JBuzz News May 26, 2013: Naomi Schaefer Riley: Why do Jews intermarry, and who’d marry a Jew anyway?

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Why do Jews intermarry, and who’d marry a Jew anyway?

In her new book, Naomi Schaefer Riley takes a look at why so many in the American Jewish community are marrying out of the faith.

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Jewish wedding Photo: Thinkstock
Over the past half century, intermarriage has become increasingly common in the United States among all religions – but among Jews at the highest rate.

Why that is the case is one of the questions Naomi Schaefer Riley probes in her new book, “‘Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage is Transforming America” (Oxford University Press).

One of the main reasons, Riley finds, is that the older people get, the more likely they are to intermarry….READ MORE

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JBuzz News May 1, 2013: No White House party? What’s a Jew to do during Jewish American Heritage Month

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No White House party? What’s a Jew to do during Jewish American Heritage Month

Source: Jewish Telegraphic Agency (blog), 5-1-13

May is Jewish American Heritage Month, a commemoration first recognized by President George W. Bush in 2006. Since then, hundreds of programs have taken place nationwide annually to honor the rich contributions of Jews to American culture and society….READ MORE

Full Text JBuzz News March 25, 2013: US President Barack Obama’s Passover Message

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Statement from the President on Passover

Source: WH, 3-25-13

 

As we prepare for our fifth Seder in the White House, Michelle and I send our warmest wishes to all those celebrating Passover here in America, in the State of Israel, and around the world.

Tonight, Jewish families will gather with family and friends to celebrate with songs, wine, and food. They will read from the Haggadah, and retell the story that makes this holiday so powerful.

Last week, I visited the state of Israel for the third time, my first as President. I reaffirmed our countries’ unbreakable bonds with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres. I had the chance to speak directly with young Israelis about the future they wanted for their country, their region, and the world. And I saw once again how the dream of true freedom found its full expression in those words of hope from Hatikvah, lihyot ‘am chofshi be’artzeinu, “To be a free people in our land.”

Passover is a celebration of the freedom our ancestors dreamed of, fought for, and ultimately won. But even as we give thanks, we are called to look to the future. We are reminded that responsibility does not end when we reach the promised land, it only begins. As my family and I prepare to once again take part in this ancient and powerful tradition, I am hopeful that we can draw upon the best in ourselves to find the promise in the days that lie ahead, meet the challenges that will come, and continuing the hard work of repairing the world. Chag sameach.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama host a Passover Seder Dinner for family, staff and friends, in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House, March 25, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

JBuzz News March 8, 2013: Richard Breitman, Allan J. Lichtman: “FDR and the Jews” New Book Tries for Balanced View on Roosevelt and Jews

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Book Tries for Balanced View on Roosevelt and Jews

Source: NYT, 3-8-13

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A new Harvard University Press book examines President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s broader record on Jewish issues.

https://i2.wp.com/www.hup.harvard.edu/images/jackets/9780674050266.jpgIn “FDR and the Jews,” Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman, professors at American University, contend that Roosevelt hardly did everything he could. But they maintain that his overall record — several hundred thousand Jews saved, some of them thanks to little-known initiatives — exceeds that of any subsequent president in responding to genocide in the midst of fierce domestic political opposition….READ MORE

Leonard Saxe: Study Jewish numbers on rise 6.4 million in the US, Brandeis team estimates

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Study: Jewish numbers on rise

6.4 million in the US, Brandeis team estimates

Brandeis Professor Leonard Saxe has some good news for those fearing for the future of Judaism in America. The number of American Jews is actually increasing, not decreasing. A Brandeis team estimates the total US Jewish population at 6.4 million as of 2010, up from 5.7 million in 2000, and 5.5 million in 1990….READ MORE

Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky: Why Hanukkah Is the Most Celebrated Jewish Holiday in America

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Why Hanukkah Is the Most Celebrated Jewish Holiday in America

Source: Time, 12-20-11

Hanukkah lacks the restrictions of holidays like Passover and Yom Kippur. That, combined with secular culture in the U.S., has made it so popular
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Even though listed officially as a “minor” Jewish holiday, Hanukkah has turned into the most celebrated Jewish holiday in the U.S. There’s nothing minor about Hanukkah anymore.

Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky, executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute in New York City, says the notion of calling Hanukkah “minor” really presents a misnomer and it is only a term used when discussing holidays that impart major restrictions on people’s behavior.

