Magazine article Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought

Conversion and the American Jewish Agenda

Magazine article Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought

Conversion and the American Jewish Agenda

Article excerpt

I'D LIKE TO STATE CLEARLY AT THE OUTSET, THAT I AM NOT opposed to conversion or to converts. To the contrary, the National Jewish outreach program, which I direct, has offered thousands of converts, potential converts, and intermarried couples classes in Hebrew reading and Basic Judaism.

I'm delighted to have been invited to the "Conference on Proactive Conversion: Opening The Gates for Non-Jews to Become Jews." Even more flattering than the invitation to this august forum, is the deep honor paid me by being quoted on the very first page of Gary Tobin's challenging new volume, Opening The Gates. Dr. Tobin cites me in the context of the hysteria that has gripped the Jewish community concerning Jews marrying non-Jews. He quotes me as saying, "There are no barking dogs, no Zyklon-B gas ... but make no mistake: This is a spiritual Holocaust."

First of all, for the record, that statement was said about general assimilation, not intermarriage. Besides, I am not so hysterical about Jews marrying non-Jews, whether it's 52% or 42% (By the way, had a zoo keeper been losing 40% of his sea lions, he would be hysterical too!) I'm much more agitated that I have not been able to mobilize or even sensitize the American Jewish leadership to do what needs to be done-to nurture the next generation of Jews in America. I'm far more exercised that we're spending billions of dollars on Holocaust memorials, rather than investing our resources in joyous, Jewish outreach for our young people. I'm worked up because there are millions of American Jews who desperately want to be a part of the Jewish community and they have nowhere to turn. We have failed them.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the reality: Our children are drowning. If I may continue the metaphor, while our children are drowning, the non-churched gentiles of America are floating on an air mattress in the water. It's true, they're not swimming with God. But they're not drowning. Gary Tobin suggests that we throw the life preserver to the gentiles. Have we lost our minds?!

What Gary Tobin is proposing, is another step in a long line of proposals that have been guiding the Jewish community of America in the wrong direction. At a time when we should be embracing our sons and our daughters, Professor Tobin cries out in a well argued, cleverly delivered package that the nations of the world are waiting for our embrace. At a time when we should be extending our hands to our brothers and our sisters, Dr. Tobin argues passionately that non-churched Americans should be our priority. With all due apologies, to my mind, this proposal for Proactive Conversion is just another false elixir of quickie, simplistic, and sexy solutions that we keep feeding the American Jewish public. Proactive Conversion merely continues the devastating trend (which is now deeply ingrained in the Jewish establishment's thinking) of neglecting our sons and daughters, our brothers and our sisters, simply because there may be some easier, more marketable, more palatable, but not necessarily more effective, way of addressing the devastating loses that the American Jewish community has experienced since the end of World war II.

Is this not the same path we've been following that's led us to such disaster? Is this not just another aspect of the absurd decisions of the past to build Jewish swimming pools when our Jewish children can't even walk Jewishly? We've reached the absurd point today where Jewish post-post doctorates can quote pages of Swahili poetry by heart, but aren't familiar with the basic nomenclature of the Bible, have no clue what Deuteronomy 5:6 might mean, and couldn't find it if their lives depended on it.

Judaism is the tradition that teaches l'fum tza'ara agra, according to the effort, is the reward. It was Pauline Christianity which announced that mitzvot were no longer needed, that Shabbat observance was no longer relevant, and kashrut extraneous in our efforts to get close to God. …

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