Posts Tagged ‘American Jews’

 

Rabbis Who Declined Call with President Trump Were Faithful to their Calling

Posted on: September 15th, 2017 by Hayim Herring No Comments

Unlike the leaders of the Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel of America and the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, the rabbinical heads of the Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform Movements declined to participate in a pre-Rosh Hashanah conference call with President Trump this morning (JTA, Ron Kampeas, September 14). Clearly, this is a controversial decision, and there are good arguments to be made on both sides for reaching opposite conclusions. But here is why I believe that the movement leaders who decided not to participate acted faithfully.

 

Politically, we shouldn’t take for granted the exceptional relations that we have had with the White House in recent decades. After all, how frequently in Jewish history have we enjoyed such an embrace from the White House, and how different might modern Jewish history be had we possessed those relationships with European leaders before the outbreak of World War II?

 

But history has also shown that we ultimately gain the respect of powerful people when we maintain self-respect. In this case, I believe that means distancing ourselves for now from a President who has relentlessly demeaned and dehumanized a rather diverse group of people through reckless speech—one of those sins for which we ask God’s forgiveness on Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur. (And you have to admit that insulting such a broad array of individuals, from Senator John McCain to Khizir Kahn, a member of an American “Gold Star” family, whose son died in Iraq, while serving as a captain in the American military, indicates that many have been targets of President Trump’s acts of verbal shaming and insults.) We know from history, too, that verbal abuse sets the stage for physical violence. And we can reach far back into Biblical times for precedents of religious leaders confronting political power (for example, the Biblical prophet, Natan, confronting King David). Religious leaders can cause significant damage when they are seduced by proximity to political power. It can warp the very values that are supposed to guide their moral leadership, and that’s good reason to opt out of this presidential call.

 

In an earlier editorial, in The New York Jewish Week, Gary Rosenblatt, publisher, wrote that “Rabbis Should Confront Trump Head-On Over Charlottesville. Apply the lessons of Elul and Don’t Hang Up on the President”. He argued that rabbis who declined the call with President Trump were not applying one of the fundamental lessons of these holy days, namely, reproving someone who acts immorally (Leviticus 19:17). The question of when reproof is religiously mandated is complicated for several reasons. First, the general attitude in America about “judging” another is often, “if your behavior personally doesn’t hurt me, even if it offends others, I won’t bother you.” But that is not a Jewish value, and while Jewish textual sources on how and when the commandment to “reprove one’s neighbor” are varied and sometimes contradictory, one can legitimately read Jewish laws of rebuke as relating to situations in which the person at the receiving end is potentially amenable to change.

 

We can never know with certainty if even someone whose personality seems destined to provoke havoc won’t eventually change. But what we can expect is some consistency of steps toward honest efforts of change. When we see consistent, unambiguous efforts toward change, even though they will be imperfect, then we can consider whether a person is really open to engage in difficult dialogue. I won’t psychoanalyze President Trump, but I can ask for consistent indications in changed behavior that reflect modest insight into the hurt that he continues to inflict, even if those attempted changes are imperfect. Instead, what I have observed in the past few weeks is a continuing pattern of President Trump using his “bully pulpit” to verbally bully and shame others.

 

While there is time on these White House calls for some “limited engagement” with the president, this pre-High Holy Day call is designed to use rabbis as channels to communicate presidential good wishes locally before and during the holy days. At its best, it is a heartfelt gesture of good wishes from the president to the Jewish community. At its worst, this call can become a headline that will later be used as a reminder by the president of his support for the American Jewish community at a time when it’s convenient for him to do so.

 

Also, understand that there is disagreement within these movements about any public policy or symbolic statement that their leaders make, and that is true of this decision. A national rabbinic organization resembles a congregation in some ways, where members have different opinions about the wisdom of a decision of its leaders. But that’s what leaders, and especially rabbinic leaders, are called to do: use their best judgment of the facts at hand, distilled through their understanding of Jewish tradition, to make hard decisions.

 

I was not involved in the decision-making processes of those who refused the call, and I’m not acting on anyone’s behalf to defend it. But I do want to thank those rabbis who decided against participating in it. If the president is serious about deeper engagement with rabbis, there will be many opportunities for it in the coming months, and I know that my colleagues will actively seek them out and take the first steps to meet him more than halfway.

