14 thoughts on “American Judaism is Dying – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم
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  1. Very thought provoking, although I disagree with you. Theatrics are not necessary; “American Judaism” is not “dying.” Yes, there are many synagogues which are loosing members, but there are also many which are growing. You mention the decline of various large Jewish organizations but fail to mention that there are smaller, more local organizations which are growing and have very similar missions. You mention that various Jewish organizations are “deliberately exclud(ing)” organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace and If Not Now because they are “frightened” and “embattled,” but fail to mention that those are fringe groups which, despite having a large social media presence, numerically have almost no Jews participating in them. For heavens sake, my small local Conservative synagogue, despite being part of a movement which is “in crisis” and “bleeding members” still manages to draw a bigger crowd to it’s weekday mincha minyan than Jewish Voice for Peace and If Not Now could draw together if they had a combined national gathering.

    1. @Thought Provoking: The overall trends are downward for membership in synagogues and Jewish organizations. Of course, there will always be outliers who do well, who gain members rather than lose them. But the overall direction does not bode well for the future for the entire community.

      As for If Not Now and JVP, there are hardly “fringe” groups. It is an absolute lie to say that no Jews participate in them. This shows your own prejudices toward your fellow Jews. In fact, their membership and funding are larger than some of the mainstream organizations. You are making precisely the same mistake the mainstream leadership and community make in dismissing this powerful and legitimate alternative. In fact, these groups are growing by leaps and bounds compared to the losses suffered by the mainstream groups. If anything, they are the future–at least of Jewish youth.

      National gatherings of JVP and INN draw hundreds, if not thousands of participants. Do you have hundreds at your weekday minyan? If so, you should get on the phone with the Chancellor of JTS and convey your secret to him so he can save his dying movement. Please stop spreading lies and offering opinions as facts when they are no such thing.

    1. @ Walter Ballin: Michael Lerner is not everything he’s cracked up to be. Yes, he does share some progressive values. But he is largely a liberal Zionist when it comes to Israel. Slightly more progressive than most, but not much more. An editor of Tikkun Magazine once invited me to contribute to their publication. I wrote a few articles. Then she told me that Michael was afraid he would be sued if he continued publishing my work. Which of course was nonsense. He also once demanded that I change the name of my blog because it was too close to the name of the magazine. I politely refused, of course.

  2. Richard, Regarding your response to my comment about Michael Lerner, it’s been a long time but I recall now a blog you wrote on that. I don’t know what you could have written that Michael Lerner could have sued you for.

  3. Richard, Actually I meant to say that it’s odd that Michael Lerner wouldn’t publish your articles after he invited you to do so. I don’t know how he could be sued over anything that you write. Just as I like very much reading what you have to say, I like what Lerner has to say too. This is although on Israel-Palestine I am a bit to the left of him. He believes in 2 states. I say that this is something that will have to be decided between the Israelis and Palestinians without the U.S. being a so-called broker while giving billions of dollars in aid to Israel. I also don’t see how with the way things are now there can be 2 states. I think that when the day ever comes that there is a peace settlement that there will have to be one state with equal rights for everyone, but this is something that the parties will have to agree on as I said. Who am I to dictate that there must be a Jewish state, when I’m not even living there?

  4. “deliberately excluded…”
    But you have no problem excluding settler as Judeans or Ultra-Orthodox as Taliban.

    I am not saying it as criticism but it does make me question my own (and everyone else’s) judgements. Much of what you describe is far from the reality in Israel and the settlements. And much of the way the view you and other progressives view is far from your intentions.

    At the end, we paint the other side in the colors that fits a frame in our mind and apparently, it is human nature to get self reinforcement by presenting the other as evil.

    1. @ Joshua: I don’t believe settlers, but more specifically the extremist settlers common in most settlements, are Jewish. They are poisoning Israel and poisoning my religion. But unlike the Orthodox, who as a movement would read the entire non-Orthodox Jewish world out of Jewish life, I don’t pretend to have a system or movement that would excommunicate such settlers.

      Much of what you describe is far from the reality in Israel and the settlements.

      On the contrary, every post I write about settlers and settlements is based on either Israeli security sources or Israeli media reports. You can argue with them to your heart’s content. But you cannot say I do not reflect reality in the settlements. Unless you want to claim that such stories are fabricated a la Trump.

      we paint the other side in the colors that fits a frame in our mind

      Not at all. If you don’t like bad press don’t do bad things and the media will have nothing to report. Do bad things and I’ll report them. That is, the facts as reported in credible Israeli media. Not invented or framed by my mind.

  5. Richard, Right. My last comment reply was a correction to the previous one. I’m saying that whether it was Lerner himself or the managing editor, I find it odd that either would invite you to write an article and then for Lerner to not have your article because he was nervous about a lawsuit. I mean, what’s there to sue about? 🙂

  6. Really? How can you say: “Leder’s social service projects are not a real “statement.” Rather they are a cop-out. A way to say we can maintain a division between Judaism and politics by doing the latter far away from the former.” when you know absolutely nothing about this. “…far away from the former” is utterly ignorant of you to claim. You obviously did not take the time to really understand what you were writing about, Instead you just cut and pasted from an LA Times article. The Temple’s Social Service Center is literally a few steps from its historic sanctuary; they are symbiotic. By design, you cannot park on the campus without the Family Social Service center being the first thing you see. I often preach about the center and its importance. Our congregation has donated many millions of dollars to create and sustain the center and over 600 of our members have given more than 7,000 hours of their time this year alone to running the center. Perhaps you should try harder to emulate the verse from Pirke Avot I often quote when encouraging the members of Wilshire Boulevard Temple to engage in the community around them: “Say little and do much.” Or, at least do your homework before you slam a Jewish institution getting it right….

    1. @ Steve Leder: Rabbi, you are shearing my comments from the context of the article, which demonstrated that most Los Angeles rabbis are avoiding politically sensitive subjects in their sermons. The first words quoted from you in that article are: “Say little…” In other words, I read you as saying that you believed in not addressing such issues in sermons and other public statements from the pulpit.

      Yes, it’s true you followed by saying “do much.” And your social service efforts point to the fact that you are taking some of your Jewish social responsibilities seriously. But social servies are qualitatively different than putting the stature of the rabbi on record on the major issues of the day. What sort of pulpit advocacy do you do? Nothing in your statement in that article indicates you do that.

      In the verse you quote, Pirkey Avot surely did not mean to tell rabbis to “say little.” Rabbis speak, it’s a good part of what they do. THe question is what do rabbis speak about? My argument, and one largely supported by the LA Times article, is that rabbis are increasingly timid and cautious about speaking up about controversial issues of the day. And that this is a deeply alienating development that causes Jewish youth to abandon the organized community.

      Nothing in the passage which refers to you and Wilshire Blvd Temple argues that you reject this approach. But I’d be happy for you to point to sermons or public statements you have delivered which take courageous, dissenting positions on some of the critical, difficult issues of the day such as:

      1. Israeli apartheid, including the increasing hostility and violence against non-Jewish citizens of Israel
      2. Offering the Temple as sanctuary to refugees in danger of deportation
      3. advocating abolishing ICE, protesting at local immigration centers against ICE detention
      4. Lobbying elected officials against Trump administration immigration policy including the Muslim ban
      5. Israel’s increasingly racist laws betraying the country’s democracy
      6. Battling xenophobia including Islamophobia; sponsoring joint programming with the local Arab community

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