AN AMERICAN JEWISH – GERMAN INFORMATION & OPINION
September 24, 2013
IN THIS EDITION
THE END OF EUROPEAN JEWRY? – Some think the end is near.
SHALE – What comes from the earth can alter politics.
FALASH MURA - Ethiopian Jews immigrate to Israel.
A SEATTLE JEWISH TEACHER – Impressions of Berlin
RUSSIAN JEWS– Integrating in the U.S. - Germany too?
DEEPENING JEWISH LIFE – How to get a result.
Some years ago a colleague of mine told me, ―People in the U.S. do not get up in the
morning thinking about the Federal Republic of Germany‖. He thought of it as a
negative indicting Germany’s lack of importance. To me it seemed to be a positive.
Current day Germany, in my 30 years of being involved with it, has appeared to be a
relatively peaceful place with not many disasters or threats to others outside its
boundaries. One does not have to worry much about it on this side of the Atlantic.
Therefore, it’s not the kind of place thatmakes a lot of front page news here in the U.S.
The recent election was no exception. Angela Merkel, acknowledged as the master
politician of Europe, received her due in the U.S. media but she had to compete with a
hostage situation in Kenya, a possible ―shutdown‖ of the U.S. government next week,
the opening of the UN General Assembly in New York, and the Middle East problems of
U.S. involvement with Syria, Iran and the Israel – Palestinian situation. There just wasn’t
enough room on the front pages for something that was really not unexpected – a
Having said the above, it should be noted that the election did get coverage though
most of it was hidden inside the papers. The Israeli papers take a greater interest in
German politics for a whole variety of reasons. So, you will find one of the things they
have printed below as well. Examples follow.
CNN noted, ―She may be unpopular in many of the troubled countries of the eurozone,
but of Europe's leaders, Chancellor Angela Merkel is the one who managed to keep her
seat throughout the crisis.
While voters in France, Spain, Italy and Greece sent her counterparts packing, Merkel
has been reelected with one of the strongest mandates in the history of modern
As the leading figure in the fight against the region's financial crisis, Merkel is used to
She has blocked bailouts, rejected proposals, denied pleas and stood up to the rest of
Europe. For her pains she has earned praise at home -- where she is nicknamed "Mutti"
("Mommy") -- and animosity abroad.
Benjamin Weinthal writing in The Jerusalem Post opined, ―German Chancellor Angela
Merkel’s third consecutive electoral victory has profound consequences for Israel’s
support in Europe and its security cooperation with the Federal Republic.
To understand German- Israeli relations under Merkel, it helps to compare her positions
with those of her adversaries. Merkel’s party – the Christian Democratic Union (along
with its sister party the Christian Social Union) – is the only German party to strictly
oppose the new EU settlement guidelines. Her party’s statements on the guidelines,
which bar EU cooperation with Israeli entities beyond the Green line, declare that the
guidelines are not ―objective requirements‖ and urge the EU to modify its regulations.
Merkel’s principal opponent, the Social Democrats, issued a statement to the main
German-Jewish newspaper Jüdische Allgemeine, declaring the party’s support for the
EU sanctions targeting Israel’s work in the disputed territories.
While Merkel’s views on Israel are diametrically opposed to those of the center- left
parties in Germany, she disappointed Israel’s government by abstaining in the UN
General Assembly vote last November to recognize an independent Palestinian state.
On the security front, the Merkel’s administration is slated to continue its delivery of
advanced Dolphin class submarines to Israel.
After Israel sealed a contract for a sixth Dolphin in 2012, Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu told Merkel in a letter that it will ―help us address Israel’s immense defense
needs during these turbulent times, and will contribute greatly to the long-term security
of the Jewish state.‖
When contrasted to her fellow European and German political leaders, Merkel is seen to
display a good understanding of core Israel security interests.
[Ed. Note] I wonder which position a CDU/CSU – SPD coalition mightm take on the
subject of EU settlement guidelines.
