AN AMERICAN JEWISH – GERMAN INFORMATION & OPINION
November 23, 2013
IN THIS EDITION
THE IRAN NEGOTIATIONS – Who knows?
THE NEVER-ENDING “JEWS KILLED JESUS” MATTER – Somehow we can’t kill it off.
AMERICAN JEWISH OPINION – Pessimism reigns.
EUROPEAN ANTI-SEMITISM – It’s getting worse.
JEWS & THE NOBEL PRIZES – Many! Why?
THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY (GA) – The annual gathering of communities.
I wish I could say that as we approach both the Thanksgiving and Hanukkah holidays
happiness reigns supreme across our land. It doesn’t!
Our very divided politics have us feeling – well, divided! The members of our Congress
seem to be in a constant state of non-agreement. The Obama Administration and the
Congressional Democrats found it almost impossible to get high level federal judges
and administration appointees confirmed so the Dems voted to have the Senate
confirmation rules changed. The Republicans yelled “Power Grab”!
The main battle field is the on-going fight over The Patient Protection and Affordable
Care Act (PPACA), commonly called the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or "Obamacare". It
is a United States federal statute signed into law by President Barack Obama on March
23, 2010. The fact that it’s the law of the land and has been for almost the last four
years hasn’t brought the battle to a close. The war continues.
The Jewish community faced with a proposed international agreement on Iran which
many feel does not give Israel the sort of assurances it needs, leaves many deeply
The fact that the Israeli – Palestinian discussions do not seem to be moving forward at
the moment is almost felt as a momentary and needed respite.
Having said all the above, I think most Jews will stop worrying for a moment and enjoy
both holidays either separately or together. They are two of the most joyous. While we
may feel troubled we have a great deal to feel good about here in the U.S. We are full
participants in this country with relatively little concern about anti-Semitism. Other than
Israel, of course, there is no other country in the history of the Jewish people that has
been as good to us as the USA.
As far as Hanukkah is concerned it celebrates “rededication”. If you don’t know much
about it but want to, click here for some explanation.
So, putting aside our troubles, let me wish you the best for the two holidays. Both are
family events and both include great feasting. Enjoy!
THE IRAN NEGOTIATIONS
Perhaps the most worrying and trying situation now facing the American Jewish
community is the one surrounding the negotiations now going on in Geneva over Iran’s
While the whole world should be concerned about the Iranians developing a workable
nuclear bomb or even getting close to be able to manufacture one, Jews in both Israel
and the U.S. (and, of course, elsewhere) are troubled about what that might mean for
the Jewish State.
Everyone knows that the final decision about how far Iran will go rests with its Supreme
Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, the Iranian head of state. If the head of state of a country
that has promised to wipe you off the face of the earth has said the following about your
country, you too would be troubled.
He recently said in a BBC translation to Basij commanders (a volunteer paramilitary
organization operating under the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps) on Nov. 20:
"We are against the arrogance. We fight against the arrogance. Arrogance is a word in
the Koran. It is used in the Koran for people like Pharaoh, malevolent groups which are
hostile to truth and righteousness....The government of the United States of America is
on the top of the arrogance in the world." [The audience repeatedly chants: "Death to
"The Zionist regime is doomed to oblivion. The Zionist regime is an imposed regime
which is formed by force. None of the formations or creatures which are formed by force
is durable, and neither is this one....Unfortunately, some European countries cringe
before this creature which is not worthy of the name of a human being, before these
leaders of the Zionist regime, who look like beasts and who cannot be called
It is no secret that the Israeli government, especially Prime Minister Netanyahu, has
been not been swayed by the recent Iranian “charm offensive” and feels that the
economic sanctions the U.S. (and much of the Western World) put in place should not
be relaxed but, rather, strengthened. The Israelis are deeply concerned about the
There is a major disagreement between Israel and the Obama Administration. The
American Jewish community, many members of the U.S. Congress and many other
Americans as well, caught in between, feel strongly that Iran cannot be trusted and that
even stronger sanctions are needed. American Jews on the other hand do not want to
have any kind of an open argument with Pres. Obama or Secy. of State Kerry who feel
that a deal can be reached and Iran’s nuclear activity policed.