 

Rabbi Hayim Herring, Ph.D., is an author, presenter and organizational futurist, and C.E.O. of HayimHerring.com which “prepares today’s leaders for tomorrow’s organizations.” ™  His latest book, Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World, co-authored with Dr. Terri Elton, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2016.

lished by Rowman & Littlefield in 2016.

After the Rules Changed

Posted on: November 15th, 2016 by Hayim Herring No Comments

Since the election, like many, I’ve had numerous conversations with family members, friends and acquaintances, ranging in ages from 14 to 92. I have friends who are Democrats and friends who are Republicans. Despite their differences, they’re equally astonished at the outcome of the election. And who isn’t? But I have also felt the weight of their pessimism, which for some may become paralyzing. People need time to adjust, to protest, and to reflect on how we got to where we are. But I’ve been troubled by the despair, which can become a barrier to action. So I wrote this poem, or more honestly, it emerged from some surprising place within, about some changes that I’ve been through and that I’ve been witness to. It’s my reaffirmation of the rocky, uneven and unpredictable pathways that take us to higher ground if we’re willing to stay on the road.

After the Rules Changed

I came of age in 1976,
I was middle class, but felt pretty rich.
I never made my bed,
I rarely set the table.
Those were house rules,
Although I was able.

I left home,
For an Ivy college,
I came back to visit,
Primed with world-class knowledge.

We sat around the table,
Talking banal stuff,
Got up when I was finished,
But they had had enough.

Why don’t you clear the table?
You never made your bed!
Their questions had me spinning,
They hurt my head.

There was something that was cooking,
Had been something that was brewing,
My sisters turned feminists,
For years they had been stewing.

That one routine dinner,
Fed me more than I expected,
All of my upbringing,
Crashingly redirected.

It wasn’t just potatoes at the table that were mashed.
Blind to inequality,
All assumptions had been smashed.

It was they who were enraged,
Looked at me as a fool,
But I wish I saw the memo,
About changing the rules.

As we rewrote the playbook,
We had to improvise,
And here we are again, America,
Taken by surprise.

I’ve been here before,
You’ve been here, too.
Like yesterday, back then,
Unacceptable to just “make do.”

We’ve done it before,
We’ll do it again,
Some will lose, and some will win.
It may not be fair, it’s out of balance,
When restoring dignity,
You have to make allowance.

It’s not an excuse to rail with hate,
We won’t heal if we only berate.
Winner take all,
Is a recipe for the fall.
Look-haven’t all have fallen, one time or another?
Serve up compassion,
And you’ll see it’s your brother.

Cross-posted to the Huffington Post

From Generation to Degeneration: Declining American Jewish Kinship with Israel?

Posted on: April 22nd, 2015 by Hayim Herring

 

 

Over the past five years, my wife and I have spent about six weeks each year in Israel. We’re clearly not Israeli citizens, but we’re more than occasional visitors. Like many, we have family and close friends in Israel, and are intentionally deepening those relationships and making new ones. Whenever we return from a visit, we’re asked, “What did you see this time?” While we enjoy museums, concerts, new wineries, restaurants and archaeological findings, we most enjoy being with family and friends and, for me, getting my spiritual fix.

 

With more frequent visits, I’ve become more aware of the differences between the American and Israeli Jewish communities. Yom ha’Atzmaut felt like the right time to share some reflections… and to ask you for your opinions.

 

The modern state of Israel is only 67 years old. Although Israel is the indisputable historic homeland of the Jewish people, in its current iteration, it is young. In fact, my parents are older than the modern State of Israel. Israel is only about 10 years older than my wife and me, over 40 years older than my children, and well over 60 years older for some of my friends who have grandchildren.

 

israel-rabbi-hayim-herring

 

 

Doing this simple, personal math clearly reminds me that within the American Jewish community, there are two generations that can remember the fragility of the State of Israel, and two generations (going on three) that think that Israel is an outsized global powerhouse. Because of such a significant divide, I wonder to what extent the words “from generation to generation,” that imply continuity of values and kinship, apply to the majority of American Jews who are third generation and beyond. They do not have personal living memories of Israel’s vulnerability but are routinely reminded of Israel’s deficiencies. In daily doses of media images and text, they absorb a one-sided, distorted view of Israel, where Israel almost always does wrong and rarely can do right.

