About a month ago, the Forward offered to convene an ongoing conversation between our readers and Jewish communal leaders, to hold those leaders accountable and to promote civil dialogue at a time when it is sorely needed. Not surprisingly, we haven’t heard from any communal leaders willing to participate. Yet. But we have heard from readers with some awfully good questions.
“How can the American Jewish community stand for the discrimination against liberal Judaism in Israel?” writes David Mollen of Union, N.J. “It is obvious that Israel’s reliance on Orthodox standards for conversion, marriage, etc. is not due to Orthodox hegemony; the Orthodox make up only about 20% of Israel’s Jewish citizenry. Thus, the situation can only exist because of the support of the majority of Israel’s Jewish citizens, who are largely ‘secular.’”
Mollen continues: “Would America’s Jews be so quiet if, for example, Israel discriminated against any other group, such as blacks, or Asians? Are the rights of fellow Jews less important than the rights of others? Does this double standard arise from cowardice or antipathy toward non-Orthodox Judaism or something else?”
And from Donna L. Halper of Quincy, Mass., we received this request: “Let’s talk frankly about Jewish diversity. I’m your basic white and Ashkenazi Jewish person, but I have several friends who are Jews of color — black, Asian, Hispanic. Two are converts, one was born Jewish, but all have had the same experiences — white Jewish people persistently question whether they are ‘really Jewish.’ They are stared at. Their kids are made fun of. And as for welcoming the stranger… well, not so much. Look at Jewish textbooks — the ones I’ve seen show 99% white and European faces. Further, I see few rabbis discussing Jewish diversity.”
“I think Judaism is missing a BIG opportunity. There are people of color who want to join us, and we are not doing enough to make them feel included. Is anyone seriously examining this issue?”
Halper said she’s asked about this numerous times, but never has received a response from community leaders. Who will be the first?
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Finally, due to the economic crisis, the Forward is closing its West Coast bureau and bidding farewell to Rebecca Spence, who has ably served our readers there since the bureau opened in late 2007. We will continue to tell the Jewish story from around the nation, and invite readers to send their ideas to Larry Cohler-Esses, assistant managing editor, at email@example.com.