Monday, October 28, 2002

The Grandchildren of Eli the Fanatic

Literature and other cultural expressions can anticipate social change by getting under society’s skin and describing developments that are in the womb of time and not discernible to demographers, reporters and social commentators. After the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey appeared, an incisive sociologist asked why there was a fuss about the 50%+ intermarriage rate when the powerful trend toward Jews marrying out had been depicted for at least two decades in literature and movies.

The best example I know of this anticipatory capacity is Philip Roth’s great late 1950’s story, “Eli the Fanatic,” published initially in Commentary and then in the breakthrough/breathtaking collection, Goodbye, Columbus. The story tells of Woodenton, a pleasant upscale New York suburb where Jews who had made it came to as an escape into affluence and modernity and away from the old-world Jewishness of the inner city. Their peace of mind is disturbed when a small number of religious Jews arrive, with plans to open a yeshiva.

The newcomers are not welcomed by their putative co-religionists, one of whom says “if I want to live in Brownsville, I’ll live in Brownsville.” Another paints this frightening scenario: “It’s going to be a hundred little kids with little yarmulkahs chanting their Hebrew lessons on Coach House Road.” Still another wonders whether the “next thing they’ll be after our daughters.” These fictionalized Jews who doubtlessly saw themselves as liberal and tolerant do their best to keep the Orthodox out. They engage one of their own, an attorney named Eli Peck, to invoke zoning ordinances to block the yeshiva. Ultimately, Eli is transformed, as he comes to respect the religious way of life and understand the hypocritical bigotry of his neighbors. He identifies with the Orthodox by putting on their distinctive dress, hence the story’s title.

The use of zoning regulations against religious groups is a feature of the American landscape. In hundreds of localities, life is being made tougher for those who want to build houses of worship or parochial schools, as zoning ordinances are being interpreted in a fashion that is hostile to religion and, at times, flagrantly discriminatory. The frequent excuse is that the proposed facilities do not include sufficient parking spaces or would result in traffic congestion.

What is happening is especially harmful to religious Jews who require a communal infrastructure for the fulfillment of their religious obligations. Nearly everywhere there is local opposition to building plans, which is costly in terms of time and money. The usual pattern is for an accommodation to be reached after the religious group agrees to substantially scale down its project, including – and I regard this as probably unconstitutional – by committing to limit enrollment or other usage. On occasion, plans have been scrapped altogether.

Some of this is reported, but not much. In this era of yenta journalism, it’s preferable to give front page coverage to a minor squabble in a Brooklyn shul than to report on the six-year – and still counting – effort of a New Rochelle synagogue to get zoning approval for its badly needed and long-planned facility.

Whatever small justification there may be for using zoning rules to inhibit the building plans of religious groups, there is no excuse for the anti-civil libertarian reliance on them to prevent Orthodox Jews from establishing eruvs, those unobtrusive demarcations that allow the Orthodox to carry within a particular area on Shabbos. This form of discrimination is alive and well in American, invariably spurred by secular and religion-hating Jews who are about as hypocritical a species as can be found.

One sad illustration is the effort of Tenafly, New Jersey officials to block an eruv that relies on the inconspicuous use of telephone and power lines and municipal utility poles. They dug up a zoning ordinance whose violation they had constantly countenanced to prevent the eruv. Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia ruled that by applying the ordinance “selectively against conduct motivated by Orthodox Jewish beliefs,” Tenafly had violated the free exercise of religion of observant Jews.

There’s a good prospect for an appeal because those who are motivated by hostility toward the Orthodox are willing to go to great lengths and much expense to have their way. Their notion of freedom is aptly articulated in the notorious clause of the 1936 Soviet Constitution that guaranteed the freedom to be anti-religious.

It’s sadly telling that Tenafly’s mayor is one Ann Moskowitz and its attorneys are named Bruce Rosen, Walter Lesnevich and Noah Feldman.

At the 1999 Tenafly Council hearing on the eruv, there were echoes of the language and sentiments of the assimilated Jews of Philip Roth’s Woodenton. In the words of the Third Circuit opinion, “many of those present expressed vehement objections prompted by their fear that an eruv would encourage Orthodox Jews to move to Tenafly.” One Council member expressed “a concern that the Orthodox would take over,” while another voiced “serious concern” that “Ultra-Orthodox Jews might stone cars that drive down the streets on the Sabbath.”

