Two excellent recent articles (American Jewry is Disappearing by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg and American Jewry: Where Are We Now? Where Are We Heading? Two Views by Schick and Gordon/Horowitz) are illustrative of how many Rabbis, Jewish lay leaders and intellectuals see assimilation as a threat that will erase non-Orthodox Jewry from the American landscape.
Though these articles are specific to the United States, assimilation is a challenging issue for Canadian Jewry too.
Assimilation’s adverse consequences on primarily non-Orthodox Jewry include: populations becoming stagnant or in decline; intermarriage rates topping 60%; birth rates declining below that needed to reproduce a succeeding generation; more people marrying older and not having children; Jewish identities becoming more secular for an increasing number; more people identifying as Jewish in name only; and Jewishness being entirely replaced with a creed of secular liberal, left wing, humanistic ideologies.
Both the Schick and Gordon/Horowitz articles address assimilation and its destructive consequences. Though Schick concludes with guarded optimism that Jews might survive, albeit in changed ways, Gordon and Horowitz are pessimistic. Both writers reference a 1990 National Jewish Population Study and a 2013 Pew Research Study.
Ordinary Jews however, don’t need rabbis, experts or scientific studies to tell them of assimilation’s impact on their communities. They can see it themselves if they care to look.
While these and many other writers well explain the adverse consequences of assimilation to American Jewry, they frankly do not offer much in the way of a cogent case on how to mount an effective counter offensive.
Goldberg, for instance, artfully – but unconvincingly – employs metaphors, saying:
“The antidote to these devastating demographic findings is not less adherence to halacha, Jewish law, but more…to reach out and share the beauty, majesty, meaning and joy of a Torah lifestyle. These findings demand a mass movement of outreach. The needle won’t move and the problem won’t be solved by outreach professionals and rabbis alone. A difference will only be made when every Torah shul, institution and individual sees as part of their core identity and personal mission to not only hold on to the sturdy tree of Torah to prevent being swept down the river, but to reach out and extend a hand to those floating by.”
That’s it? More halacha and hold fast to Torah? The articles by Schick and Gordon/Horowitz are no better in that regard.
These articles, like so many others, alarmingly explain the existentially destructive consequences of assimilation, but then conclude with calling on Jews to wake up before it is too late and fight for Jewish survival against assimilation.
It is almost as if they expect Jews who read their pieces will wake up to see assimilation is imminently imperiling their survival and, with that, will be inspired to figure out what they can do to fight against assimilation and then do it.
Really? That is the best these writers can do?
What is missing from virtually all these kinds of articles is a cogent practical, strategic, anti-assimilation battle plan that Jewish leaders and communities can easily understand, be inspired by, and be moved to act upon.
What however, can rabbis and lay leaders say to congregants and community members in this regard?
Can they openly preach and teach that marrying within the faith should be prioritized as it is fearlessly done in some other religions and cultures? That those intending to intermarry should ensure the marriage is conditional on the non-Jewish spouse converting and/or agreeing to raise the children Jewish? That couples should have at least one more child than they think they can afford? That when a child’s Jewish identity is nurtured and knowledge through education is reinforced in the home, they become more resistant to assimilation? That parents should be role models by performing acts of Jewish affirmation like having regular Shabbat dinners, lighting candles, promoting positive Jewish-Israel discussions in the home, joining a synagogue, and periodically (at least) attending Shabbat services with the family in addition to High Holiday services? To visibly embrace Jewish values and reject secular values and the like?
There is little if any chance rabbis and lay leaders would dare to speak so directly to their congregants and community, for it would undoubtedly offend the politically correct sensibilities of many of the non-Orthodox Jews they would be trying to reach. Rabbis and lay leaders also know that if they were to speak out in such direct fashion, no matter how politely they put it, they would be putting their own self interests – job security, reputation or both – at risk.
Political correctness that distorts, obfuscates or distracts from truth, has seized the minds and tongues of rabbis, Jewish lay leaders and ordinary Jews, just as it has the vast majority of Western institutional leaders and society as a whole.
For non-Orthodox Jewry that is facing the prospect it won’t long survive assimilation, political correctness is an obvious anathema to efforts to encourage non-Orthodox Jewry to fight against assimilation – whatever it takes.
Obviously, it is much easier for religious and lay leaders to reach out to and provide programs for Jews connected to the community in order to strengthen Jewish identity and inspire more Jewishness in their lives. It is much harder to forego political correctness and meaningfully reach out to the ever-increasing number of detaching and detached Jews to try to get them to turn away from secularism, towards Jewishness, and to connect with the Jewish community.
Fighting for non-Orthodox Jewry’s survival against assimilation necessitates doing what is hard, not what is easy. That is a reality Jewish leaders will have to see and accept before they can ever hope to lead the non-Orthodox Jewry to battle against assimilation.
You would think, given that the very survival of non-Orthodox Jewry is at stake, our non-Orthodox Jewish leaders would unhesitatingly unite in declaring the survival of non-Orthodox Jewry a prime directive and, forsaking political correctness, commit all efforts to that end.
So far that is not happening.
For those Jews who are deeply concerned with the survival of non-Orthodox Jewry, they need to do more than simply wring their hands and hope for the best.
They must relentlessly press their rabbis and lay leaders to choose before it is too late, to reject political correctness and lead the non-Orthodox Jewish community to wage existential battle against assimilation to win the ultimate prize – the survival of non-Orthodox Jewry.
If that opportunity is not soon taken, it will vanish leaving non-Orthodox Jewry no alternative but to bear mournful witness to its own demise while engaging in tear stained imaginings of what might otherwise have been.