ALISON SMALE and JACK EWING writing in The New York Times noted, ―The election
outcome Sunday ―is the safest course for a country like Germany,‖ Annette Heuser, the
executive director of the Bertelsmann Foundation, said in a telephone interview from
Washington. The mentality, she said, is ―Why rock the boat?‖
Yet the elections also hinted at more volatility in German politics, with the Greens, for
example, tumbling from 20 percent-plus showings two years ago to around 8 percent on
Germany’s European allies have been in suspense, waiting for the Continent’s most
important election this year. President François Hollande of France indicated how
eager, even impatient, they are when he congratulated Ms. Merkel from Paris and
invited her to visit as soon as possible. Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, who
hopes Ms. Merkel will support his quest to claw back rights from Europe’s regulators in
Brussels, posted his congratulations on Twitter, adding, ―I’m looking forward to
continuing to work closely with her.‖
The next most pressing change on the European agenda is probably a banking union,
on which Germany has not pushed hard. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who
with Ms. Merkel has guided his country through the euro crisis, went on television
Sunday night to assure European partners that Germany would continue to play its
reliable part in the Continent’s affairs, but mentioned no specifics.
Jan Techau, director of Carnegie Europe in Brussels, was in Germany for the election
and said the vote on Sunday meant that it would be winter before Europe resumed any
While the chancellor has talked often of ―more Europe,‖ lately she has shown little
appetite for political restructuring that would require complex changes to the treaties
that govern the European Union, Mr. Techau noted.
Her major goal is ―to get out of this crisis in one piece,‖ he said. ―This muddling through
can continue for a while.‖
Ann Applebaum writing in The Washington Post said, ―…this frumpy, unassuming East
German has just been reelected chancellor of Germany, and therefore the leader of
Europe, for the third time. Or maybe empress of Europe is the more appropriate title,
since Merkel doesn’t really lead: She reigns. She doesn’t tell people what to do, she
doesn’t give orders, she isn’t bossy or pushy. She doesn’t throw Germany’s weight
around or make demands. She simply sets parameters and then lets everybody else
make ―choices‖ themselves.
From the above I think you get the idea and flavor of coverage in the U.S and Israel. By
and large the media is complimentary toward Ms. Merkel and certainly acknowledge her
political prowess and great personal victory. However, like opinion in Germany, much is
yet to be decided in the yet to be agreed upon coalition.
On to the news…
THE END OF EUROPEAN JEWRY?
In the last issue I included a piece by Michel Gurfinkiel which opined that the future for
Jews in Europe was dim largely because of the anti-Semitism that has become more
virulent in recent years.
Following that, the noted historian (who I also quoted in last month’s newsletter) Walter
Lacquer (picture) wrote a commentary in Mosaic on the Gurfinkiel article arguing that,
while he agreed with Gurfinkiel’s conclusion, it is demography that will bring to a close
Jewish life in Europe not anti-Semitism.
Lacquer notes, ―…anti-Semitism is not the main factor. The main factor is demography.
Before World War II, more Jews lived in Europe than in any other part of the world. Ever
since the great bloodletting of the Holocaust, the presence of Jews in Europe has been
insignificant. Against the backdrop of earlier European history, and contrary to what
Gurfinkiel writes, European Jewry today does not even look healthy. The postwar
flowering that he describes, impressive as it is (or was), should not be exaggerated; the
real vibrancy of a community is not measured in new museums and similar institutions.
In the 27 member states of the European Union, Jews today number, in all, only slightly
more than a million souls: demographically, an immaterial factor in the affairs of Europe
and one that appears destined to become even less consequential as the century
True, the Jewish communities in France and Germany have increased in size since
1945, although this is less the result of natural growth than of the migration of Jews from
other parts of the world. In all other EU countries, however, the numbers have declined,
in a process that continues to gather momentum. The number of Jews in Britain, for
instance, has fallen from about 320,000 two decades ago to 270,000 today. Synagogue
membership and attendance in Britain have likewise fallen by 20 percent in the same
period. Mutatis mutandis, the same holds true throughout the continent. Tempting as it
is to locate the cause in anti-Semitism—from the aggression of young Muslims to the
anti-Israel obsession of the European elites—this is at best the smaller part of the
The larger part was outlined in a book published over a century ago entitled Der
Untergang der deutschen Juden (―The Downfall of German Jewry,‖ 1911). The author, a
German Jewish physician named Felix Theilhaber, stressed an inescapable fact: with
the exception of the Orthodox and the ultra-Orthodox, the Jewish fertility rate was
already well below the replacement level of 2.1 children per family. And as for the
Orthodox, they numbered, then as now, too few to compensate for the overall
demographic drift downward. Intensifying the attrition, again then as now, was the rising
number of those ―marrying out‖ of the community altogether. (On a purely personal
note: I knew Theilhaber, who was also the brother-in-law of the novelist and playwright
Lion Feuchtwanger, quite well in his old age in Jerusalem, and was friends with his son
Although Theilhaber wrote about German Jews, his analysis applied to Western Europe
in general, where, in a pattern universal among all cultures in modern history, the
number of children was falling as the Jewish standard of living improved. Needless to
say, the devastations wrought by both world wars would magnify the Jewish
demographic losses hideously; in our own time, ineluctably, the process has resumed
its steady course onward.
