The Jewish Community isn’t Shrinking, and the Moon is Made of Cheese

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Yossi Beilin is still glowing from his success as the Israeli architect of the Oslo and Geneva Accords, both of which, as we recall, assured us that the Palestinian Arabs would forever renounce violence and terrorism as their methodology of choice. Without a doubt, the credibility of Beilin’s claims and future plans rest upon his previous track record, of which the aforementioned accords are merely paradigmatic. Today, he is the chairman of the Meretz party, and rightly so — truly, he is the exemplar of the keen insight and realism of Israel’s secular left.

And his latest? A declaration that the American Jewish community isn’t shrinking. With a nod to Dave Barry, I’m not making this up. Yossi’s dreams are every bit as outlandish to his contemporaries as his namesake’s — but as his history and ardent secularism both indicate, this Yosef is no prophet of G-d.

To be fair, article titles are often chosen by editors. Beilin doesn’t quite say that the community isn’t shrinking, but that if we would only follow his plan, it doesn’t have to. He says that we need an “alternative definition [of terms like ‘Jew’ and ‘conversion’] that would enable non-religious non-Jews to become non-religious Jews.” “US Jewry need not be destined to shrink,” is how he puts it.

Others wishing to join the Jewish people, but not necessarily the Jewish religion, would be able to do so if they demonstrated a bond to Judaism. They might do so, say, by affiliating with a Jewish community federation.

That’s about it. Write a check to the Federation, and — presto, you’re Jewish! What if you want to join the Federation but not be Jewish? Yossi doesn’t explain. If you skip the lessons in Hebrew and Jewish history, perhaps that will preserve your status as a non-Jew. But be careful — this definition of Jewishness is so amorphous and shallow that Khaleed Meeshal might end up shooting at himself. Come to think of it, that’s the most positive result I can foresee coming out of this idea…

And there’s something else Beilin fails to explain: why. He provides absolutely no reason why a non-Jew might want to become a non-religious Jew. None! Because it makes it easier to immigrate to Israel? Why not just make it easier to become Israeli? If I become a Jew, I become a new target for hate crimes in Europe. Non-Jewish Israelis are somewhat immunized from that sort of thing, e.g. the Druse.

He imagines that this will somehow lead to a new influx of Jews. This, despite Yeridah (emigration) from Israel and assimilation in the US.

Like many others, Beilin has forgotten the cardinal rule of customer service known to every business owner: client retention is far less expensive and far more profitable than client acquisition. Your first priority must always be retaining what you have.

And no one in the Jewish community — American or otherwise — is succeeding at retention, save the Orthodox.

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5 Responses

  1. mycroft says:

    And no one in the Jewish community—American or otherwise—is succeeding “at retention, save the Orthodox.

    Actually, that’s not quite true: The Orthodox are not succeeding at retention at all. The reason the demographics stay high in spite of large swaths of people “going off” is because of the large numbers of children per family and the very slight offset thanks to baalei tshuva. But retention? Sorry, no.

    Comment by Ezzie ”

    Generally agree with Ezzie. An experiment-those of us out a few decades from Yeshiva look at the Yearbooks and try and determine how many are still Orthodox in any format including the most “Modern”. We have lost and have continued to lose. Why? partial reasons are given in “off the derech”.
    BTW retention has always been a problem-except for Eastern Europe circa 1650-1800.
    At the beginning of the Common Era there were approximately 3,000,000 Jews in the world and we were 10% of the worlds population-at least known worlds. Today we probably aren’t even a blip in the statisitical error of the Chinese population. The reasons are not primarily pogroms-mass numbers were killed in Tach vTat and of course the Holocaust. Of interest is the Crusades where theJewish population was greater in 1200 than 1096. We say piyutim over the loss of small shtetels and we treat the loss of even one nefesh as paramount-but the numbers were not there. On the other hand in Spain from 1391-1492 best estimates are that 2/3 of the Jewish population converted voluntarily to Christianity. Not that they really believed it-but it was a way to get ahead. Look how quickly German population assimilated. converted just after Emancipation-when Jews have had freedom many have left. To a great extent they’ve also been pushed out and not welcome unless part of elite. major reason for hassidic Revolution is to make all Jews feel welcome-but of course even they have changed with their current emphasis on Learning Yichus etc.

  2. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Many secular Israelies (= chilonim) believe that there is Jewish culture, influenced by the Jewish religion but distinct from it. Today that is mostly apparent in Israel, since Jews everywhere else participate in the general culture of the country where they live. However, there used to be secular Jewish culture outside of Israel in the past. Take the Bund for example (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Jewish_Labor_Union).

    Beilin wants to export that concept to the US. It’s definitely in Israel’s interest to have a larger community in the US who self identify as Jewish. It’s also definitely in Meretz’s interest for that community to include as many irreligious liberals as possible, mostly for donations. Like many Israelies when talking to the diaspora, I don’t think he quite thought through the issue of why it would be in the interest of anybody in the US to be a member of the Jewish community for non religious reasons.

  3. akiva says:

    The Orthodox aren’t either (given the high percentage of drop out/at risk kids these days).

  4. Ezzie says:

    And no one in the Jewish community—American or otherwise—is succeeding at retention, save the Orthodox.

    Actually, that’s not quite true: The Orthodox are not succeeding at retention at all. The reason the demographics stay high in spite of large swaths of people “going off” is because of the large numbers of children per family and the very slight offset thanks to baalei tshuva. But retention? Sorry, no.

  1. July 5, 2006

    Off the Derech: Are We Retaining Our Youth?…

    Yesterday, at the end of a post criticizing Yossi Beilin’s call for new methods to “enable non-religious non-Jews to become non-religious Jews,” I made the following closing remarks:

    Like many others, Beilin has forgotten the cardi…