Major holidays include Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot, and require restrictions on eating and other behavior, giving them titles of major holidays. But just because Hanukkah offers a festival void of the restrictions, it doesn’t make it any less important, Olitzky says. “Outside of the technical framework of Jewish law, Hanukkah is a major Jewish holiday,” he says. “We have really done ourselves a disservice by using the term minor.”

(LIST: Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Hanukkah)

Hanukkah means rededication, and it and offers Jews a reminder of three distinct points regarding light, freedom and dedication. The lack of strict rules make the holiday easy — and fun — to celebrate, which may be why research now shows Hanukkah is more celebrated — whether through the lighting of candles, gift giving, attending a party or a full celebration of the festival in Jewish practice — than even Passover…. READ MORE

Jonathan D. Sarna: American Jewry’s Data Problem

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Jonathan D. Sarna: American Jewry’s Data Problem

There’s been no national census of Jews since 2001 and none is planned for the indefinite future.

Source: WSJ, 12-2-11

Do we need a new nationwide count of America’s Jews?

It has been 10 years since anyone conducted a census of American Jewry—and no major organization has plans to conduct another one soon. (The official U.S. Census can’t ask questions about religion.) This means that the Jewish community may indefinitely lack the kind of data required for communal planning—how many Jews there are, where they live, whom they are marrying, what Jewish religious movements they adhere to and so forth.

Gathering such data is no easy task. Whereas many Christian churches calculate membership as the sum of all those they have baptized or who have made public declarations of their faith, Jews see themselves as a people embracing religious and nonreligious members alike. Thus life-cycle ceremonies and synagogue membership are insufficient proxies for membership in the Jewish community.

When the United Jewish Communities (now known as the Jewish Federations of North America) surveyed the nation in 2001, the organization pegged the Jewish population at 5.2 million. But the $6 million effort was fraught with problems: Data were lost, the response rate was low, the design was controversial, and the results contradicted those of other studies. One prominent researcher, the late Gary Tobin, characterized the survey as “utter nonsense,” while some others charged its organizers with manipulating population and intermarriage figures in order to raise more money….READ MORE

Jonathan Sarna and Jay Ruderman: Op-Ed: Education is key in a changing U.S. Jews-Israel relationship

Source: JTA, 4-4-11

The relationship between American and Israeli Jews is changing. For most of Israel’s history, the American Jewish community was larger, wealthier and more powerful than its “poor cousin” in the Middle East, but now the differences between the two communities have greatly narrowed. More Jews are living in Greater Tel Aviv than in Greater New York, and Israel, like the United States, is one of the world’s most developed nations.

In addition, funds from Israel now strengthen the American Jewish community through programs like Taglit-Birthright Israel. Charitable funds no longer flow exclusively in the other direction.

The political relationship between the two communities is likewise changing. Gone are the days when major American Jewish organizations, and the bulk of their members, took their cue from the government of Israel and supported its policies reflexively. Thanks to the Internet, American Jews now hear a full range of voices from Israel. As a result, the spectrum of American Jewish opinion concerning Israel increasingly mirrors the spectrum of opinion within Israel itself.

Given these and other changes, the relationship between the world’s two major Jewish communities is in need of recalibration. To this end, much attention has been paid over the past few years to improving American Jews’ understanding of Israel. In 2008-09, according to a recent Brandeis University study, some 548 courses on campuses across the United States focused on Israel, seeking to improve students’ knowledge of the subject. Centers for Israel studies on American campuses also have proliferated.

By contrast, Israelis learn almost nothing about American Jewry. Not one significant academic center for the study of American Jewish life exists in the State of Israel, and university-based courses on the American Jewish community are few and far between. At the high school level, the study of American Jewish life is equally neglected.

As a result, the understanding of American Jewish life on the part of Israelis is quite limited. They know next to nothing about the deepest issues upon which Israelis and American Jews agree and disagree. They cannot comprehend what church-state separation means and how pluralism operates in the American context. Many fail to understand their American cousins at all.

All Israelis, political leaders in particular, would benefit from knowing more about American Jewish life. The more American Jews and Israelis learn about one another, the better their future relationship will be.

Israelis, including members of Knesset, too often only look inward at Israeli society when legislating and voting on matters that ultimately impact upon American Jewry. Even if their first responsibility is to the citizens they represent and the sovereign state they serve, they would do well to consider how the American Jewish community, too, is affected by their choices.

