Sizing Up State of Jewish People

As 5773 Dawns, Greatest Threat is From Within

Getty Images

By Stuart E. Eizenstat

Published October 02, 2012, issue of October 05, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

The American Jewish community of just over 6 million is like an enterprise with two roughly equal divisions. One division consists of people who are vibrant, healthy, engaged and determined to assert their Judaism and pass it along to their children, with more than 750 full-time Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jewish day schools educating 200,000 Jewish youth a year. The other is near bankruptcy and is threatening the health of the entire community. Half of all new Jewish marriages are intermarriages and only a small percentage of those non-Jewish spouses convert to Judaism. Membership in Jewish institutions and philanthropy to them is dropping. Birth rates are below replacement levels. European Jews face even more daunting demographic realities, with declining Jewish and soaring Muslim populations. Diaspora Jews have a smorgasbord of lifestyle options; every young Jew will be a Jew by choice, if a Jew at all.

This demands an urgent call to arms. Non-Orthodox rabbis should perform intermarriages if the couple pledges to raise their kids as Jews; community institutions should openly welcome intermarried couples. Jewish education must be given top priority and made more affordable by creating a massive Jewish education endowment fund. The philanthropic effort known as Birthright Israel, which has taken more than 250,000 young Jewish adults to Israel, creating deeper Jewish identification, should be given more support by the Israeli government.

Israel faces its own internal challenges. While the Jewish population of Israel has a healthy birth rate, it is still lower than those of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians. It is unsustainable for a nation of 5.8 million Jews to control the lives of more than 2 million Palestinians in the West Bank against their will. A separation into two states, with strong security guarantees for Israel, is not a gift to the Palestinians; it is an imperative to maintain a democratic, majority Jewish state. And if there is no Palestinian peace partner, Israel should adopt the political version of the Hippocratic Oath: “Do no harm,” by avoiding the expansion of settlements deeper into the West Bank. The Israeli government should make bold proposals for peace, even if they continue to be rejected, so that the onus for any impasse rests on the Palestinians, not on Israel.

A grave internal threat to the rule of law comes from a small, radical, messianic group of settlers who openly defy the authority of the government, building outposts illegal under Israel’s own laws, torching mosques, burning Qurans, poisoning Palestinian olive trees and even attacking Israeli soldiers.

Today, about 50% of Israeli first-graders are either Israeli Arabs or children of Haredi families. Haredim are now about 8% of the population, but this percentage will double over the next several decades because of extraordinarily high birthrates. Since few serve in the military, and the majority is not in the workforce, there is an urgent need to incorporate them into the mainstream of Israeli life, or they will be a great drag on the Israeli economy and cohesion, particularly on Israel’s prized equality for women.

Israel faces another profound internal challenge: the need to be at peace with itself. It is also long past time for Israelis to reach a consensus on basic issues: where they want their ultimate borders to be, and what their relationship should be with their Israeli Arab citizens and the Palestinians over which they rule.

But when we consider the shattered state of world Jewry after World War II and think about how far we have come, there is reason for optimism. The empires that sought to destroy the Jewish people have vanished, but the indestructible, indomitable Jewish people have survived and still thrive, and will continue to make contributions to the world far out of proportion to our small numbers.

Stuart E. Eizenstat was chief domestic policy adviser to President Jimmy Carter, and served various senior positions in the Clinton Administration from 1993-2001. His new book discussing these challenges is “The Future of the Jews: How Global Forces are Impacting on the Jewish People, Israel and its Relationship with the United States” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2012) .


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.