It would be nice if Iran could be trusted and would not be inclined to develop a nuclear
bomb. Everything they have done in the past and are still doing in terms of development
tells me that that is a false hope. However, the general American public is so sick of
years of war involvement that its majority is willing to have the President to sign off on
the easing of sanctions and some sort of interim agreement. You can read about it by
I wish I could give you answer to the question about how this entire matter will work out.
I can’t and no one else can either. It’s just too fluid.
All I can say is “Stay tuned” and pray for the best.
THE NEVER-ENDING “JEWS KILLED JESUS” MATTER
I fully recognize that most “regular” Americans are not biblical scholars. Many, who
wouldn’t know Jesus from an exegesis hold on to the now discredited age-old lie that
the Jews killed Jesus. It wouldn’t have been so bad if over the centuries people who
believed it just stowed it away in their minds and did nothing about it. However, history
tells us that just the opposite happened. However,…
Candida Moss writing in The Daily Beast recently noted, “A poll released last week by
the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reports that twenty-six percent of the American
public continues to believe that “Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus.”
Although the number has dropped from 31% in 2011, the ADL described it as
In many ways it is strange that anyone continues to think this. In the wake of World War
II a number of Christian leaders and organizations issued formal statements on this
topic. The Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church categorically stated
that the Jews as a whole could not be blamed for the death of Jesus.
And yet, some fifty odd years later, a quarter of regular Americans still think that Jews
are to blame.
For all of the surprise over the results of the poll, there’s no real mystery about the
origins of this idea. The claim that Jews were responsible for Jesus’s death is in the
In all four of the canonical gospels a (presumably) Jewish crowd calls for the death of
Jesus, and Jewish authorities spearhead efforts to arrest and convict him. The Gospels
of Matthew and John, in particular, emphasize the role that “the people” and “the Jews”
played in orchestrating Jesus’s death. In Matthew, the Roman governor, Pilate, asks the
people whom they want to see released: Jesus or a common criminal. When they call
for the criminal, Pilate washes his hands of responsibility for the death of Jesus in a
basin of water. The crowd responds in unison, “His blood be on our hands and on the
hands of our children” (Matthew 25:27).
This is pretty damning stuff, but when it comes to anti-Jewish sentiment in the Gospels,
it gets even worse. In John, “the Jews” are repeatedly identified as the opponents of
Jesus. Not some group of Jews, not some fringe group, but “the Jews.” In John 8:44,
Jesus even accuses “the Jews” of being “from [their] father the Devil.” In religious terms,
there’s no worse form of slander.
The historical legacy of these stories is devastatingly clear. They laid the groundwork for
and nurtured nearly two thousand years of anti-Semitism. There is no doubt that stories
about the death of Jesus can provoke violence. In the medieval period, when the death
of Jesus was publicly performed in passion plays at Easter time, riled-up audience
members would spill out onto the streets and attack Jewish members of their
communities. Such pogroms may lie in the past, but unsympathetic portraits of Jesus’s
Jewish contemporaries persist in simplistic TV adaptations of the Easter story…”
And, as this poll reveals, a quarter of Americans still hold Jews “responsible.” Are those
who think this bigoted, Biblical fundamentalists, both, or neither?
Reading the New Testament alone does not clear this up. Saying it wasn’t “all Jews”
does not satisfy. What’s needed here is not just Biblical literacy, but historical
One finding of the ADL poll was that the higher a participant’s education level, the less
likely he or she was to hold anti-Semitic views or subscribe to negative views about
Jews. Clearly that education included Biblical Scholarship 101.
What are the Jews doing about it? It seems that righting the wrong is pretty important.
Many Jewish agencies, synagogues and Jewish academic institutions try to clarify the
situation with the many Christian contacts they have. AJC, for instance, has two full-time
learned rabbis who do very little else. Christians, who understand the importance of
historical accuracy in their churches and institutions, do the same. It’s a never-ending
activity but one that is great importance to both Christians and Jews.