If every measure considered by the Knesset carried a “Diaspora impact statement” (analogous to our environmental impact statements), consciousness of how Israel’s actions impact upon world Jewry would be heightened.

Six Israeli Knesset members are visiting Boston and New York as part of a program organized by Brandeis University and the Ruderman Foundation to help Israeli leaders gain new perspectives on American Jewish life and on the changing relationship between their country and the American Jewish community. They are meeting with religious figures, community leaders and private citizens.

By learning more about the American Jewish community, we hope they will come to better appreciate how their actions — such as Knesset efforts to legally define Jewishness for the purposes of marriage or aliyah, Israel’s military actions and how the Foreign Ministry reacts to democratic uprisings in the Arab world — impact upon American Jews and Jews worldwide.

Educating Israel’s political leaders about the American Jewish community should be the start of a larger effort aimed at teaching Israelis as much about American Jews as the latter learn about them.

A new day is dawning in the relationship between American Jews and Israel. The image of wealthy American Jews providing charity to their struggling Israeli cousins is fading fast. More than ever, each community now needs to understand how its interests are bound up with that of the other.

Just as American Jews are becoming better educated about Israel, the time has come for Israelis to learn more about the American Jewish community and their inextricable relationship to it.

(Jonathan Sarna is the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and chief historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History. Jay Ruderman is president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which has offices in Boston and Rehovot, Israel.)

Steven Windmueller: Election 2012: Why Jews Are Likely to Be Key Players

Source: The NY Jewish Week, 12-10-10

The 2012 presidential election campaign has begun. Suspecting that the incumbent is vulnerable, Republicans are already beginning to position themselves to carry this campaign to voters early and often against the Obama Administration.

Jews will be seen as a key target for this effort. Several core factors will define the Jewish connection in this campaign cycle. Accessing early campaign money and embracing the Israel connection represent two elements that will be seen as pivotal the 2012 campaign and to Jewish support. Both parties, and more directly aspiring candidates, will be looking for financial assistance as a way to launch and to build their campaigns and to garner political endorsements.

Jews are seen as significant political funders. In the past Jewish donors have generated as much as 45 cents of every dollar raised by Democrats and provide a growing base of support for Republican candidates. As one commentator has suggested, “the primary emphasis in the Republican Party has not been to win Jewish votes but to attract major Jewish giving and, at a minimum, to deprive Democrats of that giving.”

Political funds are secured through outright gifts to politicians, contributions made to PAC’s, and support for political parties or commitments provided to advocacy organizations and political interest groups. As there are likely to be a number of candidates entering the presidential sweepstakes, there will likely be a “multiplier effect” as Jewish supporters aligned themselves with particular individuals spreading out Jewish financial and voter support….READ MORE

Jonathan Sarna, Mark Raider: Small-City Congregations Try to Preserve Rituals of Jewish Life

Roger Ackerman, 78, prodded his aging congregation at Temple Sinai in Sumter, S.C., to create a living will that includes a maintenance plan for its cemetery.

Source:  NYT, 12-1-10

…According to Jonathan D. Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, most Jews in the United States have migrated from small communities to large cities: he estimates that 85 percent of the country’s 5.2 million Jews live in 20 metropolitan areas, primarily on the East and West Coasts and in Sun Belt states.

Mr. Sarna estimates there are 150 to 200 communities across the country that could benefit from the project’s help.

The process of dismantling a community, experts say, is fraught with potential tensions involving both purse and heartstrings. Mark A. Raider, a professor of modern Jewish history at the University of Cincinnati, cited disagreements over disposition of material assets.

“Where there’s money, real estate and other significant resources, there tends to be differing and often opposing views about who should control it,” Dr. Raider said.

Rabbi Mychal Springer, director of the Center for Pastoral Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary, says the project will have to deal with “extraordinary sensitivity on the part of all people involved.”

“When a community is shutting its doors and making decisions about what should be,” Rabbi Springer said, “some people let go sooner and others hold on longer. There can be a lot of angst, disagreement and regret….READ MORE

Jeffrey Gurock: America’s Unorthodox Orthodox Jews

America’s Unorthodox Orthodox Jews: A Conversation With Professor Jeffrey Gurock

Source: The Jewish Press, 5-20-09

He put on tefillin every day. He was rarely absent from shul. He ate only Orthodox Jews in America by Jeffrey S. Gurock: Book Coverkosher. But during the busy season in the garment industry, this Bronx Jew who grew up in the first half of the 20th century worked on Shabbat. Can such a person be considered an Orthodox Jew? Today many Jews would answer “no.” However, this gentleman and many others like him appear in a new book, Orthodox Jews in America, which examines the many shades of American Orthodoxy over the past 350 years. The book’s author, Jeffrey Gurock, has written and edited 14 other works, is a former associate editor of American Jewish History, and currently is Libby M. Klaperman Professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University. The Jewish Press recently interviewed him about his book.

