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November 6, 2009

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, NOVEMBER 06, 2009 PAGE 5A By Andrew Silow-Carroll New Jersey Jewish News For awhile there I could un- derstand why people disagreed with J Street, but I couldn't figure out why the "pro-Israel, pro-peace" group enraged them so. I think I'm figuring it out. As an upstart alternative to the mighty American Israel Public Affairs Committee, J Street aims to be a voice for American Jews who want the United States to take a more as- sertive role in the Mideastpeace process. They resist the idea of unquestioning support of Israel's sitting governmentand feel the settlement movement is fast destroying the possibility of a two-state solution. A good chunk of the Amer- ican-Jewish community, es- pecially its leadership class, disagrees with these positions. For many veteran pro-Israel activists, American "assertive- ness" means unacceptable pressure on Israel. AIPAC's policy has long been to reflect (sometimes enthusiastically, sometimes not so milch) the policies and positions of Israel's elected government--Israeli voters, after all, have to live with the consequences of their government's actions. Some organizations support the settlers outright; others insist the emphasis on settlements obscures the real issue, which they say is Palestinian intran- sigence and incitement. But as J Street followers gathered in Washington last week for their first-ever confer- ence;critics didn'tjustdisagree with their politics. A few began a campaign to tar the group as anti-Israel at worst, naive and dangerous at best. J Street head Jeremy Ben-Ami had to defend not just his positions, but deny assertions that his goal was to undermine the Jewish state. What accounts for this sort of anger, especially when it ex- tends beyond the small circle of reliably intolerant activists who have never brooked dissent? I think it's a generational thing. I keep going back to some- thing Ben-Ami said in James Traub's much-talked-about profile of J Street in The New York Times Magazine. Here's the paragraph: "The average age of the dozen or so [J Street] staff members is about30. Ben-Ami speaks for, and to. this post-Ho- locaust generation.~They're all intermarried.' he sayL 'They're all doing Buddhist seders.' They are, he adds, baffled by the no- tion of 'Israel as the place you can always count on when they come to get you.'" I understood that Ben-Ami was speaking broadly about the generation of Jews attracted to J Street, not the J Street staff per se. Nevertheless, many readers ignored that distinction, and started blogging that J Street was staffed by indifferent Jews who didn't care enough about Judaism to marry within the faith. Last week, in an interview with Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg, Ben-Ami insisted the paragraphwas misleading, and that he had sought a retraction from the Times. "What I said is that the young generation of Jews is a different generation, and all that," he told Goldberg. "No one is intermarried in my office!" And from there the inter- view entered what Goldberg called "Seinfeldian" territory, as Ben-Ami quickly added, "There's nothing wrong with intermarriage." A 1984 gradu- ate of Princeton, Ben-Ami is of the generation that has seen in- termarriage morph from taboo to norm. In the past 20 years, mainstream Jewish move- merits have either embraced interfaith families (Reform) or pledged to be more welcoming (Conservative). Ben-Ami says his friends who are intermar- ried are "searching forweicom- ing Jewish communities." How welcoming they should be is a mainstream Jewish discussion. And it's part of a wider discussion about the dissolv- ing boundaries between Jew and gentile, Jewish and Other. Younger, non-Orthodox Jews are fluid in their identities, often proudly Jewish but part of a world in which multiple religious and ethnic identities are the norm. Not surprisingly, Israel plays a much different role for this generation than it did for their parents and grandparents. In a study called "Beyond Distanc- ing," Steven M. Cohen and Ari Kleiman showed how age is directly related to Israel attach- ment over the entire age range, and how younger adult Jews are less attached to Israel than older generations.Amajor correlating factorintheirstudy:theincreas- ing number of intermarried Jews,among theyoung. For J Street's critics, the group's rise, like that of in- termarriage itself, is evidence of weakening Jewish bonds among the young and an erod- ing sense of Jewish peoplehood. According to these critics, those most likely to push the "peace" platform are weakly identified Jews to begin with who won't suffer or sweat the failure of their misguided policies. For J Street's champions. its followers represent a more multidimensional, less reflexively tribal .identity. They are more open to new ideas and influences. Unlike a generation scarred by the Holocaust or weighted down by myths of Israeli infallibil- ity and vulnerability, they are able to see the situation with more clarity and less ethnic defensiveness than their elders. Both sides have a point. J Street's membership no doubt includes Jews of all ages; Peace Now itself was founded over 30 years ago. But it owes a lot of its buzz and potential to the way it appeals to Jews who have questioned their elders'boundaries (literallyand figuratively) and assumptions. The debate over Street is not just over Israel, but over how to be Jewish. Andrew Silow-Carroll is Editor:in-Chief of the New Jersey Jewish News. Between columns you can read his writ-. ing at the JustASC blog. By Miriam and Sheldon Adelson LAS VEGAS (JTA)--The recently released study of the impact of Birthright Israel trips should be very welcome news for the Jewish people. Ever since the release of the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey, experts have been seeking ways to maximize Jewish continuity. Quite simply, this new study, conducted by Brandeis Univer- sity's Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, shows that the Birthright Israel program represents a truly effectiveway to change the course of Jewish history. Now that we have this re- search, increasing the number of Birthright Israel partici- pants should become a top pri- ority of Jewish philanthropy. We cannot take credit for coming up with the idea for Birthright Israel, which of- fers a free 10-day trip to Israel for Jews ages 18 to 26; that distinction goes to Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bron- fman. Despite opposition from many skeptics, these visionary philanthropists persisted in making their creative idea a reality starting in 2000. When we were at~roached to support Birthright Israel at the end of 2006, it appeared to us to be a transformative pro- gram based on the anecdotal evidence we heard. Now there is research that validates our mpression: The Birthright Israel experi- ence significantly increases participants' connections to Israel and