Hope, Not Fear

Edgar M. Bronfman is among the Jewish community’s leading philanthropists, and his commitment to this website in particular has been crucial and unmatched.

But Bronfman has always been more than just a “donor.” I’ve had the privilege of attending some of the weekly Talmud classes Bronfman has at his office, and it’s clear that his study of Judaism and the Jewish community is motivated by both his personal desire to be a more knowledgeable Jew and his interest in being a more effective Jewish leader.

Today marks the publication of Bronfman’s new book Hope, Not Fear: A Path to Jewish Renaissance, which he wrote with Beth Zasloff. In anticipation of the book’s release, I asked Beth a few questions about the book and what it was like working on a project with Edgar Bronfman.

Can you start by summarizing the primary message of the book?
Judaism is a joyful culture and religion that offers many paths to improving the life of the individual and the world. To reinvigorate Judaism in North America, we need to foster a community that is united not by fear for survival but by knowledge and celebration of the Jewish tradition.

Historian Jonathan Sarna has said that Hope, Not Fear is, at times, “controversial.” What are the potentially controversial ideas expressed in the book?
I’m sure that some will object to the assertion that fighting anti-Semitism should get off the top of the communal agenda. It’s particularly striking coming from a leader who has spent his life fighting anti-Semitism (getting out Soviet Jews, battling the Swiss banks for Holocaust restitution). The point is not that anti-Semitism isn’t a global threat or that Jews should stop fighting it. It’s that there’s very little of it in North America, and that we need to move beyond an embattled posture and use our strength to rebuild Judaism and do some good in the world.

There’s also the idea that the high rate of intermarriage is not necessarily a disaster, and the hopeful attitude that if Judaism is taught in a positive way it can even be an opportunity to enrich and expand Jewish life. Many synagogues and Jewish institutions have become more welcoming to intermarried couples, but the subject still ignites tensions.

Posted on September 16, 2008

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