At times, bigotry is just a short step away from madness.

More often, it is predicated on hostility to the distinctiveness of other people, most often toward their color in the form of racism or, as in the case of Orthodox Jews, toward their special way of dress. Distinctiveness is regarded as a threat and it breeds protective and discriminatory action, at times to block the strangers from moving in and on other occasions to make it more difficult for them to live comfortably and to achieve our Constitutional guaranty of the pursuit of happiness. In the case of eruvs, there are secular Jews whose anger boils over when they see religious families walking home as a unit and being happy on Shabbos.

Monday, October 21, 2002

More on Lanner

It’s certain that the Lanner case will not go away any time soon because he is appealing his conviction in New Jersey on serious sexual misconduct charges and also because the case has become for some a symbol for alleged wrongs that transcend Lanner’s wrongdoing.

Sinful acts rarely beget noble or gracious reactions and Lanner’s case is no exception to the rule. A spirit of vindictiveness comes to the fore, so that the initial misdeeds serve as the starting point for further misdeeds, often committed by people in authority who have a higher obligation to act with restraint, yet who in their earnestness to punish the wrongdoers cross over into forbidden territory.

It’s beyond question that Baruch Lanner engaged in serious misconduct while in a position of authority at the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, a branch of the Orthodox Union that over the years has compiled an impressive record in both outreach and youth activities. These wrongs were compounded by the failure to take action to remove Lanner from the positions that he held. It is less clear what transpired at the New Jersey day school where he served as principal and where the incidents of sex abuse that were the basis for his conviction were said to have taken place.

Although he has never been formally charged with criminal acts related to NCSY, in a sense, the New Jersey conviction which may have been unwarranted is a surrogate form of punishment for the more serious offenses committed at NCSY. At times, the scales of justice balance in strange ways.

Whatever the ultimate outcome in New Jersey regarding a man who has been accused, convicted, disgraced and punished, the symbolic dimensions of the case now have a life of their own. From the outset, there has been a sub-text that goes beyond Lanner, that intimates that sexual abuse is a serious problem within Orthodoxy, not only because of the wrongful deeds of the perpetrators but, at least as important, because of an alleged tendency, even an instinct, within Orthodoxy to cover-up wrongdoing. In my experience, both of these charges are false and I believe that a powerful case can now be made to challenge allegations that have little basis in fact.

It happens, as we surely know, that the Lanner affair has received much publicity during the period when sexual misconduct by clergy has been one of the major stories in contemporary America. The Catholic Church has been shaken to the core by literally hundreds, perhaps thousands, of accusations, as adults have emerged to voice their claims of abusive activities that occurred years ago. Media attention has certainly been a catalyst for many of the accusers being willing to go public, mainly against Catholic clergymen, but also against religious functionaries of other denominations. It stands to reason that if Orthodox Jewry or any other part of Jewish life were awash with sexual abuse against youngsters or in efforts to cover-up abuse, we would have heard about it in the recent period. It is powerfully telling that such charges have not materialized, that despite an atmosphere that is strongly conducive to sexual abuse claims, very little has been forthcoming on the Jewish or Orthodox fronts.

Emphatically, this does not mean that there haven’t been any such cases that we do not know about. It does mean that too much of the rhetoric within our community has been overwrought and unfortunate. I hope that those who leap at every opportunity to denigrate the Orthodox will recognize that what they have done is itself a form of abuse.

More specifically, as the Lanner case continues in the courts and headlines, can we hope for a cessation of the witch-hunting directed at anyone who has deviated from the politically correct position of not saying anything favorable about Lanner and not trying to help him? It is inexcusable that Rabbis who attempted to work out a plea bargain have been derided and attacked. Much the same has been the lot of witnesses in the New Jersey trial who under subpoena gave testimony that may have supported Lanner’s version of what happened. Do we believe for a moment that they lied under oath? Or that they could/should have avoided testifying? Do Lanner’s sins justify guilt by association?

NCSY and the Orthodox Union have taken significant reform steps. The continuing onslaught against these organizations is one more form of abuse. Lanner’s terrible wrongs and the Orthodox Union’s terrible mistakes do not justify the false and accusatory comment made by a “leader of a parental group,” as quoted in this newspaper, that even the possibility of a reversal of Lanner’s conviction would “undercut the entire reform effort within the Orthodox Union.” This is nonsense, as anyone who has paid attention during the past two years should know.

