The Future of the Jewish People: The Problem and the Tasks / DR.Rivka Shpak Lissak

“The future of the Jewish People is not guaranteed and there are positive and negative trends”. A new study presents the problems and discusses coping with antisemitism and assimilation

The Jewish Agency has established the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute headed by Professor Yechezkel Dror. The Jerusalem-based institute researches subjects concerning the present and future of the Jewish People. One such study provides a wide-reaching survey of the world’s Jewish communities and the chances of survival of the Jewish People. Leading this project are Professor Sergio Della-Pergola and Brigadier General (res.) Amos Gilboa. This article together with some additions is based on that study.

The world Jewish population now stands at 13 million. There are over 5.5 million Jews in North America (the United States and Canada) and over 5 million in Israel. There are more than one million Jewish in the European Union, about half a million in South America, and the remainder live in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, Africa, and the Pacific Ocean region.

The main thesis of this study is that the future of the Jewish People is not safe and that there are both positive and negative trends. The study discusses the problems and suggests how to deal with them.

Assimilation and Coming Home

A thorough examination of the processes affecting the world’s Jewish communities reveals two conflicting trends: on the one hand, there is the worrying process of assimilation and mixed marriage, but on the other hand, antisemitism and assimilation are having the opposite effect on a significant minority of Jews, reinforcing their identity and bringing them “home”.

The problems confronting the Jewish People are:

· Antisemitism and radical Islam

· Jewish demographics

· Strengthening Jewish identity in the Diaspora

· The future of the State of Israel

· Strengthening the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora

· Establishing a Jewish parliament

· Raising financial resources

· The Jewish People in the age of globalization

Antisemitism and Radical Islam – coping with growing antisemitism calls for the mobilization of world Jewish organizations to strengthen their influence on the governments of countries where Jews live. World Jewry is organized in two principle ways: organizations that represent the regions where Jews live with regard to Jewish issues and Israel, and umbrella organizations of the regional communities which handle the communities every day life.

Antisemitism is mainly dealt with by the former: the World Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, the European Jewish Congress, the Latin American Jewish Congress, the Russian Jewish Congress, and the Euro-Asiatic Jewish Congress. The World Union of Jewish Students also tackles these issues.

Jewish American organizations have influence on the government but the European Jewish Congress and the other Jewish organizations need to boost their influence in order to address the rising antisemitism they are experiencing. The study proposes a “general Jewish strategy” with regard to Islam and Islamic organizations.

Jewish Demographics – The number of Jewish in the world is falling. Since 1970, the number of Jewish in the world has fallen by 25% and right now, the chances of this improving are not encouraging. There are two factors that are responsible for the decline in the number of Jews in the world: low natural increase and mixed marriages. The problem is that in most of the world, Jewish identity has become a question of choice not a function of ethnic belonging. The research study suggests mobilizing resources to boost the birth rate through financial assistance for couples who would like more children.

Regarding mixed marriages, the world average is 48%. In America, the rate of mixed marriages is 54%, in South America and the European Union, it ranges from 35%-44%, in Australia – it is 22% and in the countries of the former Soviet Union it is 70%-80%. According to data collected in the US, only one third of the offspring of mixed marriages remain Jewish.

The study recommends working especially hard on bringing mixed families back to Judaism. In Europe – Spain and Portugal – and on the American continent – Brazil, Mexico, South-West America – there is a renascence among descendents of anusim to seek their Jewish roots. Some of these descendents come back to Judaism and convert; others set up communities of anusim and begin to revive a Jewish way of life. The “Shavei Yisrael” organization in Jerusalem and the “Kulanu” organization in the US are actively trying to bring the descendents of anusim back to the Jewish fold. It would really boost Jewish demographics if the Israeli and Jewish organizations learned how to reach out to them and bring them close.

Strengthening Jewish Identity Outside Israel – Jewish identity is expressed through community membership and providing children a Jewish education. One factor that deters Jews from joining a community and sending their children to Jewish schools is the expense involved.

The solution is of course to keep costs down. The study also shows the need to revitalize Jewish education and adapt it to the needs of young people today. In the communities outside Israel we find three types of Jewish education: day schools for ages 7-17, Shabbat schools, where children learn once or twice a week up to the age of bar-mitzva, and the orthodox schooling – Talmud Torah and yeshivas.