the Jewish people, rates of in-marriage and the value placed on raising Jewish children, among other desir- able outcomes. In the past three years, our family has been privileged to help Birthright Israel dem- onstrate the scalability of this remarkable program by committing more than $90 million to increase the number of participants. Last year more than 40,000 young adults went on Birth- right Israel trips. If the pro- gram can achieve that rate for several years, we will come close to reaching a majority of young Jews. This becomes a real tipping point that can transform an en- tire generation. With so many demographic and geopolitical forces arrayed against our people and the Jewish state, increasing the number of Birthright Israel participants should be a no-brainer. By no means are we under- stating the importance of other formal and informal means of promoting Jewish continuity. But in Birthright Israel we have a proven produc~ that can be targetedatyoungadultswhoare the least affiliatedwith our com- munity and constitute a rapidly growing segment of the Jewish population. Birthright Israel can provide effective "booster shots" for Jewish continuity for less than $3,000 per person. Maintaining a level of 40,000 participants peryearwill be an enormous challenge. It means a budget of more than $100 million per year. To date, the program has benefited from very generous support from the goverriment of Israel, and we hope that support will continue to grow. The benefits to Israel are clear--most of the Birth- right Israel dollars are spent there. Even more important, however, is a strengthening of Israel's base of support in the Diaspora, not to mention the Birthright alumni who make aliyah. Federations. foundations and individual philanthropists also have played an important role in the program's growth, but it is time to significantly expand the number of play- ers and ramp up the level of support. The recently released study confirms the tremendous potential of Birthright Israel as a proven and simple,way to use our charitable dollars to strengthen the Jewish people and the Jewish state. We hope you will join us by putting this extraordinary program at the top of your charitable list, and togetherwe can literally change the course of Jewish history. Dr. Miriam Adelson is an Israeli-born physician who works in the field of drug ad- diction. Sheldon Adelson, her husband, is chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands, Inc. By Uri Regev and Stanley Gold JERUSALEM (JTA) How does it happen that thousands of Israelis travel each year to Cyprus and Eastern Europe to get married? Is this an Israeli custom, to elope? Not at all. Hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens cannot marry in Israel due to state law, including numerous Rus- sian olim. all non-Orthodox converts to Judaism.and native-born Israeli Jews who want an egalitarian marriage ceremony. Israeli democracy is enlightened and progressive in most resp/ cts, but in the area of religious freedom it lags all Western democracies. The increased strangle- hold of religion on the state has a dire impact on Israel today. That's why we recently launched Hiddush, which in Hebrew means innova- tion and renewal. It is als0 the acronym of the Hebrew words "freedom or religion and equality," as we hope to realize the promise of Israel's Declaration of Independence to"uphold freedom of religion and conscience and ensure complete equality of civil and political rights to all, irrespec- tive of religion." As a transdenominational advocacy and public educa- tion organization comprised as a partnership between Israeli and world Jewry, our aim is to enhance all of the im- portant efforts already under way in this arena by bringing together Israelis and world Jewry from all walks of life. Israeli religious freedom and equality should be of communitywide concern. All forces in our community in Israel and the United States, especially those committed to the diversity of the Jewish people and to civil liberties, should make this a high pri- ority. That's why we expect the issue to gain the atten- tion it deserves from Jewish federations, communities and advocacy organizations across the U.S. Practically from day one of the state's existence, politi- cians cut deals that under- mined religious freedom at the expense of the majority of Israelis. This stranglehold has stifled Jewish creative religious expression. It's also a threat to Israers economy and democracy. Israeli and world Jewry can- not accept the second-class status of our own converts or the repeated decisions of state-sponsored rabbinic courts that retroactively nullify Orthodox conver- sions for "insufficient ritual observance." Hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens are denied the basic civil right of m rriage. Thousands of women struggle to gain their freedom from unsuccessful marriages. A growing number of public bus lines relegate women to the back of the bus in the name of religion. Even as we write, the Knes- set is deliberating on a "civil union" bill thatwould provide couples with an alternative to legal marriage containing some of the civil features of marriage. Thiswouldbe avail- able only to couples in Which both the man and woman (it is not intended for same-sex couples) do not belong to any religious community or have any religious status, intentionally preventing any Jew from entering into a"civil union." Rather than offering free- dom of marriage, as the majority of Israelis desire, it would further undermine the Russian olim, Jews by choice and many others. One's status would remain beyond the marriage itself, even in ID cards, creating a cast of "untouchables" who can only marry among themselves. We plan to call on Israelis and world Jewry to voice their concern to let the Knesset lawmakers know that this is unacceptable. Israel is an attractive place "for investors now, in large part because of its educated work force. But as Diaspora Jewry is asked to step up its financial support of Israel, it cannot remain oblivious tothe urgent warnings of senior Israeli economists that point to the threat to Israel's economic viability if the current policy of huge financial allocations to the haredi community is maintained. Studies have found that fervently Orthodox men's avoidance o f joining the Israeli.lob market costs Israel between 5 billion to 15 billion shekels annually--about $1.33 billion to $4 billion. Two-thirds of haredi men in Israel refuse to enter into the work force but would rather live on public support. Nothing in the Torah pro- hibits a religious man from providing for his family with dignity; indeed, fervently Orthodox Jews in the United States and England work at twice the percentage of their counterparts in Israel, since they can't count on govern- ment subsidies. Most fervent- ly Orthodox schools in Israel teach simple mathematics \ and no English, science or civics. This dooms their Religion on page 23A FORECAST HU AY// \ DryBones.Com