Harvey Blitz – a friend of more than thirty years – is nearing the completion of what hopefully will be his first two-year term as the Orthodox Union’s president. A man of integrity and accomplishment, he inherited a crisis that destabilized the organization. From the outset, he has confronted it directly, truthfully and with compassion, and he has never sought to explain away his organization’s mistakes. He is sincerely concerned about those who feel betrayed. He and Rabbi Hersh Tzvi Weinreb, a successful pulpit rabbi and psychologist who is now the Orthodox Union’s top administrative official, deserve some breathing space.

They deserve the opportunity to achieve their important goals without being reminded every time NCSY or the Orthodox Union is mentioned that they bear a heavy moral burden. They know this. What others apparently don’t know is that without forgetting or forgiving anyone’s misdeeds, it should be possible to discuss the Orthodox Union and NCSY without any reference to Baruch Lanner.

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

The Need to Support Yeshiva Education

(Originally published by Jewish Law Commentary)

Jews are a charitable people and religious Jews are the most charitable of all. Giving to the needy and providing for communal activities and institutions is instinctive, a part of the ethos of the Jewish people. Admittedly, there are Jews, including some of means, in which this instinct is underdeveloped, so that parsimony rather than charity governs how they respond to pleas for financial help. In the aggregate, we are generous. How we assist the poor, care for the sick and elderly and support our communal infrastructure make us the envy of other groups who marvel at our philanthropy.

As American Jews moved away in droves from religious observance toward a secular version of Judaism or, as often, abandoned Jewish identity entirely, they retained a transmuted notion of charity that gave priority to humanitarian and secular causes. Hospitals and other medical-related activities were given top priority and not far behind was support for colleges and universities which were the contemporary articulation of the Jewish emphasis on education. A large Federation network was developed to espouse secular giving and to channel contributions to causes that embodied this ideal.

Orthodox Jews who were long quiescent eventually protested against the Federation's scheme of allocation, arguing that it shortchanged Jewish causes and especially day school education. It was said - and I played a role in this - that meaningful religious education had become the stepchild of Jewish philanthropy. The activities and commitments that have sustained us were being starved. Our advocacy was tough and we did not yield at all to the argument that, after all, there is a Torah obligation to feed the poor, help the sick and frail, give dignity to the elderly, in short, to highlight chesed activities in the distribution of communal charitable funds.

We did not accept this argument because we recognized that Torah education merited priority and not because we undervalued chesed. Ultimately, our advocacy had an impact and there has been an increase in Jewish philanthropic support to religious schools, although this increase has not been even remotely commensurate with the budgetary needs of these institutions.

We have, in any case, convinced others that yeshivas and day schools merit support. What is the record of the Orthodox community?

We obviously do not need to be sold on the importance of a yeshiva or day school education. Nearly all of our children attend full-time religious schools and the exceptions are special situations that scarcely challenge the rule. Yet, I believe, that in the recent period something has been lost within Orthodoxy, namely the more than two-thousand year tradition and heritage that religious education for our children is a communal responsibility and not merely a parental obligation. We have shifted bit by bit over the past generation, so that at the yeshiva ketana and high school levels, the cost of a Torah education is overwhelmingly and at times exclusively the responsibility of the parents who are regarded as the consumers of an educational product and like all consumers they must pay for what they take or get.

I have fought against this attitude for more years than I can recount. It is a battle that I have lost. In fairness, the more "frum" a school is, the more likely it is to retain a caring scholarship policy. Although they know that increased scholarship assistance inevitably means increased pressure on them, yeshiva officials at many schools show kindness toward parents in need. It remains, though, that the exigencies of yeshiva finances have resulted in a toughened stance, the upshot being that hard-pressed families are being pressured to pay a larger share of the cost of educating their children. As family size continues to increase in Orthodox ranks, an ever-greater toll is being exacted in the form of the disruption of sholom bayis and in family emotional and physical health.

The problem is not with school policy, although there is room for improvement. What is difficult to accept is the abandonment of the principle that basic Torah education is a basic communal responsibility. Whether through voluntary contributions or taxes imposed by community officials, over the centuries religious schools were supported in the main by outsiders and not by parents. We never embraced - at least not until recently - the alien concept that a Jewish education is a consumer product.

