I received a recent copy of The Weekly Standard, compliments of editor and publisher William Kristol(who is an active member of one of our sister congregations.) In it is a highly provocative article by Charles Krauthammer entitled At Last Zion: Israel and the Fate of the Jews. Mr. Krauthammer gives voice to an idea current among the more pessimistic of Jewish thinkers: Jewish life in America and most of the rest of the world is on its way to insignificance; Israel is the only community of Jews which will survive this transition. He concludes that, therefore, the existence of Israel is essential to the existence of Judaism.
Circumstances being what they are, Charles Krauthammer is right. His time line may be off by a generation or two, but his conclusion is unmistakable from the state of American Jewish life. Every Jewish community in the Diaspora has eventually disappeared, and ours will be no different.
How, then, to account for the graduation exercises I attended last week at the Jewish Theological Seminary? Bright-eyed and devoted young women and men received degrees from bachelor to doctor, from educator to chazzan to rabbi. Their outlook was unabashedly optimistic, and the vitality of the institution never more assured. Could it be, I asked myself, that this center of Torah could some day be sold to one of the ethnic communities in New York who are growing in influence in America?
The answer, of course, is yes. Eighty leaders from the JTS, even if coupled with a similar number from the Hebrew Union College and the Reconstructionist College and ten times that number from orthodox seminaries around the country, cannot compensate for the studied indifference of American Jews. Like the weather, everybody talks about the diminishing Jewish population in America, but no one does anything about it. Unlike the weather, however, there is something which can be done.
You will roll your eyes at the prescription because you have heard it before: Jews must live Jewish lives; Jews must create Jewish families; Jews must raise more Jewish children. And, by the way, not other Jews. You.
(The alternative is to move to Israel if you wish to optimize the chance of your family’s continuity. And I don’t quite understand why Charles Krauthammer doesn’t. Then again, I don’t quite understand why I don’t.)
At the time of the Exodus, says the midrash, the hundreds of thousands who left Egypt included some of the children of the original seventy-three members of Jacob’s family. In just a few generations, the Israelites proliferated and filled the land. At the end of the movie Schindler’s List, the credits note the exponential increase in descendants of the relative handful saved by Oskar Schindler. And therein lies my small glimmer of hope.
Seminary graduation was not a solemn affair. It was constantly and joyously peppered with the cries and laughter of the dozens of small children of its graduates who will be raised by parents committed to creating communities of Jews of every ilk who live Jewish lives with integrity and enthusiasm.