Studies in Renewal (5) – From Jewish Continuity to Jewish Continuity
From Jewish Continuity to Jewish Continuity
Jews are an intensely practical people. There is a unique Yiddish monosyllable – the word Nu -which brings all theoretical discussion to an end. It means: the analysis is fine, but what then shall we do? The talmudic question, lemai nafka minei, has the same connotation. It means: what are the practical consequences? We now know we face a crisis of continuity. What shall we do about it?
Let us remind ourselves why the crisis has occurred. For generations we have neglected Jewish education. The result is that we know little about Judaism, and our children know less. They know about Israel, but that is a place where they do not live. They know about the Holocaust, but that happened sometime else, somewhere else, to people they did not know. They know about antisemitism, but that is not a reason to want their children to be Jewish and thus carry the risk of being exposed to it. They know that Jews like Jewish food, Jewish humour and Jewish friends. But so too do many non-Jews. Why then should our children choose not to marry out?
Take David, or Susan, hypothetical twenty-three year olds. They know that when they were young their parents wanted them to go to the best available non-Jewish school. They wanted them to get high grades at GSCE and A-level and go to a good university. Their Jewish education was secondary. They went to cheder until bar and bat mitzvah, but if they missed a few weeks here and there, no one minded. As soon as they were old enough to think for themselves, their Jewish education ceased. By now they have forgotten what little they learned. What they remember seems childish; and it is, because when they learned it they were children. They have no memories to make them want to stay Jewish. Cheder was boring. The synagogue service was unintelligible. Jewish living is something they do not understand because they never saw it at home. And now, having gone to a nonJewish school and university, knowing much about non-Jewish culture and little or nothing about their Jewish heritage, they meet a non-Jewish partner, fall in love and want to get married. What argument is there that will persuade them to do otherwise? The short answer is: None.
David and Susan are our children. We neglected their Jewish future for sound and adequate reasons. Our thoughts were elsewhere. We were concerned with social integration. We were worried about Israel. We were alarmed by the threat to Jewish communities in Arab lands and Eastern Europe. We responded. We succeeded. But in the process, something happened which we are only now beginning to realise. In saving the Jewish world, we have come perilously close to losing our own children. In reaching out to help Jews far away, we forgot those closest to us. They too needed our help – and now they need it even more.
The Only Argument Against Intermarriage
Times have changed, and we are beginning to sense how suddenly and radically they have changed. We had grown used to a situation in which Jewish identity was passed on through the generations by habit, memory, external events and a sense of inescapability that being Jewish is what we are. Belatedly we have discovered that for our children, being Jewish is no more than what they choose to be. They know that they can choose otherwise, if not for themselves then for their children. And they will choose to be Jewish for one reason only: that knowing the drama of Jewish history, the richness of Jewish life, the grandeur of Jewish ethics and the majesty of Jewish faith, they are committed to Jewish life.
There is only one cogent argument against intermarriage, and it is this. To be a Jew is to be a member of the people of the covenant, an heir to one of the world’s most ancient, enduring and awe-inspiring faiths. It is to inherit a way of life which has earned the admiration of the world for its love of family, its devotion to education, its philanthropy, its social justice and its infinitely loyal dedication to a unique destiny. It is to know that this way of life, passed on from parents to children since the days of Abraham and Sarah, can only be sustained through the Jewish family; and knowing this, it is to choose to continue it by creating a Jewish home and having Jewish children. No one who has been touched by Judaism’s wings of eternity would willingly break the link between the past and the Jewish future. This and only this will ensure that we have Jewish grandchildren.
But how do we bring this about? At the very outset, I knew that this would be the greatest challenge of my Chief Rabbinate, and the greatest single challenge facing today’s diaspora as a whole. Despite the fact that the core of the solution is education, the process is already too far advanced for this to be all. Most of our children are already at non-Jewish schools, and this may continue far into the future. There is the problem of those who have left school and gone to university, or who have already begun their careers. There is the problem of educating parents as well as children, for what will we gain if our children hear one message at school and another and conflicting message at home? What about the many contexts which help Jews stay Jewish and which are not primarily educational: youth groups, friends, meeting places, organisations and social events? And how will any of this help if we do not make our synagogues genuine centres of community, warm, welcoming and all-embracing? A vast and global policy would be needed, with learning at its heart, but wider than anything normally associated with the word ‘education’.
