Pew Study Casts Long Shadow Over Jewish Federations General Assembly in Israel

American Shift Away From Faith Overshadows Israel


By Ben Sales

Published November 12, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

(JTA) — When it’s held in Israel once every five years, the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly aims to focus on challenges and opportunities facing the Jewish state. In large part, this year was no exception.

Israel’s president, prime minister and other prominent politicians addressed the crowd. Sessions covered Israel’s foreign and domestic agenda, from Iran’s nuclear program to Israel’s marriage laws to the aftermath of the 2011 social protests. The conference culminated with a walk to the Western Wall.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Jerusalem. The release of the Pew Research Center Survey of U.S. Jews gave conference delegates a comprehensive picture of Jewish life in America, a set of sometimes troubling statistics and plenty to talk about.

Hanging over the delegates’ heads were two questions that have obsessed the Jewish community since the study was released last month: What does it mean? And what do we do about it?

Answers came in sessions before and during the conference, and in speeches by JFNA CEO Jerry Silverman and Chairman Michael Siegal. Taken together, they recommended greater accessibility to communal resources and programs such as preschool and camp, combined with a focus on developing personal connections between community leaders and young Jews.

“The fact that we act collectively, that is our brand,” Silverman said at a plenary Monday. “Not just the things we do, but the fact that we do them together. Let’s never forget that. Let’s never be so passionate about a single cause that we forget that our real cause is community.”

Silverman lamented the high cost of Jewish education and called for Jewish preschool to be free, as well as for a major expansion of the Jewish summer camp network.

Federations, Silverman said, need to do a better job of engaging the “low-hanging branches” of alumni from large programs like the free 10-day Birthright trip to Israel. He recommended establishing a one-on-one mentoring program between community leaders and young Jews.

Silverman also advocated making better use of technology and announced plans for the creation of an encyclopedic website within a year to share communal best practices and pool data. He reiterated his call for Birthright to make more of its data available to communities nationwide, a process that Birthright says was already underway.

“Half of our young population has been exposed to Israel and yet we don’t follow up,” Silverman said Monday. “We could change the face of Jewish communal life one relationship at a time.”

Siegal called for the creation of “Jewish development zones” where large communities each would have a summer camp, high-quality Jewish day schools, increased youth programming and leadership training opportunities.

Panel sessions preceding the G.A. focused less on policy solutions and more on what principles should guide the Jewish community in responding to a lack of communal connection among young Jews. A two-day summit on formulating a plan to strengthen the connection between Israel and Diaspora Jewish communities ahead of the G.A. emphasized the value of immersive experiences for North American Jews in Israel and with Israelis.

“The Jewish identity of Jews around the world has weakened,” the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, Harel Locker, said at the summit’s opening session. “This shift is opening a gap between the Jews of the Diaspora and Israel, especially among the younger generation.”

Speaking Sunday at a Global Jewish Peoplehood Roundtable sponsored by the UJA-Federation of New York, Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies Executive Vice President Gil Preuss said that federations should focus on giving young Jews meaningful, substantive Jewish experiences instead of aiming to attract the maximum number of participants to programs.

“What does it mean to be Jewish, to be part of the Jewish people?” he said. “If you focus on content, you’ll get numbers.”


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!
  • "Selma. Nearly 50 years ago it was violent Selma, impossibly racist Selma, site of Bloody Sunday, when peaceful civil rights marchers made their first attempt to cross the Pettus Street Bridge on the way to the state capitol in Montgomery, Alabama." http://jd.fo/r50mf With the 50th anniversary approaching next spring, a new coalition is bringing together blacks, Jews and others for progressive change.
  • Kosovo's centuries-old Jewish community is down to a few dozen. In a nation where the population is 90% Muslim, they are proud their past — and wonder why Israel won't recognize their state. http://jd.fo/h4wK0
  • Israelis are taking up the #IceBucketChallenge — with hummus.
  • In WWI, Jews fought for Britain. So why were they treated as outsiders?
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • 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.