Even with increased parental financial participation, yeshivas need outside support if they are to meet their basic obligations. There are charitable persons who understand this, yet the painful truth is that outside contributions constitute a declining and by now relatively small share of the income of most schools. Voluntary contributions increasingly come from the parents themselves who either give themselves or get, as for example in what has become the customary dinner charge. Outsiders are growingly reluctant to contribute to ordinary yeshivas and day schools. They will support special situations, such as kollels, schools for special children and some advanced yeshivas. But elementary and secondary yeshivas and day schools are generally off the philanthropic radar screen.

Tzedakah is an obligation for all observant Jews. There is a good deal of discretion in what people may do with their charitable dollars, although there are halachic guidelines that govern tzedakah, including the obligation to give to the needy who ask directly for help and also pidyon shevuim. Too many of us make the mistake that organizations which purport to provide medical services or help the needy are accorded the same priority status as the needy themselves. This errant view of tzedakah parallels nearly perfectly the attitude of the Federations that we used to criticize.

As between Torah schools and organized chesed campaigns, the schools must be given priority. That is what I heard from the great Rosh Yeshiva of Lakewood and it was a message he proclaimed constantly as he molded the nascent American yeshiva world into the robust Torah community that has developed. A similar message was expressed by other Torah leaders of the last generation. Several years ago, I heard a tape of a shiur given in the 1950's by Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik and he made the same point.

This fundamental standard that is crucial to the well-being of the Torah community is now being abandoned by people who obviously appreciate the importance of chinuch. Shuls everywhere have cut down or stopped altogether making appeals for yeshivas. They prefer making appeals for chesed activities. We are, in any case, now bombarded by a flow of appeals for chesed organizations. These agencies are in the main important, but with few exceptions they are a good deal less important than Torah institutions.

This should be self-evident in the yeshiva world, which adds to the question of why this world is embracing the secularist approach to tzedakah that we once rejected.

There is no easy explanation. Likely, the complexity of the Torah community, including the great number of institutions and causes seeking support, serves as a disincentive to answering appeals for yeshivas and day schools. I believe that the anti-traditional consumerist view of chinuch that I have criticized has resulted in the unwillingness to support outside schools. This unwillingness works in two ways. There is the attitude that the operational cost of our schools should be covered by the parents. Secondly, parents who are required to pay large sums for their children's tuition are increasingly adverse to the notion that they should help other schools, even if they can afford to do so.

A third explanation is that for understandable reasons we have yielded to the emotional exhortations that are an inherent element of chesed campaigns. The impulses that govern how non-observant Jews approach their tzedakah decisions have begun to overtake us. Put otherwise, on the emotional front an appeal for a yeshiva cannot hold a candle to an appeal for a chesed cause.

What is the position of Torah leaders in all of this? Where are they as high tuition charges are causing pain in too many good and modest Torah homes? Where are they as many yeshivas are in financial crisis, a crisis that has become deeper because of the economic downturn that has resulted in a significant number of Orthodox parents losing their jobs?

I recognize that there is more than a small prospect that should Torah leaders advocate support for yeshivas, their words would go unheeded. At the least, though, they should trumpet the message that support for basic Torah institutions is both a communal requirement and a tzedakah priority. As far as I know, they have not sent out such a message. I do know that in some fashion they have acquiesced to the notion that tuition is a parental obligation, even for poor parents.

We receive a constant stream of letters from Torah leaders importuning us to support this or that chesed campaign, mainly for individuals but at times also for organizations. There are questionable aspects to these campaigns that I hope to deal with in the next Newsletter. What concerns me now is the lamentable fact that our Torah leaders are giving more momentum to the emotional chesed bandwagon.

Chesed activities constitute a glorious achievement in contemporary Orthodox life. In a somewhat similar fashion, they were considered to be a glorious aspect of the Federation and secular Jewish world. It was wrong in the past that Torah education was not regarded as a priority and the same attitude is wrong today. There cannot be one rule for the secularists and another for us.

Monday, October 14, 2002

We Doth Protest Too Much and Also Too Little

Given the deep-rooted corruption that has characterized much of New Jersey’s political life for decades, it’s fitting that Amiri Baraka is the state’s poet laureate. If New Jersey was looking for an anti-Semitic poet, do we think it could get T.S. Eliott?

As Eliott and Ezra Pound demonstrated, poetry can serve as a convenient haven for those who hate Jews. Sadly, there are too many havens in literature, as well as in other creative fields and in more ordinary social activities. We seem to have an inexhaustible supply of enemies, of persons who are eager to advertise their anti-Semitism. It appears that their ranks have grown during the past two years in the wake of the Intifada and September 11.