It will be difficult. But it will be possible, if: if we are prepared to change our priorities because times have changed. Two things might sabotage a solution. The first is despair, which we must resist at all costs. If we believe nothing can be done, then nothing will be done. The Jewish people has never in the past yielded to despair, and now is not the time to begin.
The second would be a failure to understand that times have changed. Let me candidly admit: I did not go to Jewish schools. Neither did my parents. We, our parents and our grandparents did not need intensive Jewish education to remind us that we were Jews. But our children are not us. They belong to the fourth generation. What was enough for us is not enough for them. In the fourth generation, Judaism is either renewed or it is abandoned: there is no other option.
We face a fateful discovery. We are not our parents, and our children are not us. Our parents sought to give us the things they did not have when they were children: material comforts, a good secular education, the chance to pursue a profession. What they lacked, they gave to us. We in our turn must give our children what we lacked, namely the chance to experience, live, know and understand our Jewish heritage. That is the challenge.
A New Framework
It is a vast challenge, complex and profound. It will call for a response at many levels of our Jewish life, as individuals, members of families and participants in congregations. But my concern here is with only one dimension, namely our collective response as Anglo-Jewry.
We need a new community-wide organisation. The reason is simple. There are many religious and educational bodies in AngloJewry and many youth groups and outreach programmes. Each is valuable and each has a vital role to play. But there is nothing that puts them together into a coherent strategy. The result is fragmentation and creative chaos -creative, but chaos nonetheless.
A single body is needed to promote, strategise and resource all those many activities in our community which create Jewish continuity. Its task will be to intensify Jewish life in such a way as to create future generations of Jews who are proud, knowledgeable and committed as Jews. To do so it will have to aim at nothing less than a complete transformation of AngloJewish attitudes, so that continuity moves from last to first place on our communal agenda. The new organisation will have to become the third arm of Anglo-Jewry, alongside Israel and welfare. The clearest test of its success or failure will be whether in five years time education is still languishing at the bottom of our list of communal charities or whether it has made its claim to at least equal status with the other causes. If we succeed, Anglo-Jewry will have a future. If we fail, its future is altogether in doubt.
To my knowledge, no other diaspora community has ever attempted a project on this scale. Each has its educational bodies. But none has a global, community-wide strategy for continuity. In the main, schools, synagogues, youth groups, adult education and outreach projects operate independently of one another. The result is less like a strategy, more like a dodgem-car track, with many vehicles moving in random directions, more often colliding than cohering. This is wasteful of energies and resources and cannot be the best way to proceed. If Anglo-Jewry is to be the first diaspora community to bring order out of chaos, so be it. There is no alternative if we are to solve the greatest problem facing Jewry outside of Israel, and therefore we must begin.
To do so I had to answer four prior questions. The first and most fundamental was, who would the new organisation be aimed at? At committed Jews only, or at all Jews?
There is one widely-held view which I call Jewish Darwinism. It says that throughout the generations, only the fittest Jews survive. At all times, and especially in an open society, Jews leave the fold. They opt out, marry out and disappear. In nineteenth century Russia, almost a hundred thousand Jews converted and left Judaism. In post-First World War Vienna, the Jewish community lost a thousand members a year. In Trieste in 1927, 52 per cent of weddings involving Jews were mixed marriages. What is happening today has always happened: when Jews were free to leave, they left. Only the most dedicated remain.
On this view it is futile to speak of continuity as a programme for all Jews. Instead one should concentrate on the committed. They are Jewry’s survivalists. Only they will have Jewish grandchildren. Their schools, yeshivot and houses of study will compensate for Jewish ignorance elsewhere. Their large families will make up for Jews lost elsewhere. In an age in which eighty per cent of young Jews see nothing wrong in intermarriage, there is no point in even talking to eighty per cent of young Jews, let alone wasting resources on them. Instead, we should focus exclusively on the twenty per cent who will survive.