The Jewish Press: Your book, devoted to American Jewish Orthodoxy, includes Jews who work on Shabbat. In what sense is someone who works on Shabbat Orthodox? Gurock: He’s Orthodox in the sense that he understands what the requirements of halacha are. This individual is very guilty about his inability to observe Shabbat, but there are certain basic economic exigencies that force him to work to support his family.

Some would argue that working on Shabbat makes a person, a priori, not Orthodox. Obviously people are entitled to their opinion, but no one observes all the mitzvot. What makes someone Orthodox is his understanding that one is required to observe the mitzvot. Someone could be a Reform Jew and observe many of the mitzvot, but he’s not Orthodox because this is a personal decision he makes not based upon a belief in a halachic tradition.

People growing up today don’t realize how prevalent this type of Orthodoxy was, especially pre-World War II and while the Blue Laws were still in effect. Fortunately today American Jews are more affluent and they’re in an America that’s far more accepting of them. When I teach undergraduates and talk about this phenomenon [of Orthodox Jews being less than fully observant] they look at me like this is a strange world. And then I say, “Go home and if you’re privileged to have grandparents who are living, ask them about this Orthodox life.” And they come back and [their grandparents] all have stories – either about themselves or about the person who sat next to them in shul who had this type of difficulty.

Can you talk about America’s first rabbi, Rabbi Abraham Rice? He comes from Bavaria in 1840, arrives in Baltimore, and discovers a community where many of the members are not particularly observant. It’s a very big problem for him. As a European rabbi, his first approach is to take a highly resistant, exclusionary approach toward his congregants. So he says he will not let anyone have an aliyah if he is mechalel Shabbos b’farhesya [publicly desecrating Shabbat]. But then he changes the rule and says you can get an aliyah, but the congregation shouldn’t say amen to the brachah. And eventually he just gives up. He ends up leaving the rabbinate because he’s just uncomfortable.

Uncomfortable with the state of religious observance in America. Yes, it’s a very different environment than Europe. But Europe is also changing. There’s a stereotype that all our ancestors in Eastern Europe were frum, and then they came to America and they threw it all overboard. My point is, number one, people don’t throw everything overboard; they maintain plenty. And two, Eastern Europe during that time period is far from 100 percent observant. You have radicals [who become ritually unobservant] and then you have [ordinary] people who are beginning to observe less than they did in the past.

You have some interesting information in the book about kosher and non-kosher methods of shaving. Can you share? There is a graphic in the book of an advertisement in 1932 for the first electric razor that reads, “A new invention to prevent a transgression.” So here’s an example of how the ability to be shomer mitzvot is enhanced by modern technology. My grandfather, who I’m named after, used a stinking depilatory. But when the electric razor comes along you can look like other Americans without either stinking up your apartment or violating the tradition. But just to show you the nuances involved, at the same time that [people are using depilatories and the new electric shaver], the Jewish Forum, an Orthodox newspaper closely connected to the OU, has ads for regular Schick razors. Now that doesn’t mean the OU endorsed it, but advertisers are obviously serving a constituency. If no one was buying those shavers, they wouldn’t be advertising.

What happens to American Orthodoxy after World War II? A decline numerically in the numbers of people who identify with Orthodoxy, but those who have remained become more observant than any prior generation before them. Also the influx into America of Jews who for a variety of reasons did not come here until after the Shoah adds a great deal of vitality and strictness to Orthodox behavior.

In one of your previous books, Judaism’s Encounter With American Sports, you examine this new, stricter American Orthodoxy through the controversy surrounding yeshivas – such as Torah Vodaath and Chaim Berlin – playing in Orthodox basketball leagues that allowed girls to attend games and sometimes featured cheerleading squads and post-game dances. Can you elaborate?

