Leifer.org

 

Preparing for the 21st Century  

As we approached the 21st century, the Jewish people found itself in an historically unique situation.

Having survived 2000 years of exile, state sponsored discrimination, inquisition and genocide, the 13 million Jews left on the planet built all of our communities anew and looked hopefully into the future.

Our newly built communities in North America and Israel had attracted nearly 9 out 10 Jews worldwide.

In Israel, peace treaties were signed with Egypt and Jordan and detente broke out with the PLO.

In America we attained equality and flourished like no other Jewish community in history.

20 years had passed since Israel fought its last war and since Jews had found full acceptance in the universities, professions, cultural institutions and suburbs of American life.

Yet, the generation who grew up in this new "free" environment  were dropping out of Jewish life in record numbers.

The founders of the State of Israel and the builders of the American Jewish dream were asking, "Where did we go wrong?" 

It became evident that the institutions of Jewish life - in America - denominations, synagogues, and federations, and in Israel - public schools and the Army - were only effective if they were supported by external threats -- anti-Semitism, ethnic enclaves, and existential conflicts. 

Kids from non-fundamentalist families were "opting-out" of Jewish peoplehood -- intermarrying,  not affiliating with Jewish institutions and philanthropies and rejecting the "citizen-soldier" model of the Sabra.

It was time to reengineer the institutions of Jewish life to address the "continuity crisis."  

We at CJP decided that a reinvigorated federation movement was the key to a fresh start and we called for a "Jewish Renaissance."

The Jewish federation movement, started by Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston (CJP) 105 years ago, is the North American Jewish community's central organization for fundraising, community planning, and allocating funds to Jewish and secular causes worldwide.

When it first began in the 1890's, it was the community's response to the great 40-year wave of Jewish refugees that was coming from Eastern Europe, the primary home of Jewish life in the Diaspora for a thousand years.

Most Jewish families have a parent or grandparent that fled Europe in that wave. Almost all Jewish families have a relative that had to struggle out of poverty in the midst of anti-Semitism to build a new life in a new land.

CJP's role in this history is described in the 1998 report of its Strategic Planning Committee:

            "For a century ... CJP served the community by providing a common vision, a sense of unity, the strength to confront real emergencies and, most importantly, by mobilizing the talents and resources of the community to facilitate the development of new services to meet the changing needs and aspirations of the Jewish people.

            For the first half of that century, CJP focused on the all-consuming task of meeting the basic needs of our people and helping first and second generation immigrants successfully integrate into American society. During the second half, while committing to meet basic local needs, CJP directed its energies to the critical mission of rescuing Jews throughout the world and the miraculous adventure of establishing the State of Israel."

        "The signs of disengagement tell us we can no longer take the existence of our community for granted. If we are to maintain ourselves as a people - a people who can translate and transmit the culture, learning and values of Judaism to succeeding generations, a people able to meet our traditional responsibilities to those in need here and overseas - we must build and revitalize the connections between us.

        The time has come to redefine our historic mission. Building, strengthening and maintaining an open, engaged, vibrant Boston Jewish community must become our central and overarching priority and purpose. In our parents' and grandparents' time community was a given. Today we cannot assume its existence. We must build it."

The links to the right are studies I participated in that help define Israeli and American versions of "Jewish Renaissance" and that proposed realigning the missions and operations of the the Jewish institutions I found myself a part of.