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July 17, 2009

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JULY 17, 2009 PAGE 15A Maveri'k researcher Tobin reached out to Jews of color By Ben Harris NEW YORK (JTA)--There are probably few students of American Jewry equally comfortable arguing for more aggressive efforts to grow Jewish numbers through conversion as they are as- sailing the hostility towards Israel of reflexively liberal academics. But Gary Tobin, who died late Monday, July 6, at 59 after a long illness, was just that sort of thinker. Trained as city and regional planner at the University of California, Berkeley, Tobin first turned his attention to Jewish communal issues while a professor at Washing- ton University in St. Louis. He moved to Brandeis University, where he became a tenured professor and director of the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies before depart- ing to start his own think tank, the Institute for Jewish & Community Research, in San Francisco. "Gary was a visionary about the Jewish commu- nity," said Leonard Saxe, a professor at Brandeis Univer- sity who succeeded Tobin as A.J. Grands Gary Tobin, who died July 7 urged Jews to lose the ghetto mentality that sees danger behind every corner and embrace the realities of modern America. director of the Cohen Center. "He identified problems and issues in the community and often developed these really creative analyses, whether it was about the role of synagogues or the makeup of communities and more recently about philanthropy." Lacking a background in sociology, Tobin often came at problems from a different perspective than many of the researchers who dominate the study of American Jewry. While most communal professionals were bemoan- ing the loss of Jews to inter- marriage and assimilation, Tobin assailed the commu- nity for its insularity and hos- tility toward converts and the gentile spouses of Jews. While Jewish organizations were complaining that wealthy Jews were directing their philanthropy to non-Jewish causes, Tobin told them to quit kvetching and give them a good reason not to. And while many Jewish institutions were content to ignore Jews of non-European origin, Tobin actively sought them out. Through its initia- tive B'Chol Lashon (In Every Tongue), his institute reached out to Jews of color and helped educate the mainstream community about Jewish diversity. "To the black Jewish com- munity he was a friend, a colleague and just one that cared a great deal about see- ing the broader community be more inclusive of Jews of color, particular African Americans," said Capers Fun- nye, a black Chicago rabbi and the associate director of B'chol Lashon. Tobin showed up 12 years ago at Funnye's synagogue in Chicago and the two have been friends ever since. Fun- nye, a cousin of first lady Michelle Obama, said he had a closer relationship with Tobin than with any mainstream Jewish organizational leader. "This loss, for me, it is indeed like losing a brother, a member of my family," Funnye said. While Tobin staked out liberal positions on issues of Jewish community and identity, he had no qualms about making common cause with conservative groups in defense of communal interests. In 2004 he was named to the Forward Fifty list of the country's most influential Jews, which noted both his "maverick liberal" attitudes on conversion and racial diversity as well as his partnership with the neo- conservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a post-9/11 creation intended to fight the spread of radical Islam. It was there that Tobin produced studies on Ameri- can attitudes toward Israel and anti-Israel sentiment on campus and conducted public opinion polls relating to national security and the Middle East. In 2005, Tobin co-authored "The Uncivil University," which charged that universities hadviolated the public trust by permit- ting a climate of rampant anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment to take root, Tobin also was a fierce critic of the National Jewish Population Survey, claiming that its methodology was flawed and that it had vastly undercountedAmerican Jews. He estimated the American Jewish population at 6.7 mil- lion, more than I million more than the 2000 NJPS found. "He was first and foremost a planner," said Larry Stern- berg, who was Tobin's as- sociate director at the Cohen Center. "His orientation was that of a person whose first response is to understand the nature of how the community looks. I think that as a planner he saw these people as people with needs, he saw them as human beings." Jews, evangelicals get together Tobin's most audacious writings may be those that urged the Jewish community to abandon its longstanding coolness to newcomers. To- bin saw such thinking as a relic of the Jewish experience of suffering and persecution and more befitting shtetl life in 19th century Europe than 21st century America. Jews, Tobin argued, needed to get over their fear and stop seeing their institutions as a bulwark against assimilation. "No number of day schools or summer camps is going to