Jewish American Voluntary Organizations

Jewish American Voluntary Organizations

Jewish American Voluntary Organizations

Jewish American Voluntary Organizations

Excerpt

The proliferation of Jewish organizations, as Henry Feingold has recently noted, remains one of the most remarkable, characteristics of Jewish life in America. "The Jewish organizational structure is probably the richest of any American ethnic group." There are literally thousands of Jewish organizations that operate on both the national and local levels. "Every social segment," as Feingold puts it, "every ideology, even every passing mood and perspective has developed an organizational expression." Furthermore, recent studies have indicated that the majority of Jews nominally belong to at least one Jewish organization and that many belong to two or three. Daniel Elazar, the noted specialist on American Jewish organizational life, lists dozens of different types: religious, cultural, educational, community relations, community service, Zionist, defense, fraternal, political, professional, philanthropic, local, regional, national, formal, and informal--from cousins' clubs to federations. According to Elazar, "They group themselves, de facto, around five major functions or spheres of public activity: (1) religious-congregational, (2) educational-cultural, (3) community relations, (4) communal-welfare, and (5) Israel-overseas." But what does such an impressive organizational structure mean? It may indicate that American Jews are the most organized ethnic group in the world, or it may be the surest sign that American Jewry is a variegated and disunited group. As a result of modernization, the organic ties that united Jews based on tradition and religious authority have dissipated. It is no accident that organized activity, often philanthropic in character, has come to be the most common expression of, Judaism, replacing study, prayer, and social interaction with kin as the means of being Jewish.

Jews might be demonstrating an extraordinary "need to break through the isolation of modern life to establish ties with people of like status and sensibility. A good many of the organizations fulfilled a fraternal function even when their focus was on other objectives." This was true of some of the Zionist organizations, the chapters of B'nai B'rith, as well as many of the women's organizations. Others have pointed to the fact that the existence of a separate Jewish organizational infrastructure is a carryover from the European Jewish experience . . .

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