It is noteworthy in this connection that Jews are not the only religious community in
Europe that is suffering a decline: the number of practicing Catholics and Protestants
has also substantially decreased. But the situation of a Jew who no longer belongs to
the religious community, or who does not identify himself with Israel, is quite different
from that of a non-church-going French or Italian Catholic. Take the example of the
Berlin Jewish community. Officially, it has 10,000 members; but the real number of Jews
in that city is considerably higher, with estimates ranging anywhere from 25,000 to
95,000, among them about 10,000 Israelis.
Why do the great majority demur from identifying themselves as Jews in a modern-day
city that, while hardly free of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel outbursts, is no hotbed of anti-
Semitism? Some point to the off-putting stringencies of Jewish religious practice.
Others cite the special burden of the tax that has to be paid by registered members of
any German religious community (but which entitles them to a variety of social services
they could otherwise not obtain). One might mention as well the absence of an active
Jewish intelligentsia or cultural life, and the consequent disaffection of many younger
Jews. To all these might also be added the lamentably low level to which German
Jewish leadership has fallen. In Berlin this year, the general meeting of the local Jewish
council ended in a bitter confrontation over real estate that in turn led to an out-and-out
brawl necessitating intervention by the police.
An extreme case, no doubt, and a sad story. But, in considering the decline of Europe’s
Jewry, and the pressures under which Jewish officialdom operates, the story of the
Berlin community also highlights the analytical imperative to avoid single-issue
explanations, even such compelling ones as the presence of real and enduring hatred
by one’s enemies.
Needless to say, I hope that both Lacquer and Gurfinkiel are both wrong. Given my age
I do not think I’ll be around to find out.
Of course, after all is said and done, continuity will largely be in the hands of the various
Jewish communities. However, one does not have to go back very far in European
history to come to the understanding that the citizens that surround them play a very
large role in how Jews or any minority for that matter, lives or dies off.
I don’t think one can argue that the Jews have not added greatly to the culture and life
of the European communities in which they have lived. Europe without Jews would be a
weaker and far less powerful continent without Jews. Therefore, the general population
and their governments can and must play a role in making sure that their fellow Jewish
citizens have the opportunity to live in peace and security while being an integrated part
There is much written and said about what might bring about peace between Israel and
the Palestinians. One thing that might have more impact than talk, meetings, and
diplomatic pressure is the discovery of natural gas laden shale off the Mediterranean
coast of Israel and oil onshore as well.
An article by Neil Goldstein in JNS.org notes, ―Israel soon will be producing natural gas
from fields in the Mediterranean in sufficient quantity to replace all of the coal and gas
the country needs for its electrical power production and for fueling industry—with an
additional 30 percent left for export. But while natural gas may be sufficient to fulfill
domestic needs for the next 40 years, the government of Israel has sensibly decided
that solar power—both photovoltaic (―PV‖) plants and concentrating solar power
(―CSP‖)—should be part of the nation’s energy mix, providing an additional pollution-
free source of electrical power whenever the sun is shining.
Given these enormous offshore natural gas resources and the solar energy projects that
are being pursued, why, then, does it remain important for Israel to develop its shale
To understand that need, it first is crucial to clarify that, while the undersea sandstone
formations in which Israel’s gas is entrapped are overlain with shale, these offshore
sites are not what are meant when people talk about Israel’s ―shale‖ deposits—
particularly since Israel’s offshore gas is being recovered by ―conventional‖ means
rather than using more complex technologies usually needed for producing fossil fuels
from shale. Instead, when people speak of Israel’s shale they are referring to two
onshore sites, one in the center of Israel near Beit Shemesh (the ―Shfela Basin‖) and
the other in the Golan.
