November 19, 2010

A Long Road Toward ‘Leading in a Jewish Way’

How sad that the Forward did not include a category for Jewish education in your list of leaders (“The Forward 50,” November 5 issue). So it goes in North America these days, as we continue to undervalue the very component of Jewish life that is essential to our being, should pervade every aspect of Jewish life and is the only strategic plan of the Jewish people. Dedicated and creative Jewish educators should have been at the top of your list.

Please explain how Andrew Breitbart, the man who viciously smeared Shirley Sherrod (the Agriculture Department employee who was wrongly fired for alleged racism), can be said to be “leading in a Jewish way”? Are racism, lying, and character assassination now acceptable tactics of Jewish leadership? You have previously stipulated that the Forward 50 is not an endorsement per se and that you want to include people of all political views. Nevertheless, the recognition of being chosen for this list is surely an award of sorts. You should aspire to higher standards of worthiness in your criteria!

A Funny Video Goes Viral, and Raises Questions

I laughed when I first watched American Jewish World Service’s popular video (on the homepage), in which celebrities alternate between poking fun at and advocating for the organization on its 25th anniversary. But then I started thinking about the truth behind its humor.

The video makes it clear that AJWS “helps people of all religions all over the world alleviate poverty, hunger and disease,” and goes on to say that “it probably doesn’t help any Jews … Jews are fine.” That makes it clear why non-Jews may want to donate — but why should Jews?

I think AJWS has done exemplary work bringing light to a lot of dark places. But I’m worried that we as Jews have lost an important sense of responsibility to one another. Jews are not fine. While AJWS is off fighting hunger worldwide and e-mailing videos that reduce Judaism to one-liners about matzah, Israel’s poverty rate has risen to over one-third of the population, and Jews across Europe encounter harsh anti-Semitism.

The American elections are over. We can now consider an important Jewish choice: where to give charity. AJWS doesn’t need to focus specifically on Jewish needs. We as Jews have survived through our diversity, and the universalism demonstrated by AJWS is a crucial component of Judaism. But for those of us concerned not only with the future of the world, but also with the future of the Jewish people, perhaps we should support organizations that focus first and foremost on helping Jews. After all, AJWS is fine.

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November 19, 2010

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