 

(more…)

WorthRight Israel: Fund Interfaith Couples and Families Israel Trips

Posted on: June 2nd, 2014 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

Imagine what would happen if funders created a variety of high-quality Israel trips that were free or heavily-subsidized for interfaith couples and families.

 

Question to funders and philanthropists: What about making a heavily subsidized trip to Israel available for interfaith couples and families? Here are the arguments for it:

 

“Israel-alienated” Jews constitute about 20% of the young Jewish population, to use Professor Steven Cohen’s term in a recent analysis he prepared for The Jewish Daily Forward. Not just hawkish Israeli government policies, but intermarriage also has emerged as an “indicator of alienation” from Israel.

 

Any rabbi or other educator who has taught an Introduction to Judaism class with non-Jewish learners knows that it’s impossible to give them the experience of pride, love and passion for Israel simply by talking about the Jewish state. They can experience a Shabbat or holiday meal locally, they can experience being a part of a Jewish family locally, but they can’t feel the complexity and depth of emotions about Israel from a classroom in the Diaspora.

 

Interfaith family in Israel

(more…)

Pew-ish and Religiously Jewish

Posted on: December 5th, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

Pew’s Portrait of American Jews and Ritual: A Troubling Landscape

 

One of Dr. Arnie Eisen’s first big ideas as Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary was “The Mitzvah Initiative.” The most recent Statement of Principles of the Reform Movement encourages individuals to reexamine the role of mitzvah (“sacred obligations”). And, who knows how much Chabad has invested over the decades trying to persuade people to add just “one more mitzvah” to their lives. But the vast majority of American Jews have rejected some core mitzvot/rituals that have defined the Jewish people throughout the ages (like keeping kosher, praying regularly in synagogue and observing a day of Shabbat—to name a few).

 

The most recent Pew Report reaffirms this reality (see especially chapters 3 and 4 of the report). This isn’t new, but it is a persistent puzzle despite the efforts of every religious stream, and especially the monumental efforts of Chabad. And here’s why we should be concerned about the lack of a wider adoption of consistent ritual practice and what the absence of it might mean for the long-term future of American Jewry.

 

Pew-Study-Hayim-Herring

According to the Pew study, when asked whether being Jewish is mainly a matter of religion, ancestry or culture, six-in-ten cite either ancestry or culture (or a combination of the two).

 

But first, a couple of pre-emptive clarifications. This post is not about whether someone who performs mitzvot is a “better Jew” than someone who doesn’t. That’s a pointless and insulting debate because we’ve all met ritually observant scoundrels and ethical people who don’t care much for core Jewish rituals.

 

Second—this post is not another call to “adopt a mitzvah” or make “halakha” (Jewish law) relevant. Rather, it’s a challenge that I’m putting forth to those who value ritual to speak more broadly and openly about the nexus between personal ritual practice and ethical behavior, and to help others hear the music underneath the ritual that moves us to do more and be more than we think we’re capable of.

 

As noted in the Pew Report, the majority of American Jews hold that belief in God, being ethical and moral people and working for social justice are essential attributes of being Jewish—something rightfully to feel quite proud about! So why be concerned about the lack of a greater widespread adoption of a rich, ritual life? Because without it, we risk losing the very values that make us proud of who we are.

 

So here’s how I understand ritual….Ritual is an imperfect, evolving yet organized system that helps me develop into a more decent human being. With ongoing practice, ritual reminds me to become a more empathetic, thoughtful and generous human being. If I value social justice in my heart, then my ritual reflex must be to pay employees a decent wage and give them a day of rest. If I know that I should be grateful for the many blessings in my life that I didn’t work for, then prayer, with its many expressions of gratitude, helps me remember to express appreciation to others. Ideally, ritual transforms what are often ephemeral moral feelings into immediate ethical actions.

 

And ritual has other relevance today. We live in a hyper-changing present, saturated with expanding choices that clamor for immediate attention. Personally, Jewish ritual has increasingly felt like the rest notes in a score of music that help me pause, and then regain perspective on which relationships and activities are ultimately important and which only feel so at the moment. And when I’m a part of a community that practices some of the same rituals that I do, I gain the strength that I need to keep practicing, which isn’t always easy.

