The End for U.S. Jewry?

Article excerpt

"You know this is a Protestant country," Franklin D. Roosevelt once said to economist Leo Crowley and Henry Morgenthau, his treasury secretary, "and the Catholics and Jews are here under sufferance. It is up to you to go along with anything I want."

The Presidency of Jack Kennedy abolished forever the notion that American Catholics are here under sufferance. And Jews? On this 100th anniversary of the founding of the Zionist movement, the position of our Jewish minority is singular. The danger for Jews, oddly, is that in the foreseeable future they might be so well assimilated they become extinct.

This might surprise many gentiles as never before have so many Jews occupied high positions in American politics, giant corporations, the media, the academy, science, law, medicine, intellectual life, not to mention Wall Street. Both U.S. senators from California are Jews, and last year a Jew, Sen. Arlen Specter, was a serious candidate for the presidency. A generation ago this would have been unthinkable.

But the eminence of our Jewish high-achievers is deceptive. Not long ago Jews represented something under four percent of the American population. Today they represent two percent. Jews once lived in dense urban settlements in the Northeast, half of them in New York alone. Today 40 percent of Jews live in the South and West. In Denver and Phoenix the intermarriage rate with gentiles is 72 percent - the harbinger of doom. For as the Jewish population spreads over the country, and assimilates ever more readily, synagogue affiliation declines steadily.

Of the 6.8 million people of Jewish descent in this country, almost 20 percent are now practicing Christians, and another 16 percent profess no religion and consider themselves secular Jews or not Jews at all. For centuries persecution paradoxically helped preserve Judaism, while many Jews now expect that tolerance, in the end, will do them in.

Elliott Abrams, assistant secretary of state under Ronald Reagan and now president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, alarmed by this drift, has just published a brilliant book, "Faith or Fear" (The Free Press). In Mr. Abrams' view, Jews in America, as things are going, are headed straight for extinction. The only thing that will preserve them, he writes, is true religious faith. Without it they're in danger of disappearing like the ten lost tribes of ancient Israel.

Meanwhile, a special issue of The New Republic has appeared devoted to "Zionism at 100." The magazine's editor-in-chief, Martin Peretz has written a grand celebratory article on "The God That Did Not Fail." Mr. Peretz once told me he doesn't believe in God but believes in "the Jewish people," describing for me the funeral service for an eminent Jew during which a friend whispered to him, "Do you realize that of the country's ten leading micro-biologists (I forget the profession) eight are in this room? …