Moreover, rather than containing predominantly natural gas (like Israel’s offshore fields
or like the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania and New York State)—both these onshore
sites are likely to deliver a quite different and distinct mix of fossil fuels that will be of
particular importance for fueling transportation, rather than for generating electricity.
Specifically, the Golan site is thought to contain predominantly oil. Meanwhile, the site in
the center of the country (in the Shfela Basin) contains fossil fuels in a different form
altogether: hydrocarbons bound to the shale rock.
Although some opponents of development there have raised a cry against ―fracking‖ at
this site, the reality is that is ―fracking‖ is not being contemplated, nor would it be useful
in freeing these hydrocarbons. Instead, the developers of the Shfela Basin site have
devised an entirely new suite of far more benign technologies that would heat the rock
(―oil shale‖) gradually over a period of years to free the hydrocarbons. They have
estimated that there is as much as 250 billion barrels of oil in place in the Shfela, much
of which could be recovered economically using these methods… nearly as much oil as
in all of Saudi Arabia!
The obvious question people have raised is why, with an enormous abundance of
natural gas and solar power, Israel should even bother to develop these ―shale oil‖ and
―oil shale‖ resources—however much oil they may contain. For those who understand
the geopolitical importance of oil, the answer is obvious: oil is a strategic commodity
without which the industrialized world could not operate. When we consider whether it is
worthwhile to develop Israel’s shale resources, it is important to stress that the
Government of Israel has declared that reducing the world’s dependence on OPEC oil
is of strategic importance to Israel. And so, it has established a special division in the
Prime Minister’s office to mount a government-wide effort to help the world find
alternatives for fueling transportation (including advanced biofuels, natural gas, and
electric vehicle technologies).
But until these transportation alternatives become widespread, it remains strategically
and economically important for Israel to develop its oil shale and shale oil resources
because of the oil they can provide to Europe or to China, and because of the monopoly
power that they have, as members of OPEC, to embargo the supply of oil to anyone
who doesn’t toe their political line.
Moreover, the enormous wealth they have gained by selling oil is at the root of a great
deal of the evil in this world—permitting Saudi Arabia to field one of the world’s largest
military forces and enabling Iran to finance both terrorism and the development of its
Furthermore, by developing an onshore oil industry, Israel will generate very significant
tax and royalty revenues and high-quality, high-paying jobs, all of which will benefit the
average Israeli citizen.
When we consider whether it is worthwhile to develop Israel’s shale resources, it is
important to stress that the Government of Israel has declared that reducing the world’s
dependence on OPEC oil is of strategic importance to Israel. And so, it has established
a special division in the Prime Minister’s office to mount a government-wide effort to
help the world find alternatives for fueling transportation (including advanced biofuels,
natural gas, and electric vehicle technologies).
But until these transportation alternatives become widespread, it remains strategically
and economically important for Israel to develop its oil shale and shale oil resources.
I am not a prognosticator and I don’t have a crystal ball in which I can see the future,
however I don’t think it’s far-fetched to think that an energy self-sufficient Israel with
energy to sell will somehow change the geo-political balance in the Middle East. Energy
producing countries seem to have a charmed life. With their product being of critical
importance to super-powers, the way they are viewed and treated puts them in a much
more protected category. With such protection Israel’s view of its security might
someday become somewhat altered and its ―acceptance’ as a Jewish state might
become further recognized.
One of the more interesting happenings in international Jewish life during the last half
century was the immigration to Israel of a large number black Jews from Ethiopia.
According to The Virtual Jewish Library, ―Ethiopian Jews have been the targets of
missionaries for many decades [in Ethiopia]. When the missionary activity intensified at
the end of the 19th century, large numbers of the Beta Israel community converted.
From approximately that time until Israel began to actively help the Jews immigrate,
members of the Beta Israel community have abandoned their faith. Some did so
because they were pressured or persuaded by the missionaries, others responded to
social pressure and some may have viewed conversion as a way to improve their
economic condition (for example, they could then own land). These people, who had
once been Jews, or, more often, whose ancestors had been Jews, are referred to as the
The Falash Mura were virtually unknown until Operation Solomon, when a number
attempted to board the Israeli planes and were turned away. The Falash Mura said they
were entitled to immigrate because they were Jews by ancestry, but the Israelis saw
them as non-Jews, since most had never practiced Judaism and were not considered
by the Beta Israel as part of the community.