This view is cogent and persuasive, but I reject it absolutely. I have said why, at length, in my books Arguments for the Sake of Heaven and One People? I reject it because it is not the way of Abraham or Moses, who wrestled with wayward generations and refused to write them off. I reject it because it is not the way of the great Jewish leaders of our time, the late Rabbis – Kook and Soloveitchik – and the present Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
I reject it because it identifies fact with value: it confuses what happens with what we are right to let happen. I reject it because the covenant at the heart of Judaism links us in bonds of obligation to all Jews, not just the righteous few. I reject it because after the Holocaust in which we lost eighty per cent of European Jewry, we cannot stand idly by while a spiritual holocaust takes its toll of eighty per cent of Jews who remain. I reject it because as a human being and as a believing Jew I cannot live at ease with the knowledge that twenty per cent of my people will survive while I and they failed to extend a hand to the eighty percent whose Jewish future is in danger. When the Israelites made the golden calf, God proposed to end the people there and then and begin again with Moses. Moses replied: “Please forgive their sin – but if not, then blot me out of the book You have written.” That is and must be the Jewish response: collective, not selective survival.
The new organisation, then, will be aimed at all Jews in the unshakable belief that every Jew is precious.
From Education to Continuity
The second task was to define the nature of the challenge, and thus provide the new organisation with a clear identity and purpose, a ‘mission statement’. It was here that we made a fundamental choice. We would speak not about Jewish education but about Jewish continuity.
The reason is this. In the past, Jewish education was understood as the acquisition of knowledge, understanding and skills. Jewish identity was taken for granted. Today it can no longer be taken for granted. It has to be created. I believe that the main vehicle for creating Jewish identity in the diaspora is education. But there is a difference between education as an end in itself and as a means for sustaining Jewish identity across the generations.
Education was always important to Jews. What is unique about our generation is that it is the first time in 2,500 years in which a majority of young Jews in the diaspora is deciding not to marry another Jew, create a Jewish home and have Jewish children. This is what lends our project its particular urgency and direction.
Not all education creates continuity, and not everything that creates continuity is education. On the one hand, there are programmes of Jewish study which aim at detachment rather than commitment and which can be participated in equally by non-Jews and Jews. These are important and valuable but they fall outside the scope of this project. On the other, there are programmes which are not explicitly educational but which may be highly effective in creating Jewish involvement, such as youth centres, community service programmes and singles groups. They would fall within our brief. In general, there can be no sustainable and transmissible Jewish identity without learning and knowledge. So ‘education’ and ‘continuity’ substantially overlap. But they are not identical.
I believe that in framing matters this way we are reverting to a more traditional Jewish concept of education. The Talmud asks which is greater, talmud or ma’aseh, Jewish learning or Jewish Iiving? It answers: Jewish learning is greater because it leads to Jewish living. Education, then, is not an end in itself but a path to something else. Jewishly, learning is tested not by passing exams but by how I live. If I become a great scholar but I do not live Jewishly, then my education has been an academic success but a Jewish failure. The fundamental value is Jewish living.
Not only this, but when the Torah speaks about education it does so in a striking and unusual way. It does not speak – as do the great Greek thinkers, Plato and Aristotle – of academies, schools, classrooms, pupils, the search for knowledge and the quest for truth. It speaks of parents and children and handing on the tradition from one generation to the next. Abraham is chosen ‘so that he will instruct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord, doing what is right and just.’ The Shema commands us to ‘Teach these things diligently to your children, speaking of them when you sit at home and when you journey on the way, when you lie down and when you rise up.’ The seder service on Pesach – Judaism’s most intense and revolutionary educational experience -involves teaching a child to see itself as part of a people and its memories, and it is done not by teachers in classrooms but by parents around the family table. Jewish education is not about the abstract contemplation of truth. It is about introducing the next generation to the covenant which they inherit from their parents and their parents’ parents through a family line which stretches back to Sinai. Jewish education is essentially about Jewish continuity.
