Food for Thought

Food for Thought

Jewish Continuity and You

I am concerned about the survival and continuity of the Jewish people. What can I do to help?

Dear Friend,

Your concern for our Jewish people is praiseworthy. As you may know, from the time of World War II till today we lost over 6 million Jews to assimilation and intermarriage – more Jews than we lost to the Holocaust.

There is a story from which you, I, and anyone else concerned about our continuity may learn. It goes like this: Once there was a great man. He saw the predicament the world was in and wanted to change it for the better. After a sincere and valiant effort, he realized, however, that all his efforts had been in vain, so he said to himself, “Perhaps I will try to change my country instead.” His efforts did not bear fruit. He said to himself, “Let me try to change my city.” The city remained the same. “What about my town?” No change. “My family.”

Nothing. So he decided to change himself, to become more kind and noble – in short, a better person. That he could do and did. His example ultimately served to change the world for the better.

I want to make this world a better place. You do, too. The best way to start, my friend, is with ourselves, and our children, who will, with G-d’s help, follow us. Two things we can do now is to educate ourselves in Torah Judaism and, step by step, introduce it into our lives. By learning more and observing whatever we can, we can ultimately do good for the world.

If you think about it, educating oneself in Judaism makes sense. Our walls are plastered with school diplomas and certificates, yet how educated are we in the important issues of our lives? We may be experts in our fields, but do we know who we really are? Do we know why we are here?

The American Jewish Committee’s 92nd Annual Meeting recently gathered to discuss Jewish Continuity. Elliott Abrams, President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, was one of the primary speakers. Mr. Abrams said that perhaps the best strategy for Jewish continuity is “the oldest one: Judaism itself. In the last fifty years,” he said, “the American Jewish community has focused instead on ‘civil Judaism,’ activities conducted mostly in public in secular Jewish organizations.” While these activities are critical to Jewish life, he continued, strengthening a sense of peoplehood and of responsibility for one another, “they are not enough. We can see from the dire statistics that Jewish civic activity, and even causes such as commemorating the
Holocaust and supporting Israel, have not inspired enough American Jews to marry Jews, raise their children as Jews, and remain faithful to their religion.”

The problem, Mr. Abrams stressed, is that “we have had it backwards: Jewish civic activity does not keep people Jewish or even explain to them why they should want
to remain Jews. But faithfulness to the religion of Judaism does inspire support for Israel, charitable giving and activity, and community activism.”

Mr. Abrams commented that Jewish day schools, Hebrew or Sunday schools and Jewish education at the adult level are “critical” to Jewish identity and continuity. “And so is practice,” he said, “for Judaism is a religion that lives in our actions and not just in our thoughts. In the end, only Judaism — the religion — can explain to American Jews, and to our children, why they should care about staying Jewish.

“The task ahead,” he concluded, “is to refocus our activities as individual Jews and as a community, putting Judaism back at the center.”

Many studies prove that “putting Judaism back at the center” effectively ensures
Jewish Continuity. The 1990 National Jewish Population Study (NJPS) found that 70 out of 100 Jewish children who do not attend a Jewish school end up intermarrying, while 2 out of 100 Jewish children who attend a Yeshiva Day school till Grade 12 do intermarry. The NJPS study also found that the rates of intermarriage among Unaffiliated, Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Jews are 72%, 53%, 37%, 2% respectively.

There are five things you can do to help Jewish Continuity and to assure your own children will marry Jews:

1) Learn about your heritage by attending a Jewish seminar and regular Torah learning programs. (See the Jewish Living Section – for further info)

2) Become part of a Traditional Jewish congregation.
(Agudat Israel can refer you to congregations in your area 1-212-797-9000 (US))

3) Introduce Torah in your family life.
A good place to start is by observing the Shabbat with your family or by learning Torah regularly together. Many excellent books exist in English on a wide
variety of topics.

4) Enroll your children in Torah day schools.

5) Enroll your children in an Jewish Youth Group.
(Agudat Israel provides info 1-212-797-9000 (US))

It’s also good to know that the Torah’s positive life values and outlook bring about many benefits to those who observe it. A recent US Government study has shown that children in Torah Schools have 20 times less reported drug use than the rest of the population. The observant experience less alcoholism, far less incidence of divorce and broken families, and infidelity is practically non-existent.

Torah helps us to live a harmonious family life and greatly boosts our ability to do good. It allows us to attain more enjoyment, reward and satisfaction from our daily activities. It adds a spiritual dimension to our life, enabling us to maintain a closer relation with our Creator, and to live a life in which every day has purpose and meaning. We come to understand better why things happen in the world, and discover life as well as our own selves. • Matatia Chetrit, M.B.A.

For further information on learning programs in Israel and in your own country, see the respective sections in this guide.

Enjoy • Jerusalem Life

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