Ethiopian Jewry activists maintained that the Falash Mura had been forced to convert or
had done so for pragmatic reasons without ever really abandoning their Jewish faith. At
The North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ) began to provide aid to
the group in Addis that had not returned to their homes after being left behind during
Operation Solomon. Once food and medical care became available, more Falash Mura
left their villages for Addis and soon began to overload the meager resources of
NACOEJ. The Joint Distribution Committee entered the picture and provided additional
assistance on a humanitarian basis, without accepting the NACOEJ contention that they
were Jews entitled to go to Israel.
As the number of Falash Mura in Addis grew, the Israeli position hardened. The official
view was that these people were not Jews and, if they had ever been Jews, it was in the
distant past. Most were now practicing Christians who simply wanted to get out of
Ethiopia by any means possible and saw an opportunity to escape by claiming to be
Jewish and thereby earning the right to immigrate to Israel.
The Israeli government relented and over 90,000 Falash Mura have immigrated to Israel
in the last 30 years. This year it was decided that the project should be brought to a
close even though many of the Ethiopian Jews already is Israel say that many of their
relatives have been left behind. Lobbying for the re-opening of the immigration program
has begun and it remains to be seen if someday it will have new life.
Integration, needless to say, has not been easy though the government opened 17
absorption centers to help the process. My guess is that it will take at least a couple of
generations for it to truly succeed. However, the youngsters get proper schooling and
serve in the Israel Defense Forces.
Of course, there is racism as there is in any predominantly white nation. However, this
year Yityish Aynaw (picture), a Falash Mura was voted ―Miss Israel‖. No doubt! Things
are changing. To read more about her and the situation of the Falash Mura click here.
A SEATTLE JEWISH TEACHER
I have been a constant visitor to Berlin for the last 30 years and lived in the Wilmersdorf
section for 2 ½ of them in the late 1990‖s. Nowadays when I visit I see a very familiar
city and look forward to visiting with old friends. I understand that I do not have the
same reaction as first time American Jewish visitors, especially those who are deeply
and professionally engaged with the Jewish community. To me it’s always interesting to
see what sort of impact Berlin has on these first timers. It varies widely but there always
seems to be a sensitive Jewish place in their hearts and minds that is affected.
Balancing Past and Present: A Jewish Educator’s First Steps in Berlinby
RivyPoupkoKletenik recently appeared in Jewish Philanthropy.
In it Ms. Kletenik writes, ―It was at our very first session that Ed Serotta, founding
director of Centropa, stood before us in the Centrum Judaicum of the Neue Synagoge,
and said, ―No Jew comes to Berlin happily.‖ Indeed, and if you do – a swift self-correct
kicks in with a vengeance. Few Jews can board a flight to Berlin without the
accompaniment of an internal cacophony of voices: ―don’t buy that, it was made in
Germany‖ – ―they’re speaking German, do you hear?‖ – ―Mercedes, who would drive a
Mercedes?‖ Yet, here I was in Berlin, at Centropa’s Summer Academy. I had come here
willingly, nay eagerly, perhaps in order to face that very chorus of voices. After nine
days, I left with a more nuanced refrain, deeply moved and forever changed.
Walking the steamy streets of Berlin with fellow educators from different countries,
backgrounds, ethnicities, and religions feels like a taste of the prophetic age – nations
streaming, walking the walk of the just. We are on a pilgrimage. Yet, this is far from any
Jewish Promised Land. Instead, these are streets of stumbling stones, Stolpersteine,
that pepper the cobblestone sidewalks, where pillars of portraits of those gone populate
the corners in a street exhibit called ―Diversity Destroyed,‖ and where gentrified
neighborhoods are marked with plaques of memory that dispel any illusion that all is as
commonplace as it appears. We are walking the haunted avenues, bustling now with
hip shoppers, artists and musicians
Every step in Berlin is layered – the Wall, the train stations, the museums, strata upon
strata. And thus it is with an immense visceral relief we emerge shuddering from
Gestapo headquarters. Did I say former Gestapo headquarters? The soul feels what it
feels and the shortness of breath is anything but imagined. The balance of the past and
the present becomes the task of the moment. Yes, the here and the now bespeak a
new generation’s sensibilities, yet there is a long dark shadow that slowly creeps
through our days. The stories we are to hear, though, tell less of horror and atrocities
and more of love and miracles. They are the stories that we teachers will share with our
Now we sit in an outdoor café. The last evening in Berlin and we are at the Judische
Madenchenschule, once a Jewish girls’ school, now a Berlin gallery, restaurant and
outdoor cafe. It is a warm and sticky evening, with the promise of a breeze in the air.
