Much has been said and written in the last two weeks about the new Pew Research Center survey, and its disturbing portrait of the state of American Jewry.
No stream has reason to crow. Attrition afflicts all flavors of Judaism – even the so-called secular, especially when we factor in the number of Jewish parents who say they are not raising their children “as Jewish – either by religion or aside from religion,” in the survey’s own words. In Orthodoxy’s case, where the picture appears to be less bleak, the numbers may be unfortunately skewed, because virtually all the Orthodox interviewed were from Brooklyn, Monsey, and Lakewood – solid bastions of charedi Judaism, but not representative of more liberal Orthodox enclaves.
Among the comments, press releases, speeches, articles, and sound bites that inundated us in the wake of the Pew results, the words of two Orthodox rabbis stand out. The first is Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood. “We are all in this together,” he told our reporter Lois Goldrich (“Local rabbis talk about the Pew survey,” Oct. 11, 2013). “We need to find a way to reach out to those beyond our ranks and boundaries, and do a better job within our ranks, to touch both minds and hearts.”
If we are to reverse the trend long observed and yet again confirmed by this new survey, we need to set aside our fractionalism and our factionalism. We need to eschew triumphalism and embrace collaboration. We need to agree to disagree on matters of observance and ideology, and focus instead on our common commitment to preserving the American Jewish future. The best minds from every corner of Jewish life need to sit at the same table, and come up with ways to fix that which clearly is very broken.
This brings us to the second voice that stands out – that of Eliyahu Fink, rabbi of the Pacific Jewish Center/The Shul on the Beach in Venice, Calif.
In an article that appeared on the website of the Orthodox weekly the Jewish Press, Fink wrote “that Orthodox Jews should be concerned and make efforts to help revive non-Orthodox Judaism….Orthodox Judaism is not going to magically become the Judaism for the 89 percent of non-Orthodox Jews. We can either wish them well and watch them disappear, or we can try to keep them connected to their Jewish heritage…. [S]trengthening the non-Orthodox denominations is a worthy endeavor. They are also our brothers and sisters.”
We are all in this together. Only together can we shore up the house so that it is strong enough to remain standing long into the distant future.
We lack only one thing: leaders in all streams with the courage to stand together.