Jewish Leaders Seek Ways to Keep Culture Thriving Shabbat's Aim Is to Recapture Non-Practicing Jews

By Mask, Teresa | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), March 12, 1999 | Go to article overview

Jewish Leaders Seek Ways to Keep Culture Thriving Shabbat's Aim Is to Recapture Non-Practicing Jews


Mask, Teresa, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Teresa Mask Daily Herald Staff Writer

As Jews looked back on the ashes of World War II and the Holocaust, some adopted a new 11th commandment: "Thou shall not grant unto Hitler a posthumous victory."

The thinking was if Hitler couldn't eliminate the Jewish population, the Jews shouldn't do it to themselves.

But some say as more and more Jews voluntarily abandon the religion of their parents and grandparents, are lax about raising their children to appreciate the Jewish heritage, or marry outside their faith, the survival of the culture and religion is in jeopardy.

"This is not a new problem," said Melanie Notkin, marketing director for the National Jewish Outreach Program. "This is a crisis we've been aware of since the Council of Jewish Federation 1990 National Jewish Population Survey."

But Notkin stresses it remains a serious issue when a third of the 6 million Jews in the United States don't identify themselves as Jewish, according to the latest Census data.

As the new millennium approaches, Notkin's program and other outreach groups fear the worst. They believe the prognosis for the future of Judaism in the United States and Canada is so bleak they are calling it "The J2K (Jewish 2000) Problem," saying to ensure the future of American Jews into the next millennium, Jews must react now.

Tonight the organization is sponsoring the third-annual Shabbat Across America, an event aimed at renewing the interest of nonpracticing Jews. More than 76,000 Jews across the United States and Canada are participating in dinners and Shabbat services at more than 700 synagogues.

Among suburban participants are Maine Township Jewish Congregation Shaare Emet in Des Plaines, Congregation Or Tikvah in Gurnee, Temple Chai in Long Grove, Congregation B'nai Shalom and Temple Shir Shalom in Buffalo Grove and Naperville's Congregation Beth Shalom.

Rabbis, congregation members, and religion experts say the future of Judaism always has been a concern and is the No. 1 issue Jews are facing today.

But some aren't as panic stricken as those in the outreach program.

"It (statistics) says there are problems we need to deal with," said Rabbi Michael Remson of Congregation Beth Shalom in Naperville. "People have always dropped out (of the faith), but they drop in too.

"The people in my congregation are among the most observant and committed Jews in their family in two generations," he said.

Rabbi Ira Youdovin, executive vice president of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, says the reality is Jews are not dead, are not going to die and in fact already are experiencing a revival of sorts.

Youdovin points to adult Hebrew classes offered in many synagogues and an increase in attendance in Jewish day schools as signs of renewed interest. He said the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago pledge to help send every Jewish teenager who wants to go to Israel is another way to help.

Gurnee resident Roberta Alexander said many who have strayed from the faith do so because they don't live near a synagogue, haven't been raised with an appreciation for the traditions or are trying to assimilate. …

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