[These yeshivas were concerned with] elevating the athletes to a status in the yeshiva that they didn’t want. They wanted the star of the yeshiva to be the scholar or rebbe, not the coach or athlete. Another problem for the yeshivas was that the whole environment of sports was a very secular one. So Chaim Berlin had a team and it dropped out. Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem had a team and then it dropped out. Torah Vodaath had a surreptitious team and then [Rabbi Gedalia Schorr] squelched it. And yet in the early ’60s [these yeshivas formed] a league called the Mesifta High School Athletic Association. [The administrations of these yeshivas basically said] that you can have a league but you’re not going to have dances after the games and you’re not going to have girls at the games. In its own right, this was a degree of accommodation.

What happened to this league? In the mid ’60s it just died. There wasn’t a moment in time when someone said, “Don’t play.” It just drifted away.

Looking forward, what trends do you see taking place in the Orthodox community? I’m going to duck that question. I have enough trouble understanding the past. I don’t want to predict the future.

Henry Feingold: On the state of Jewish lobby in America

Source: Jerusalem Post, 4-16-09

…..Your book is called: Jewish Power in America: Myth and Reality. In short: what’s myth, what’s reality?

The general myth of Jewish power which thrives despite the genocidal murder of one out of three Jews during World War II is that Jews conspire to gain power that they intend to use for demonic purposes.  In the middle ages it spoke of poisoning the wells. In America it speaks of the Jews controlling the nation’s Middle East policy. The real story of American Jewish power is that it has been able to retain its high level whereas other ethnic constituencies, Greek Americans regarding Cyprus and Cuban Americans, have faded from the foreign policy stage. They have been able to sustain their influence despite a decline in the Jewish proportion of the population from about 3.5% during the Holocaust years to less than 2.3% today.  American Jewry might have followed the same declining path had they been able to perceive that the threat they faced was also declining.  In the case of Israel it is in fact rising.

The reality is that Jews do have power in America which sometimes seems inordinate but is in fact legally and practically circumscribed and of a “soft” long-range character.  At the historic juncture when an urgent need existed to bring that power into play American Jewish leaders were unable to mobilize it for immediate need.

Jewish political power in America feeds the anti Semitic imagination because Jews exercise the power inherent in citizenship with considerable skill and have in addition developed supplementary means to amplify it.  Jews are probably America’s most politically engaged and activist ethnic group. From the civil rights campaign to leadership of the women’s liberation movement, from the movement to halt the Darfur genocide to concern about secondary smoke, it is unlikely to find a group advocating “progressive” change which does not have a disproportionate number of Jews in its leadership and among its activists. In addition Jews have used their comparatively high per capita income to fund expensive political campaigning.  Despite the McCain Feingold campaign funding law Jews continue to fund about 60% of the Campaign needs of the Democrat party. They are disproportionately involved in the profession of politics as pundits and strategists, campaign planners and organizers and pollsters.  They display great skill in using the public relations instrument so crucial in the American political game. Jewish voters are more likely to vote and to send letters to their congressmen and newspapers expressing their opinions.  A trend to move from its customary behind the scenes role to actual office holding has sharply accelerated while old Protestant representation in the legislature (Episcopalians and Presbyterians) has declined. Jews have become an important part of the operational elite that manages America. Paradoxically the rise in Jewish representation on all levels of government and in university faculties occurs as its proportion of the general population declines.  That decline in numbers coupled with the weakening of affiliation is bound to affect the ability of American Jews to mobilize its political power. The myth of great power is balanced by the reality of its eventual decline.

In reality it is a power that is all dressed up without knowing where to go.  Jews are politically active but mostly about local issues such as zoning, education and so on.  Most of the Jewish philanthropic dollar is not spent on funding Jewish causes and a far more numerous African-American and Hispanic constituency with an urgent agenda looms in the wings. In years to come it may overshadow Jewish concern regarding Israel.

When the myth of Jewish power confronts the reality there is little to set a concerned mind at ease. The continued projection of Jewish influence or power is contingent on maintaining a degree of Jewish communal cohesiveness and coherence.  But that is problematic when most American Jews identify themselves as “just Jewish” and are otherwise unaffiliated.  Jews have exercised political power with considerable skill. One of its high points was the campaign for the recognition of Israel in 1948. Recently they achieved more in their efforts to gain the release of Soviet Jewry than they were able to do for European Jewry during the Holocaust. But the kind of power they wield has two weaknesses.  Soft power here described cannot ward off an immediate physical threat and there is no assurance that American Jewish power based on communal unity and focus will be available indefinitely….