Nearly a decade and a half ago, the America Jewish historian, Peter Novick published a controversial book, The Holocaust in American Life, in which he argued, among other assertions, that America Jewish identity was based on memory of the Holocaust (full disclosure: as administrative director of the American Jewish Archives at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, I spent many hours discussing Novick's ideas with him when he spent several weeks of research for the book at the archive).
The American Jewish community reacted with an all-out effort to find alternative means to such an identity. After all, how could an event that did not include American Jews and occurred far from American shores be the basis for Jewish identity in this country? The major Jewish religious movements intensified efforts to reach young American Jews and provide them with the tools and the motivation for a strong religious identity. Yet, no matter how one interprets the Pew findings, the results are disappointing and alarming.
In the Catholic world, however, there is a renewed sense of optimism focused on the papacy of Pope Francis , who has introduced a "new evangelization," a "new springtime" for Christianity. But not just for Christianity. No, Francis' mission ,it seems, is "an almost-frantic engagement with the lapsed-Catholic, post-Catholic and non-Catholic world." He is eager to regain the all-important religious middle-that group which represents the least of the two extremes of any religious community and the group that is the most liberal and modernizing (read the analysis of Pope Francis' meaning and purpose for the Roman Catholic world below). These are the Catholics and Jews who have been the most receptive to the message and meaning of Nostra Aetate (In Our Time), the far-reaching statement on the Catholic Church's relationship to the world's other major religious communities and a sea change in Church theology and teaching--and in the evolution of interreligious dialogue.
Can this Pope , who has won the admiration of so many religious communities, especially among Jews and Muslims, become the catalyst for a renewed effort to regain the "lapsed" Catholics and the young Jewish "non-Jews" who may be the new interreligious engagees in a time that one Jewish leader described after meeting with the Pope as "in the past 2,000 years, ties between the Catholic Church and Jews have never been this good." It may well be that American Judaism needs the Jewish equivalent of a Pope Francis.
Many years ago, while at a conference on Catholic-Jewish relations, I attended a session on the high rate of Jewish intermarriage and decreasing synagogue attendance. A Catholic priest from a Midwestern university posed a question that struck me as odd but certainly well-intentioned: "How are we Catholics, he asked, "to help to save the Jewish community from itself?"
Now I find the question not only intriguing but perhaps necessary.
Best holiday wishes,
A Kosher Christmas (And a Merry Little Hanukkah)
by Rabbi Joshua Plaut
In Operation Shylock, Philip Roth writes: "God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and then he gave Berlin 'Easter Parade' and 'White Christmas'... and what does Irving Berlin brilliantly do? He de-Christs them both!... He turns Christmas into a holiday about snow- He turns their religion into schlock. But nicely!... If supplanting Jesus Christ with snow can enable my people to cozy up to Christmas, then let it snow, let it snow, let it snow."
At the time of Roth's childhood, American Jews were still struggling with what Jonathan Sarna has dubbed the "Christmas Problem", having no choice other than to participate in Christmas or reject it. But today, events like the travelling comedy concert Jewmongous signal a new era in which Christmas plays a secondary role to the interests of a thriving and self-aware Jewish community. Kung Pao Kosher Comedy - a stand up comedy night on Christmas Eve in a Chinese restaurant in San Franscisco - is a riot of dreidel pinatas, inflatable matzo balls and blue and white streamers, at which Jewish comedians tell risque gags: "When I was a kid, my friends thought I was lucky. 'Wow, Hanukkah's eight days, you get eight gifts'. Wrong. My parents would give me one gift and rip it into eight pieces". After an evening of redeeming laughter the master of ceremonies calls out "See you next year; next year in Jerusalem".
CLICK HERE to read the entire essay
1 in 5 U.S. Jews: No Religion
by Jonah Lowenfeld
Of the approximately 5.3 million American adults who consider themselves Jewish, 22 percent say they have no religion, according to a new survey of American Jews conducted by the Pew Research Center and released on Oct. 1.
The study's findings show a dramatic increase over the past decade in the number of Americans who consider themselves to be Jews culturally, ancestrally but not by religion. The last wide-ranging study of Jews across America the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS) found just 7 percent of Americans who self-identify as Jews say they have no religion. The Pew Center survey, by contrast, found 6 percent of American Jews call themselves atheists, 4 percent call themselves agnostic, and an additional 12 percent say their religion is "nothing in particular."
The trend away from religion is most visible among members of the Millennial generation 32 percent of American Jews born between 1980 and 1995 fall into this growing group and it parallels a rise in religious disaffiliation among all Americans: A 2012 Pew Center survey found 20 percent of Americans answer "none" to a question about religion.
Jews who have no religion are, perhaps not surprisingly, less engaged with the Jewish community and its organizations than are those who consider Judaism their religious identity.
CLICK HERE for the entire article
The Promise and Peril of Pope Francis
The New York Times
October 5, 2013 by Ross Douthat
To understand Pope Francis - his purpose, his program and its potential pitfalls - it's useful to think about what's been happening to New York City's Jews.
From the 1950s on, New York's Jewish population declined, amid suburbanization and assimilation. But over the last 10 years, the numbers began to rise again, climbing 10 percent between 2002 and 2011.
But this growth was almost all among Orthodox Jews. The city's Reform and Conservative populations continued to drop, as did Jewish religious observance over all.
As a result, New York's Jewish community is increasingly polarized, with more Jews at the most traditional end of the theological spectrum, more Jews entirely detached from the institutions of their ancestral faith - and ever-fewer observant Jews anywhere in the middle. What's happened in New York is happening nationally: a recent Pew study found a similar pattern of growth among the Orthodox and a similar waning of religious practice and affiliation in the rest of the American Jewish population.
CLICK HERE for the entire article
Professor Mary Christine Athans, BVM, author of In Quest of the Jewish Mary will discuss her book.
January 28, 2014 - 5.30 pm - Pre-lecture wine and cheese reception
($15 suggested donation)
3010 North Perry Avenue
Tampa, FL 33603
CLICK HERE to register for January 28 event
January 29, 2014 - 2 pm
Saint Leo University - Student Community Center
33701 State Road 52
Saint Leo, FL 33574
CLICK HERE to register for January 29 event