The girls’ pictures line the wall. I hear their chatty voices in the halls and see them
traipsing up the stairs. I want to ask them how their day of learning was, and if they
have homework, and call after them, ―see you tomorrow.‖ Of course, they have no
tomorrow. I shiver and wipe the tears away. At dinner, I sit across from a German
teacher from Bonn. She teaches her students about those years. And about the Jews
who had one time lived in her city. They go to where the synagogue once stood. They
stand there together in a circle. They solemnly pass a stone from little hand to little
hand. The teacher places it delicately where the synagogue had stood. She teaches
them that this is what Jews do when they visit a grave, they leave a stone. It testifies.
You are not forgotten. We visited here. We heard your story and we will continue to tell
I left out a little of Ms. Kletenik’s story but I think you get the idea – and feeling of what
Jews from a distant world (U.S.) feel when first stepping foot in Berlin.
It’s too bad, perhaps, that the author did not spend more time and get to know non-
Jewish teachers and the stories they have to tell.
By the way, you might be interested in the organization that brought Ms. Kletenik to
Berlin – Centropa.
Centropa was founded by a tremendously multi-talented American photographer Ed
Serotta. Vienna based, It is dedicated to preserving Jewish memory and bringing its
meaning to many people through educational programs, seminars, etc. It is worth it to
check into his website to see the fascinating things the organization is doing. You can
access it at www.centropa.org
Jews, first from the Soviet Union, and then, after communism collapsed, the former
Soviet Union, have begun to make an impact on the American Jewish scene. Though in
smaller numbers, the same is surely happening in Germany as well.
Dan Pine writing in Jewish Philanthropy states, "Though no one knows to what degree
succeeding generations will lose touch with their roots, Russian-speaking Jews today
have a strong affiliation with the language and culture of their homeland.
Today ...an increasing numbers of ... Russian-speaking émigrés are coming into
positions of leadership in the same Jewish community that helped them acclimate when
they first arrived. They sit on boards and staffs of Jewish agencies, federations and
synagogues. They give philanthropic dollars. They support Israel with exceptional
fervor. And they do it all with bilingual, bicultural ease. Though precise figures are
unknown, government data suggest there are close to 750,000 Russian-speaking Jews
in the United States today. They are proud of their Russian culture, and many continue
to speak Russian with their children and grandchildren, who themselves are as
American as apple pie – with a shot of vodka on the side.
While attempts to fold Russian-speaking Jewish immigrants into mainstream Amer-ican
Jewish life, including religious life, have met with mixed results around the country, one
fact is clear: Capitalism suits them. Google co-founder Sergey Brin might be the most
conspicuous of émigré success stories. But a new study conducted by Brandeis
University history professor Jonathan Sarna shows many Jewish émigrés from the
former Soviet Union (FSU) have done well financially, with the men earning 111 percent
of the average American male’s salary, and women earning 127.6 percent of the
salaries of their American-born counterparts.