While I haven’t done any international research myself, I think that the Statistics in
Germany on this matter are about the same as in the U.S.
To read the entire Moss piece which includes more in the way of historical fact click
AMERICAN JEWISH OPINION
Every year AJC (The American Jewish Committee) does a survey of American Jewish
opinion on the various issues that are of most importance to them.
What follows are some of the findings from the AJC press release:
American Jews are generally pessimistic about current political developments across
the Middle East, notably the "Arab Spring," Iran's nuclear program and Arab intentions
"This annual survey, which AJC has sponsored for many years, reveals many
fascinating insights about the Jewish outlook. Among them are that American Jews are
highly engaged in, and concerned about, top U.S. foreign policy challenges," said AJC
Executive Director David Harris. "Our survey shows that they are particularly worried
about Iran's drive for nuclear-weapons capacity. And despite all the reports of a decline
in American Jewish enthusiasm for Israel, over three-quarters of the respondents
believe that caring about Israel is a key component of Jewish identity."
The survey asked, for the first time, about the upheavals in the Arab world that began
nearly three years ago.
Regarding the changes in several Middle Eastern countries, 56 percent are
pessimistic, and 40 percent are optimistic.
Regarding the recent political developments in Egypt, 68 percent are pessimistic
and 30 percent are optimistic.
On the civil war in Syria, 11 percent would like to see the government win, 24
percent favor the rebels, and 63 percent chose neither side.
While American Jews are distrustful of the long-term goals of the Arabs regarding
Israel, half of the respondents favor the establishment of a Palestinian state.
50 percent favor and 47 percent oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state.
In 2010, 48 percent favored and 45 percent opposed.
75 percent agree and 24 percent disagree with the statement: "The goal of the
Arabs is not a peaceful two-state agreement with Israel, but rather the
destruction of Israel."
68 percent say the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace have stayed the same
since a year ago, while 12 percent say the prospects have increased and 19
Iran Nuclear Threat
While an overwhelming majority of American Jews continue to be highly concerned
about Iran's efforts to achieve nuclear-weapons capability, support for military action,
whether by the U.S. especially, or by Israel, to prevent Iran from crossing that threshold
84 percent are concerned about the prospect of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.
In September 2012, 91 percent were concerned.
46 percent say it is likely, and 52 percent say it is unlikely, that a combination of
diplomacy and sanctions can stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. In
2012, 36 percent said it is likely and 64 percent unlikely.
52 percent would support and 45 percent would oppose U.S. military action
against Iran if diplomacy and sanctions fail to stop the Iranian program. Last
year, 64 percent supported and 35 percent opposed American military action.
67 percent would support and 30 percent would oppose Israeli military action if
diplomacy and sanctions fail to stop the Iranian program. In 2012, 73 percent
supported and 26 percent opposed Israeli military action.
As in previous AJC surveys, the state of Israel is a major factor in American Jewish
identity. A majority, 70 percent, agrees and 30 percent disagrees with the statement
"caring about Israel is very important part of being a Jew." For the first time, the AJC
survey asked about the role of religion in the state of Israel, and found that most
American Jews think that currently religion has too much influence. Forty-three percent
favor separation of religion and state; 25 percent say religion should play less of a role;
23 percent say the current relationship of religion and state is best; and 6 percent say
religion should play more of a role.
Separation between religion and state enjoys strong support across all denominations.
47 percent of Orthodox, 31 percent of Conservative, 41 percent of Reform, and
50 percent of Just Jewish think there should be separation of religion and state.
The view that the current relationship between religion and state is best is
supported by 22 percent of Orthodox, 30 percent of Conservative, 21 percent of
Reform, and 23 percent of Just Jewish
Religion should play more of a role is backed by 22 percent of Orthodox, 6
percent of Conservative, 6 percent of Reform, and 2 percent of Just Jewish
Religion should play less of a role is supported by 10 percent of Orthodox, 33
percent of Conservative, 29 percent of Reform, and 22 percent of Just Jewish
American Jews remain highly concerned about anti-Semitism, especially in Europe and,
above all, in the Arab world.