Scarcely a week goes by without new affronts to civility and tolerance. College and even high school newspapers publish articles that would gladden the hearts of the forgers of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. College campuses have seen rallies where the hatred of Jews is common fare, while in the same locales efforts to support Israel have been met by intimidation. We the chosen people are being chosen once more as responsible for the world’s evils.

It’s hard to keep up with all of the bad tidings, although I imagine that ADL’s files are up to date.

As the anti-Semites have come out of their rat holes, they have made common cause with Israel-deniers, a motley crew of Islamic fundamentalists with support from people on both the far right and far left. To boot, there are Jews who are adding their own special concoction of self-hatred to the poisoned brew.

As those who disparage us have been true to form, so have we. Our standard operating procedures for anti-Semitism include public relations, letters to the editor, pressure on politicians and the rather courageous message that anti-Semitism is not acceptable. In the end, as in New Jersey, we get politicians who turn one cheek to anti-Semitism and now do their profile in courage shtick by turning the other cheek against the Amiri Barakas of the world. We apparently believe that anti-Semitism can best be counteracted through rhetoric and debating.

At this point it’s well to acknowledge that there is something wrong with this picture. The United States is not awash in anti-Semitism, the too many bits and pieces of untoward news and our fears notwithstanding. We are doing quite well on these shores. Those who hate us have essentially been marginalized, while respect among Americans for Jews and Israel remains exceedingly high. Our blood-stained history and our present fears must not be allowed to darken this reality.

A second problem is that we too frequently kvetch about matters that do not merit protest. A familiar example are the complaints that arise from our quarters when a Palestinian representative is invited to speak on campus or, at times, before a Jewish audience. To some of us, this is a cardinal sin, an act that gives encouragement to our enemies. It’s hard to figure out what the beef is about in those instances when invitees have appeared regularly on Israeli radio and television and have been involved in negotiations with Israel officials. Thus, I specifically disagree with efforts to block the appearances in this country of Sari Nusseibeh who some label as tolerant of terrorism and others as a moderate.

Admittedly, our complaints may serve certain emotional needs but they scarcely advance our interests. They are also losing propositions and not simply because our protests fail, except perhaps to generate more interest in what Palestinians have to say. More importantly, these are losing efforts because at least potentially they result in the loss of support for Israel within constituencies that we are courting, notably Jews on campus. This is one of the great battlegrounds in contemporary Jewish life and it is perhaps the most difficult place of contention that now confronts us. Our cause is not advanced when we seek to block speeches by Palestinians.

There are occasions when we need to protest. Even then, our one approach fits all situations attitude serves us poorly. On occasion, a simple statement of protest may be sufficient. When an anti-Semitic tirade comes from an obscure and/or entirely unrespected source, it might be best to either ignore the affront or say very little about it. I doubt that much has been gained from our perspective through all of the saber rattling that has accompanied the Baraka affair. Those who appointed him should have known better, but it is highly doubtful that it will be possible to get rid of him now.

There are also occasions when a more militant or aggressive approach is warranted. When major newspapers publish Streicher-like anti-Semitic cartoons, as some have, we ought to do more than gear up our xerox machines and public relations people. Letter writing and platitudinous statements condemning anti-Semitism play into the hands of editors, college officials and politicians who out of laxity or more base motives have given aid and comfort to our enemies. They can at once hide behind the First Amendment and yet also deplore that which they have allowed to go forward.

The one approach fits all situations model hides our pain and our anger, the hurt that we feel when in places that purport to promote tolerance both Jews and Israel are caricatured and stereotyped. There must be instances when militancy is justified, when instead of just wailing and writing, we show the depths of our feelings by being more activist.

I will believe that American Jews are serious about serious acts of anti-Semitism when enough of us invite arrest because we have sat in or condemnation because we have engaged in acts of civil disobedience. It may sound harsh, but it remains that there is superficiality to our protests. One approach does not fit all situations.

Friday, October 04, 2002

Funny Numbers

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts and anyone bearing statistics. That’s the lesson to be learned from economists who confidently tell us what shall be in a future that clearly has yet to arrive and which they surely cannot know. For all of the confidence of these soothsayers, their track record isn’t much better than that of astrologers. It’s their good fortune that their errant predictions are usually quickly forgotten.