That financial success translates into power, influence and, increasingly, activism in the
Jewish community, at least in the [San Francisco] Bay Area. ―America has welcomed
wave after wave of immigrants,‖ Sarna says. ―We always worry about them, but over
time they move into leadership positions. [Russian-speaking Jews] are tremendously
hardworking and eager to succeed, and our job is to make sure they have opportunities
within the Jewish community to strengthen it. Whenever we’ve done that before we
Brandeis’ Sarna has spent his professional life studying the experience of Jews in
America. His 2013 study, sponsored by the Jewish People Policy Institute, warns of the
potential disintegration of the close-knit societies the Russian-speaking Jews formed
when they first arrived, leading to a possible loss of Jewish identity and rapid
assimilation. The high levels of education achieved by many Russian-speaking Jews, as
well as their desire to be full Americans, propel this trend. Sarna’s study cites figures
that show this community surpasses all other ethnic subgroups in years of schooling,
including native-born Americans. ―They learned in the FSU that to get ahead they had to
work extremely hard,‖ Sarna says. ―They had to study all the time; they had to be much
better than their peers in order to make it. Those cultural attributes have allowed them
to succeed in the United States.‖ In general, Jewish peoplehood, rather than Jewish
religious tradition, has served as the communal glue for this émigré population. But not
for everyone. Some émigrés have embraced Judaism and have become leaders in local
―There are Russian-speaking Jews who are very eager to learn more about what it
means to be Jewish,‖ Sarna adds. ―They know their parents were persecuted for being
Jews. It’s not surprising that some of them want to understand what that means.‖
Being that the U.S. is more of an "immigration country" that Germany, it will take the
Russian Jews a longer time to both integrate into the Jewish community and become
"Germans". The sons and daughters of those that chose Germany will undoubtedly see
themselves as Germans. Of course, some will leave to go elsewhere (Israel, U.S., etc.)
but the majority will remain in the Federal Republic and make their mark as Germans. It
will be interesting to see what results from native born German Jews and what
contribution they will make to Germany as a nation.
DEEPENING JEWISH LIFE
Questions revolving around "Who is a Jew?" are beyond the scope of this newsletter.
Too philosophical! However, the operational questions about how Jewish leadership
deals with bringing less involved Jews here in the U.S. closer to synagogue and Jewish
organizational life are something we can deal with. It fits with the segment of our raison
d'etre which is dedicated to explaining American Jewish life to non-Jews in Germany.
The High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur usually produce a greater
turnout at synagogues than at any other time during the year. Rabbis frequently take the
opportunity to try to enhance the level of involvement of the "Twice a Year" Jews. They
are doing it in all sorts of novel ways these days.
Y-Net News recently reported, "Throughout High Holidays, American Jewish leaders
relentlessly lowering any barriers to participation, hoping fallen away Jews will feel so at
home – they'll come back for good
You can search an interactive map to find synagogues that have last-minute seats at
services. When you arrive, the temple's board members will greet you at the door. You
can confess your sins via text, and your personal reflections can become part of the
sermon. No knowledge of Hebrew? No problem. The rabbi will explain the prayers to
And if you're more comfortable outside the sanctuary, you can spend part of the holiday
meditating or doing yoga instead.
Throughout the High Holidays, which started last Wednesday night, American Jewish
leaders have been relentlessly lowering any barriers to participation, hoping fallen away
Jews will feel so at home this Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur that they'll come back
The effort goes beyond the most liberal streams of Judaism. Rabbi Steve Weil, a chief
officer of the Orthodox Union, which represents more than 400 American synagogues,
will lead what he calls an explanatory service at Congregation Keter Torah in Teaneck,
New Jersey. It's one of several Orthodox synagogues across the country to offer these
worship services for the curious and for longstanding members seeking a deeper
understanding of the liturgy.
Jewish leaders aren't alone in taking steps to attract the unaffiliated. According to a
study last year by Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, the number of Americans with
no religious affiliation is on the rise, and most of the unaffiliated aren't actively seeking
another religious home. Clergy across faith traditions have responded with new
programming and outreach to increase the comfort level for those hesitant to walk in the
door. Evangelicals have been at the forefront of the trend, including building high-end
coffee bars inside their churches and wearing Hawaiian shirts on the pulpit.
American synagogues generally require tickets – at a fee – for High Holiday services.
Birthright Israel, the nonprofit that offers young Jews free trips to Israel, has created an
online map that guides young people to synagogues that have free or open seats.
Elsewhere, rabbis have been crowd-sourcing their sermons by posting questions on
their Facebook pages and asking congregants to respond. Their posts could then be
incorporated into the sermon.
There's more but the above gives you an idea of how rabbis and synagogue leadership
are trying keep their members and, perhaps, outsiders more involved in observance and
practice. The more of that there is, the stronger the "tribe" will be.
See you in October.
DuBow Digest is written and published by Eugene DuBow who can be contacted by
clicking here. (email@example.com )
Both the American and Germany editions are posted at www.dubowdigest.typepad.com