Jewish Continuity

Is the Jewish people disappearing?

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While Jewish ethnicity appears, on the surface, to be a more inclusive philosophy, it actually causes problems for “Jews by choice,” or converts to Judaism. Jews by choice do not have easy access to Yiddishisms, inherited memories of the shtetl, or the "lox and bagel" Judaism of many North American Jews (most of whom are of eastern European descent). They learn Judaism as a religion, and often report feelings of alienation regarding its ethnic dimensions.

western wallJewish institutions have demonstrated a commitment to addressing the issues of continuity with a variety of outreach program meant to provide Jewish individuals, non-Jewish individuals interested in learning more about Judaism, and families (including interfaith families) with rich and varied Jewish experiences that will draw them into Jewish life. These sorts of outreach programs include, for example, the Reform Movement’s popular “Taste of Judaism” course (a widely advertised, free, three-week class on Jewish spirituality, ethics and community designed for unaffiliated Jews, non-Jews, and intermarried couples searching for an entry into Jewish life) and the various Federation “Shalom Baby” programs, a service that delivers a basket full of newborn toys and information about local Jewish parenting resources to babies born to a Jewish parent.

Local and national Jewish institutions sponsor Jewish camping, Israel experiences, Hillel programs for college students, and all levels of educational programming, from preschool to seniors, designed to encourage participation in Jewish life. Jewish philanthropists are increasingly offering substantial financing for initiatives to strengthen and develop institutions and initiatives with the potential to make significant contributions to “Jewish continuity.” The UJA Federation of New York, for example, has supported a Jewish Continuity Commission that aims to encourage existing Jewish institutions to become more compelling settings for Jewish living and learning by funding innovative continuity-based proposals.

What is the prescription for a healthy future?  What communal activities and responses will promote Jewish continuity? What choices should individual Jews be making to ensure that their grandchildren will be Jewish? While the answers vary according to denomination, level of traditionalism, interpretation of statistics, and personal experience, the questions remain at the forefront of the agenda of the contemporary Jewish community.

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