A similar lesson is being taught to us by our demographers, a small band of statisticians dressed up as sociologists who when they aren’t clawing at one another bequeath us widely divergent data on the state of American Jewish life. Their enterprise is conducted with a flair for publicity, as is evident in the front page story in this newspaper detailing the discovery by Gary Tobin of the Institute for Jewish Community Research - one of our growing number of think tanks where thinking tanks regularly - that there are many more Jews in these United States than other demographers have located.

Tobin’s announcement appears to be a pre-emptive strike against the 2000 National Jewish Population Survey whose first fruit is to be announced within several days. This is a low blow, but demography is not a gentlemanly sport.

Mr. Tobin arrives at his elevated figures essentially through the simple calculation that intermarriage adds to the number of Jews because there are many more Americans who are partly Jewish. If we include all those who say that they have some link to Jewishness, our ranks grow to 13.3 million Americans. With this kind of new math and as more Jews marry out and the children of the intermarried themselves intermarry, erelong there will be 25 million Americans who are somehow Jewish.

There is a phenomenon of hidden Jews, persons who are Jewish in one sense or another but who either do not know of their background or who deliberately hide the fact. I refer to this as the Madeleine Albright syndrome. It’s a subject that requires study, here and especially in Europe. But Tobin’s statistics are preposterous. Intermarriage weakens a group and reduces its numbers, as is evident from the experience of German Americans and Irish Americans, to mention two notable examples, and from the history of our people.

In addition to its conceptual flaws, Tobin’s study relies on methodological assumptions that are at least as dubious. His data is based on 250 telephone interviews with households that in the words of the article “expressed some relationship to Judaism.” Anyone who believes that a sample size of 250 is sufficient to support the extraordinary conclusions reached by Tobin is in fantasy land. Mr. Tobin has a good appetite for extrapolation, for inferences and guesswork, but he has stretched a questionable methodology past the breaking point.

As far back as 1970, our demographers extended the concept of a Jewish household to include non-Jews and others whose Jewishness was questionable. Social necessity became the mother to sociological invention. In addition to halachic Jews, we now have sociological Jews, ethnic Jews, cultural Jews and, thanks to Mr. Tobin, cardiac Jews, as well as non-Jewish Jews. His survey includes persons who simply feel “Jewish in their hearts.” In order to ensure Jewish survival, perhaps our community should invest more heavily in cardiologists rather than in Jewish education.

In an essay published in Tradition (Summer 2001), I suggested that American Jewry is evolving into a voluntary membership association. “We can stay in, pay dues, join in group activities and perhaps impart our sense of loyalty to the next generation. Or we can switch out, in much the same way that political party affiliation can be switched…. There are Americans who aren’t Jewish by anyone’s definition who are signing on as Jews – at least that’s what they think – usually because they’re in a relationship with someone who is Jewish.”

Mr. Tobin eagerly counts all of the joiners, yet he does not exclude the quitters, the large number who say that they no longer regard themselves as Jewish. If, as he claims in a Forward article, that his is a “sociological assessment” he ought to be consistent and not include those who have opted out of the Jewish community. He also ought to accept the customary and valid distinction between core and non-core Jews, something that he regards as “insulting.” It’s hard to figure out who is being insulted. NJPS and other surveys rely on this distinction and as undergraduate sociology majors know, it is a useful way of differentiating among group membership.

I believe that Mr. Tobin conducted his survey with a good idea of what he wanted to find. Not surprisingly, he found what he was looking for. Although his approach is absurd, it’s a good bet that he has hit pay dirt, and not primarily because of a developed instinct for self-promotion. His approach is in tune with what a majority of American Jews want to hear and believe. They want to believe that despite out-marriages and wholesale Judaic abandonment, our ranks our growing. More critically, they want to be assured that they remain in good Jewish standing no matter how far removed they are from our heritage.

They now have another psychological safetynet to go along with the massive communal investment to prop up a sociological reality that is alien to our history. Although it is ersatz, this brand of Judaism will be with us for a long while, given the backing it is receiving.

Mr. Tobin writes in the Forward that those who do “not like these figures” are peddling “fear and despair” and “are used to predicting disaster and destruction, and even the disappearance of American Jews.” I see Jewish life blossoming on these shores because of adherence to our traditions and not through statistical manipulation. We shall survive, not by abandoning Judaism but by being faithful to that which has ensured our survival for generations.