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United Synagogue Leader Calls for Increased Jewish Religious Education

November 17, 1981
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Marshall Wolke, who was today elected president of the United Synagogue of America at its biennial convention here, pledged that his organization will attempt to concentrate in meeting the needs of the “now generation” to increase Jewish religious education for adults.

Wolke, a Chicago businessman who has been active in the Conservative movement for 30 years, defined the “now generation” as those who experienced “the terrible traumas of the 60s and the selfish apathies of the 70s and who are now emerging in the Jewish arena of the 80s.”

In calling on the leadership of the Conservative movement to intensify religious education for adults, Wolke declared: “For years we thought we could reach the adults through the education of the children. Perhaps we ought to see to it that we obtain the challenge of educating the young by also educating the parents.”

Stating that “only some one who knows what it is to be a Jew can find meaning and purpose in Judaism,” Wolke called on the Conservative movement to “intensify the teaching of Judaism, including bible, Jewish history and tradition, through special education courses, seminars and family weekends where people live a Jewish experience.”

He said, “The American Jewish community of today is intellectually sophisticated and upwardly mobile. It is exposed to a multitude of ideologies and philosophies. In a world that offers a multiplicity of choices and where contemporary culture argues against positive and committed Jewish identification, the synagogue alone can and must stem the process of attrition that has beset our people. They want the synagogue, but a synagogue that is relevant to the life of today, that responds to the needs of the 80s generation.”

The United Synagogue convention opened yesterday at the Concord Hotel here and will conclude Thursday. About 2,500 delegates from the United States and Canada are attending. Wolke, a member of the Board of the Solomon Schechter Day Schools and a member of the Board of Jewish Education in Chicago, succeeds Simon Schwartz as president of the United Synagogue.

At an earlier session, Chaim Potok, noted scholar and author, told the convention that “world Jewry has traded the darkness and degradation of ghetto life for the grit and power and pride of geo-politics.”

But Potok warned that “Jews are aware of the resonance of anti-Semitism that lingers like a stench upon our world. But we will continue to be the eternal other, to hold to our vision of things.”

Potok, the author of the popular novels, “The Chosen,” “The Promise,” “My Name is Asher Lev,” as well as the recently published “The Book of Lights,” received the first Rabbi Samuel Cohen Memorial Award of the United Synagogue of America for outstanding contributions to American Jewish life and literature.

Referring to the recent AWACS debate, Potok said, “I don’t think it adds anything to the stature of America to have anyone talking about Jews lobbying too loudly. We complain as Americans about foreign policy, and the Constitution guarantees our right to such questioning.” Continuing, he said: “One wonders why Senators don’t lament American rifle groups lobbying hysterically against gun control.”

Potak said world Jewry is now engaged in an attempt to create for itself a third civilization. He said that the first civilization was 1,000 years of biblical civilization which ended with the destruction of the First Temple. The second was the creative phase of 2,000 years of Talmudic civilization which faded with the ghetto centuries and came to an end with the destruction of European Jewry.

“We are now in an interface between civilizations. And the hope is that the diaspora and Israel will take advantage of this confrontation with modern secularism and rebuild our broken core from treasures of our past and fuse it with the best of secularism and create a third civilization of the Jewish people,” Potok said.

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