14 percent consider anti-Semitism in the U.S. a very serious problem, 67 percent
somewhat of a problem, and 18 percent no problem at all.
38 percent consider anti-Semitism in Europe a very serious problem, 52 percent
somewhat of a problem and 9 percent not a problem.
88 percent consider anti-Semitism in the Arab world a very serious problem, 10 percent
somewhat of a problem and 1 percent not a problem. Jewish Identity
Thirty-three percent say being Jewish is very important, 30 percent somewhat
important, 22 percent not too important and 14 percent not at all important. But opinions
about the importance of being Jewish vary by denomination and by age.
Among the Orthodox, 77 percent say it is very important, 14 percent somewhat
important, and 9 percent not important
Among Conservative Jews, 50 percent say it is very important, 28 percent somewhat
important, and 20 percent not important
Among Reform Jews, 34 percent say it is very important, 41 percent somewhat
important, and 25 percent not important
Among Just Jewish, 11 percent say it is very important, 26 percent somewhat important,
and 62 percent not important
Among 18-29 year olds, 52 percent say it is important (either very important or
somewhat important) and 46 percent not important
Among 30-44 years olds, 46 percent say it is important and 53 percent not important
Among 45-59 year olds, 66 percent say it is important and 33 percent not important
Among 60+, 74 percent say it is important and 25 percent not important
The poll of 1,034 American Jews was conducted on KnowledgePanel®, GfK's
probability-based online panel. The field period was from September 30 to October 15.
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.
I don’t think there is anything in the survey that is surprising. The American Jewish
commitment to Israel is very strong and there is concern about anti-Semitism especially
in Europe and the Arab world. It shows, in my opinion, that there remains deep concern
about the well-being of other Jews world-wide. That hasn’t changed in the last few
Since I mentioned above that American Jews were concerned about anti-Semitism in
Europe, it seems that its increase has moved more Jews to think about emigration.
Andrew Higgins writing in The New York Times reports, “Fear of rising anti-Semitism in
Europe has prompted nearly a third of European Jews to consider emigration because
they do not feel safe in their home country, according to a detailed survey of Jewish
perceptions by a European Union agency that monitors discrimination and other
violations of basic rights.
The survey, carried out by the bloc’s Fundamental Rights Agency, focused on eight
countries that account for more than 90 percent of Europe’s Jewish population and
found that “while member states have made sustained efforts to combat anti-Semitism,
the problem is still widespread.”
The Vienna-based agency, in a lengthy report on its findings, did not reach any
conclusions about the cause of a perception among European Jews of rising bias. But
the results of its survey suggest that prejudices traditionally associated with far-right
nationalist political groups like those that collaborated with the Nazis during World War
II have now spread to other segments of society and are increasingly driven by conflict
in the Middle East rather than homegrown bigotry.
One-third of respondents said they considered statements critical of Israel as antiSemitic.
Jewish groups in countries like France have long warned that Europe’s economic crisis,
lingering prejudice and a surge of Muslim immigrants often hostile to Israel have stoked
a revival of hostility toward Jews. But the new survey, due to be released Friday on the
eve of the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht violence against Jews in Nazi Germany,
gives the first detailed snapshot of Jewish perceptions of the problem across Europe.
Sixty-six percent of respondents said they considered anti-Semitism to be a major
problem in their countries, while 76 percent said the situation had become more acute
over the past five years.
The Internet has become a particular cause for concern among European Jews, with 75
percent of those surveyed stating that they considered anti-Semitism a problem online.
Nearly the same proportion said they believed it had grown more serious over the past
five years. A quarter said they had experienced some form of anti-Semitic harassment.
Physical violence, however, is comparatively rare, with 4 percent responding that they
had experienced violence or threats of violence because they were Jewish in the 12
months prior to the survey.
