Jewish layman Jewishly “is a major problem confronting the Jewish community in the future, and this, not so incidentally is the first task of the professional working in the Jewish field.” He presented a “bleak” picture of the lack of strength of Jewish life in the world today.

“Somehow,” he said, “we have failed to communicate diligently to our children the reason why the Jewish people must continue.” He added: “Jews are gradually becoming indistinguishable from our neighbors in that we are losing the distinctive features which made us a light unto the nations.” He warned that, in the years ahead, “the pace of conformity will be so much stronger as to make the process of assimilation, not acculturation, even more pronounced than it is today.”

Mr. Berger attacked the viewpoint long held by many Jewish social service practitioners that the main reason for Jewish social welfare organizations is “merely a rendering of service to those who come to our doors for assistance.” He said that assimilation has been breeding upon such factors in Jewish community life as the declining birth rate, intermarriage, a breakdown of the traditional pattern of Jewish family life, and the disruption and dislocation of old Jewish neighborhoods. He saw the growth of a Jewish day school movement as promising, but concluded that “the overall picture for most Jews is bleak.”

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