Tuesday, February 13, 2007
A recent survey shows that there are actually more Jews living in the States than we actually thought. Great news indeed! Unfortunately, the survey includes “people who think of themselves as Jews, ethnically”, and children of one Jewish parent. So according to this study, assimilation isn’t as big a deal as some of us may think. Well, until a few more generations, when the descendents won’t remember their grandparents’ Jewish origins.
Stopping assimilation and intermarriage overnight is probably unlikely, but many would like to slow the tide as much as possible. However, if this is done for the sake of sentimental nostalgia, and loosely defines Jews on ethno-folkloristic basis, it doesn’t lead any further than the aforementioned survey. The preservation of a nation must have at least a meaningful coherence and maintain its integrity. Which of course necessitates a definition tighter than “grandma used to bake kugel”.
Assimilation today is a rather slow process, each generation distancing itself from its origins until it merges with the surrounding nations. The first step in stopping the tide is obviously maintaining the Orthodox population, as well as reaching out to secular Jews who aren’t yet assimilated. Meddling with intermarried couples results in faulty and false giyurs that only increase the problem.
The argument that a more ‘open’ approach would result in maintaining a broader spectrum of people identified with Judaism, even if only on a folkloric basis, averred to be mistaken: according to a recent Mishpacha article, the intermarriage rate among Reform and Conservatives is triple that of unaffiliated secular Jews! Sadly, the ‘drop out’ (from Orthodoxy) rate is highest within Modern Orthodoxy. (Based on educators and laymen’s estimates, in absence of ‘scientific’ data.)
The Zionist dream of a non-Jewish Jewish state, wherein the nation would be defined by not being Jewish and be proud Israelis, averred being a fata morgana too. Ethiopian and Russian immigrants of dubious origins were imported to the country by hundreds of thousands for the sake of breaking down the society’s still strongly traditional makeup.
Our good friends who indulge in compulsive haredi and ortho-bashing don’t achieve much more than offering an excuse to drop out or for secular people to stay the way they are.
The main focus then should be on preventing dropping out as much as possible, to help stabilize the dropouts, and sensible kiruv. By ‘sensible’ I mean coming to the sad realization that certain sectors better be left alone: completely assimilated and intermarried people should be in our prayers, but the energy and resources for de-facto kiruv would benefit from being geared towards more likely targets. As has been recently suggested, collaboration between different orthodox factions may yield positive results – and in my opinion all the more so with ‘off the derech’ and ‘at risk’ kids. Instead of insisting on keeping them in our party enclaves, rather bring them closer to Judaism, period.
Perhaps a more unified and harmonious Judaism would be more appealing to those on the outside, without having to break down the protective walls of separation.