As in the American survey reported on above nothing here is very surprising. AntiSemitism has been on the rise in Europe for some time now and has been widely
reported (including in this newsletter). What is new is the fact that the negative feelings
about Jews have reached the point where they, the Jews, have begun to think seriously
Frankly, I don’t feel that the situation in Germany is as bad as either, for instance,
Hungary or France. However, according to DW, “The survey also found that Jews living
in Germany were particularly concerned with two issues that have sparked much debate
in recent years: the prohibition of circumcision (brit mila) and traditional Jewish rituals
associated with slaughtering animals (shechita). Almost three-quarters (71%) said that
banning circumcision would be a "very big" or "fairly big" problem for them, while half
(50%) held the same view regarding prohibitions on traditional slaughter.
"I will wait for the developments concerning a statutory regulation on the Brit Mila. This
will be crucial for my decision on whether or not to leave Germany."
* The quotations in italics are statements made by Jews living in German who
responded to the survey online. Translations are taken directly from the report.
It takes a lot for anybody to think about pulling up stakes and moving to another country.
It goes without saying, therefore, the situation is very serious.
If you would like to read the survey itself you can do so by clicking here.
JEWS & THE NOBEL PRIZES
It did not escape my practiced Jewish eye that so many of the Nobel Prizes this year
were won by Jews. It also didn't pass unnoticed by an Israeli academic named Noah
Efron who wrote a piece about it in Haaretz. The Professor "teaches in the Graduate
Program on Science, Technology & Society at Bar-Ilan University. His forthcoming
book, "A Chosen Profession: Jews and Science in the Twentieth Century," will be
published jointly by Johns Hopkins University Press and Hebrew Union College Press.
In the article Efron notes, "Did you know... Of the 8 individuals who have won Nobel
Prizes this year, 6 are Jewish, 2 are Israeli, and 1 is a Holocaust survivor!
While most reactions were triumphalist (“Super Jews and Our Incredible Nobel Prize
Statistics,” ran one headline), some were pensive. Here in Israel, the fact that two
chemistry laureates had abandoned the Jewish State when they realized it held no jobs
for them, tinctured our national pride with self-censure.
Elsewhere, rabbis and pundits tried to puzzle out what it is about Jews that make them
so super at science.
Broadly, two sorts of theories have been floated. One is that Jews have primo genes.
Another theory is that Jews love hitting the books, as Israeli economics laureate Robert
Aumann told the army radio station Galei Tzahal: Jewish homes have overflowing
bookshelves. Throughout the generations we have given great honor to this intellectual
There are good reasons to doubt both sorts of theories. For one thing, Jewish
excellence in science is a new thing. Jewish excellence in science is a phenomenon
that flowered in the decades before and, especially, after the Second World War; it is
too recent a phenomenon to be explained by natural selection, or even by putative
ancient cultural traditions.
The real explanation of Jewish success in science lies elsewhere. The 20th century
began with massive migrations of Jews, to the United States, to the cities of Russia
(and then the Soviet Union), and to Palestine. In each of these new lands, Jews turned
to science in great numbers because it promised a way to transcend the old world
orders that had for so long excluded most Jews from power, wealth and society.
Science, based as it is on values of universality, impartiality and meritocracy, appealed
powerfully for Jews seeking to succeed in their new homes. It is not so much what Jews
were (smart, bookish) that explains their success in science, as what we wanted to be
(equal, accepted, esteemed), and in what sorts of places we wanted to live (liberal and
…our self-congratulation keeps us from seeing something that matters. Nobel Prizes
are a lagging indicator. Given years after the achievements they celebrate, often to
long-retired scientists, they reflect a state of affairs that existed 30, 40, and sometimes
50 years ago. They are a browning snapshot of bygone days.
What bugs me about attributing the remarkable prominence of Jews among Nobel
laureates to genes or enduring cultural traditions is that doing so suggests that Jewish
success in science will inevitably continue as a matter of course. Most likely it won’t.
The percentages of Jews among new American Ph.D.s in the sciences has declined
greatly over the past generation. In Israel, spending on higher education has continued
to decline during most of the same period; to many of the growing numbers in Israel
who embrace religion, the appeal of science has nearly vanished. The passions that
drew Jews to sciences in such great numbers have dissipated.