turn back the clock on religious freedom and compe- tition," Tobin wrote last year in a JTA Op-Ed. "It is time for Jews to join every other group in America and quit obsessing about who is being lost and start acting on who might come in. Right now it is largely a one-way street because we cling to dangerously obsolete ideas, attitudes and practices about conversion. We do not welcome people with open arms but ratherwe stiff-arm." Tobin is survived by his wife, Diane, the institute's associate director, and their six children. Funeral services were July 9. By Eric Fingerhut WASHINGTON (JTA)-- They talked about Israel and about proselytizing--but perhaps the most important thing about the recent meet- ing between nearly 40 Jewish and evangelical Christian leaders was that they were talking at all. Organizers believe the two- day meeting last month in Washingtonwas the firsttime, at least in recent memory, that rabbis, pastors and other on-the-ground leaders of the two faith groups had sat down to have a conversation about their respective faiths and concerns about various issues. "There were relatively few people who knew who to call when there was tension between the communities," said David Neff, editor of Christianity Today. Neff came up with the idea for the conference with a close friend and fellow Chicagoan-- Rabbi Yehiel Poupko, Judiac scholar at the Jewish Federa- tion of Metropolitan Chicago. The event, held June 15-16, attracted leaders represent- ing large swaths of the more than 50 million evangelical Christian adults in the United States--and, in the process, underscored the changing face of the movement. Many U.S. Jews tend to associate evangelicals with heavily pro-Republican po- litical preachers such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, and outspoken backers of Israel such as John Hagee. Neff noted, however, that while evangelical Christians do tend to lean conservative politically, most evangelical churches shy away from par- ticipation in electoral politics. Neff also said that while evangelical Christians tend to be supporters of the Jewish state, only about 10 percent adhere to Hagee's eschatology ofpremillennial dispensation- alism in which Israel plays a central role in the second coming of Jesus Christ. Hagee says that his support of Israel is based in Genesis and not connected to any eschatology. Rabbi Steve Gutow, presi- dent of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, which sues," said Joel Hunter, senior pastor at the 12,000-person Northland, A Church Dis- tributed in Orlando, and a co-convenor of the confer- ence. "We don't want to unintentionally offend or miscommunicate" because Ethan Felson Rabbi Steve Gutow (I) of the Jewish Council for Public Af- fairs and David Neff of Christianity Today were co-chairmen at a June gathering of Jewish and evangelical leaders in Washington. co-convened the conference, added that many evangelical leaders and their followers not only are concerned with tra- ditional conservative political causes like fighting abortion, but also placing a greater focus on combating poverty and protecting the environment. Similarly, while previous ef- forts by Jewish organizations focused almost exclusively on boosting and harnessing evangelical support for Israel, JCPA--an umbrella organiza- tion bringing together the major synagogue movements, several nonsectarian national Jewish organizations and more than 100 local Jewish communities--boasts an agenda that encompasses Middle East issues as well as many domestic concerns. Among the top agenda items at the June conference were Israel and proselytizing. "We want to be able to understand how many of the Jewish people hear certain is- of a lack of knowledge of an issue. For instance, Hunter noted how U.S. Jewish leaders em- phasized that Israel should not be depicted as only a product of the Holocaust, but also a millennial-old connection to the Jewish people. Hunter, who gave the benediction after Barack Obama's Democratic con- vention speech last summer, said that such information is important for building rela- tionships with Jewish friends, but also in the context of Christians beginning to have more dialogues with Muslim leaders. "We want to keep in mind how a Jewish person would interpret and perceive what is happening in that conversa- tion" with Muslims, he said. The conference participants also spent time discussing Jewish concerns aboutprosely- tizing or evangelicals sharing their faith with others. "I don't think that we are worried about conversion," Gutow said, "but I think that when one religious group says we have the only avenue, it makes us feel condescended towards." Hunter said such Jewish concerns are something that evangelicals needed to hear because "part of our spiritual maturity comes with the ap- preciation of other people's faith experiences." No Jewish leader said evan- gelicals shouldn't share their faith, but offered thoughts on "what is a helpful way" to do it, and what comes across as "artificial and pushy and offensive," Hunter said. Gutow said he thought the Together on page 22A In|