The percentage of children attending community schools differs from one country to the other. The US has seen increased registration for day schools owing to the poor state of education in public schools, and an awakening within a minority of Jews to reintegrate into Jewish life. In 1990, there were 613 Jewish day schools in the US which has grown to 700. The student population is 200,000.

Canada has a thriving Jewish school system because 89% of Canadian Jews identify themselves as Jewish by religion and 11% identify themselves as ethnically Jewish. South America also has a good education system. In Argentina 55% of Jewish children attend Jewish schools, in Mexico, 85%, and in Australia – 65%. The main communities of the European Union, France and Britain, also have good Jewish schools. In Britain, 67% of children go to Jewish schools. Jewish organizations invest effort and funding to form new Jewish communities in Eastern Europe and the CIS.

In Russia, for example, 44 Jewish schools, 8 technological schools of the ORT network, and 186 Sunday schools have been established. This does not include the Chabad school system, which is a breath of fresh air across the former Soviet Union. The study recommends reinforcing Jewish identity not only by Jewish education but through popular Jewish culture, developing schools for bringing out Jewish spiritual and cultural creativity, improving Jewish matchmaking services, and harnessing the Internet for Jewish needs.

The Future of Israel – Israel’s future depends on solving two problems: ensuring Israel’s existence in security and political terms and making sure there is a Jewish majority within the Green Line. Because of the profound link between the survival of Israel and that of the Jewish People, Jewish leaders in the Diaspora seek greater involvement in determining Israeli policy towards the Arabs and the rest of the world, particularly on solving or at least stabilizing aspects of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Demographically, the study recommends encouraging immigration to Israel not only to fulfill the religious commandment, but for existential reasons. It also suggests a new category of Israeli citizenship – semi-residence for Diaspora Jews. Diaspora Jews are also called on to plump up their contribution to Israel, not just by meeting current needs but also in safeguarding Israel’s future.

· Reinforcing the Relationship between Israel and the Diaspora – the study recommends cooperative projects like fighting antisemitism and bolstering Jerusalem as the spiritual center of the Jewish People. The Jewish Agency not only encourages immigration but through its annual “Taglit” project brings groups of Jewish children to Israel from all over the world. For the first time, in June 2006, Taglit brought the children of anusim from the community in Recife, Brazil.

· Establishment of a Jewish Parliament – The study suggests giving official status to an international Jewish body to handle the affairs of the Jewish People. At present, the Jewish Agency and World Jewish Congress partake in the decision making process in Israel and the Diaspora. The study also proposes a “College for the Defense of the Jewish People” to train a new generation of Jewish leadership.

· Fundraising – to persist in restoring Jewish property stolen in the Holocaust and to obtaining compensation and assistance for Holocaust survivors. Redoubled efforts to raise money for Jewish needs inside and outside Israel is also necessary.

· The Jewish People in the Age of Globalization – there are both positive and negative aspects to globalization and the changes in international power relations after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Modern technology, chiefly the electronic media are being exploited by anti-Semitic and Islamic organizations and by international terrorism for spreading antisemitism and preaching the destruction of Israel. World Jewry can also exploit the electronic media to help foster a Jewish identity among Jewish and partly Jewish people worldwide and to use the Internet for Jewish Education, Jewish Studies, and for building up the link between Israel and the world Jewish community. The growing importance of knowledge also works in favor of the Jewish People due to the high percentage of academics in all fields.

Another problem is the falling demographic strength of Western civilized countries – Europe, America and Canada – which are now home to the majority of Diaspora Jews. Lower populations in these countries have led to fewer workers and to a massive influx of millions of Muslims who intensify the antisemitism and violence against Jews. Also, China and India are now world powers with growing global influence. Unlike the Christian world, their culture is not based on Biblical values. We must therefore edge closer to the leadership of China and India and cultivate a positive attitude towards Judaism.

In conclusion, the study offers various rays of hope for life in the Jewish world. First, most Jews currently live in developed countries and their economic, social, and political status is far superior to what it was. Secondly, Israel’s existence is the primary factor in maintaining a united Jewish People. Thirdly, the end of the twentieth century was a golden age in terms of Jewish creativity and the contribution of Jewish people worldwide to the arts and sciences.

Post new comment

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters (without spaces) shown in the image.