Maybe this was inevitable, maybe not. Either way, there is no good reason to expect
that the remarkable contributions of Jews to science will continue for generations to
come. Rather than celebrating the late ripening fruit of our parents’ and grandparents’
toil, each Nobel Prize is a chance to ponder whether we oughtn’t to be planting afresh
the too-often neglected fields they bequeathed us.
I think what Prof. Efron says makes good sense. If he's wrong and Jews do have some
inherited genius genes they certainly aren't shared by all Jews. I have none. I was a
lousy science student.
More important is his point about the future generations. If there are fewer Jewish
Ph.D.’s there will be fewer Nobel Prizes. He’s right! Nothing lasts forever.
For the sake of transparency I would mention that my mother was an Efron but I don't
think the Professor and I share any intellectual or super writing genes. Given his
background and my scribbles in this journal, he certainly appears a helluva lot more
endowed than I am.
THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY (GA)
The most important American Jewish meeting of the year is the General Assembly of
the North American federation movement. Almost every American city that has a
Jewish population of any size has a Jewish “umbrella” organization consisting of all the
local and locally based offices of the national organizations. It is usually called “The
Federation”. Normally it is a coordinating body and also a major fund-raising entity for
both local and, to a lesser degree, the national organizations. It is also a major cultural
and educational factor in each city. “The Federation” is usually seen locally as very
important and, therefore when they all come together once a year at the GA what
transpires there is of critical importance.
Gary Rosenblatt reporting on the GA in The Jewish Week notes, “The GA, like just
about every serious Jewish gathering these days, focused as well on two timely topics
of concern — the internal worries over Jewish continuity brought to light most recently
by the Pew Research Center study of American Jewish identity, and the existential
crisis Israel faces from Iran and its nuclear program.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at the opening plenary, used the
occasion to take aim at the U.S., though never by name, and its apparent willingness to
reach an interim agreement with Iran that would ease sanctions without undoing any of
Iran’s efforts to create a nuclear bomb.
n his GA speech, the Israeli leader received sustained applause when he pledged that
Israel would do what it must to defend itself, and called on world Jewry for continued
support. Appearing to be in no mood for extending any olive branches, he also insisted
that the Palestinians must make serious concessions before any peace deal can go
The following day U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro told GA delegates that Israel
and the U.S. were as close as ever, and that Washington would never jeopardize
Israel’s security. But those who heard Netanyahu’s emotional response to the Iran
negotiations with the West will long remember his angry words and sense that
Washington is too eager to make a deal with Tehran.
References to the Pew study, which reported increasing assimilation among American
Jews, found their way into any number of panels, workshops and discussions. At a
session devoted to its impact, Barry Shrage, president of Boston’s Combined Jewish
Philanthropies, said “the Pew study says that we are doing very badly on many things,”
including not following up sufficiently with Birthright participants. He said there are many
opportunities that Federations must take advantage of to reach young Jews.
JFNA leaders acknowledge that findings like the Pew report cannot be ignored, and that
action is required. Jerry Silverman, the president of JFNA, recently unveiled a number
of proposals to address these concerns, such as a call for free universal preschool for
Jewish children and dramatically increasing the number of children in Jewish camps. It
is unclear whether or not these and other projects will take hold at a time of ongoing
economic worries and talk of the federation movement losing clout. But this GA may
well mark a turning point in the effort to close the gap between North American and
Israeli Jews — at least for those who cared enough and could afford to take part in the
three days of dialogue in Jerusalem.
Rosenblatt’s report was longer than what I have reported above. The right of women to
pray at the Kotel (Western Wall) which is an Orthodox “no-no” and the need for a more
pluralistic Israel were major internal Jewish themes that were discussed. To get a full
picture you should read Rosenblatt’s entire article. You can do so by clicking here.
See you in December
DuBow Digest is written and published by Eugene DuBow who can be reached at
Both the American and Germany editions are posted at www.dubowdigest.typepad.com