 

And that’s what leads me to my concern—for how long will Jews continue to be passionate about social justice, morality and ethics without the reinforcement of ritual? For how long can a set of today’s values be transmitted to future generations without the language of ritual? So far, so good—many American Jews are living exemplary moral lives without the fuel that ritual can provide. But let’s affirm what we know from experience: today’s “givens” can become tomorrow’s “goners” and we know that just because something is, it’s no guarantee that it always will be.

 

So a call to action to professional and volunteer religious leaders of all stripes: let’s make a stronger case by living example about how ritual and values are inextricably linked. Let’s make the values that underlie our personal religious practice explicit, not in order to guilt or coerce others to behave a certain way, but to stimulate conversation and inspire change. Why? Because we have no examples of sustainable secular or cultural Jewish communities. (Historians, please correct me if I am wrong. But, before you point to yesterday’s Bund or even better, today’s secular Zionism, take a look at how a reclamation project of religious texts, tunes and traditions is occurring among “secular” Israelis today.) And a call to funders: even if you personally don’t like the ritual side of Judaism, understand that it has contributed to your values and priorities, that it has a role to play in perpetuating them and that initiatives that foster practice and appreciation of ritual are worthy of your support.

 

 

Beware as The Spin Begins: Early Headlines on the Pew American Jewish Population Study

Posted on: October 2nd, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

 

On Monday, the Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University released a report entitled American Jewish Population Estimates 2012 and yesterday, the Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project released a report entitled A Portrait of Jewish Americans. The last national study of American Jews was released in 2001 by the UJC (United Jewish Communities), now the JFNA (Jewish Federations of North America), and had some significant methodological flaws. The Jewish establishment has been relying on partially unreliable data collected in 2000 for planning purposes, so rightfully these studies will garner significant media attention. In this post, I’ve culled headlines from as of 7pm Central Time yesterday from a variety of publications and organizations in the United States and Israel. My headline to the headlines: Beware as the Spin Begins!

 

American Jewish Press

JTA: Pew Survey of US Jews: Soaring Intermarriage, Assimilation Rates

Jewish Daily Forward: Jews Bound by Shared Beliefs Even as Markers of Faith Fade, Pew Study Shows

New York Jewish Week: Fast-Growing “Nones” Seen Reshaping Jewish Community

Los Angeles Jewish Journal: Pew Releases Landmark Survey on U.S. Jewry

New Jersey Jewish News: Surveys: More Jews, But Fewer Connections

 

American General Press

Wall Street Journal: Increasing Number of U.S. Jews Are Not Religious

New York Times: Poll Shows Major Shift in Identity of U.S. Jews

Huffington Post: What Defines an American Jew? Study Reveals Divides on Identity, Religion and Views on Israel

Associated Press: For Many American Jews, Religion Separate From Belief in God, Pew Survey Finds

 

Religion News Service

Being Jewish Means Being Funny, and That’s No Joke

Who’s a Jew? Few American Jews Say it’s A Matter of Belief

 

Israeli Press

Haaretz: Top 10 Takeaways From Pew Survey on U.S. Jews

eJewishphilanthropy: Pew Survey Examines Changing American Jewish Identity

Ynet News: U.S. Jews Losing Their Religion, Survey Finds

Jerusalem Post: Survey: 1 in 5 Jews Say They Have No Religion, Orthodox Share Grows

Times of Israel: Pew Survey: 6.8 Million US Jews, But Majority Intermarry

 

(Oh…and no coverage on the Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Reform national congregational and rabbinical websites, and websites of Chabad and the Jewish Federations of North America. Pretty hard to understand why they weren’t ready with press releases and interviews, as they all knew about the impending release of the Pew study.)

 

It’s more than just “interesting” to read the initial responses (or note the lack thereof) to these studies, and track how the headlines evolve as leaders of all stripes digest the data. For data are merely points of information. What make them significant is how different individuals and organizations use them to tell a compelling story about the Jewish past, present and future, with the hope of swaying Jewish influentials to support their competing narratives with resources.

 

That’s why it’s important to read the original studies first without the spin, reach some of your own preliminary conclusions and then listen to what other people are saying. There are significant decisions riding on the stories that leaders craft from the data, and we need to hold them and ourselves accountable for accuracy in distinguishing between fact, opinion and prognostication. As you do so, please let me know what issues you think are the most essential over the next decade for leaders to be focusing on- which are the most amenable to influence, which should we invest in moderately and which we need to abandon. I’ll be weighing in as well after I do my “homework.” Thanks and I hope to hear from you!