So we arrived at a name and a mission statement for the organisation. It will be called Jewish Continuity. Its aim will be to secure the future of Anglo-Jewry by creating a vibrant community of proud, knowledgeable and committed Jews.
From Fragmentation to Strategy
The third issue was no less fundamental. The past twenty-five years have witnessed a considerable investment by diaspora communities in Jewish education. Jewish day schools have been built. In America, though to a lesser extent in Britain, there has been a proliferation of Jewish Studies programmes at universities. Yet assimilation, outmarriage and disengagement have proceeded apace. If education is the answer, why is there still a problem?
The short answer is this. There has been education but not an educational strategy, still less a considered programme for continuity. In the process, two things have been overlooked. One is coverage, the other is reinforcement.
The growth of Jewish day schools since the Second World War has been one of the great achievements of diaspora Jewry in modern times. However, while full-time Jewish education has flourished, the part-time system – cheder, Hebrew Classes or supplementary schooling – has declined. The recent J.E.D.T Think Tank concluded that the part-time system is weak, with under-qualified teachers, producing bored children and indifferent parents.
The result is a polarisation of the educational experience for Jewish children. For some, still only a minority, their education is becoming more intensive. For others it is becoming less substantial year by year. Ironically, while the numbers attending Jewish day schools have grown, so too have the numbers receiving little or no Jewish education. It is therefore no surprise that while Jewish schools have multiplied, so too have the intermarriage rates. The Jewish community is beginning to divide, less between Orthodoxy and others or between religious and secular, but between those who know and those who do not. And because participation in the Jewish community requires a certain minimum of knowledge, those who lack that knowledge will inevitably feel alienated: spectators at an event they do not understand.
A strategy for continuity would look at coverage. It would ask what is happening to all Jews, not just those at Jewish schools. Equally importantly, it would explore the dynamics of reinforcement.
It was once thought that Jewish day schools, in and by themselves, would solve the problem of Jewish continuity. Since education was good, more education must be better, and the Jewish school offered the most intensive form available outside the yeshiva. The theory neglected the fact that school is only one of many influences on the child. Others include friends and peer group, the wider society (in particular, the media), and above all, parents and the home. Where these conflict with the school, the child experiences “cognitive dissonance”, a tension between different sets of messages. Schools succeed when they are supported by the rest of the child’s experience of the world. When they are unsupported, they fail.
Schools work when they are part of a global strategy of identity formation and reinforcement, and the absence of such a strategy is glaring. To take a tiny example: in London, several primary schools achieved fine results in teaching their pupils to speak Ivrit, only to find that their programmes were not carried through in the curriculum of Jewish secondary schools. Within months, the children had forgotten what they had so assiduously learned.
There are communities throughout Britain that have excellent Jewish primary schools. But not only do they lack Jewish secondary schools; they do not have a strategy for teenagers. Some join Jewish youth groups, but many do not. Another gap: in most universities there are Jewish student societies. There are Jewish university chaplains. But there is little or no provision for Jews leaving university. They are not yet married and are just setting out on a career. If they enter a synagogue or join a Jewish organisation, they will find few of their contemporaries there. There are too few places where they can mix, meet and feel that they belong. Teenage and post-university are critical moments of identity formation. The excellent work done by primary schools and university chaplains can go to waste simply because there is no follow-through, no global planning.
A coherent strategy for continuity would look at what happens to children outside the classroom as well as within, and at what happens when one life-phase ends and another begins. It would examine the Jewish home, the peer-group, the synagogue and other institutional expressions of Jewish life and strive to make links between them. It would look at critical moments of transition. It would be based on careful research, monitoring and evaluation. It would discover what works and what does not; which Jewish experiences are positive and which negative; where the community loses Jews and where it can hope to attract them.
I realised that we would have to pioneer a revolution in the way we think about continuity. Until now we have thought about institutions – schools, synagogues and so on – and sought excellence from them. That is right and proper. But it is the wrong place to begin. Instead we must think about people. People are exposed to many influences over a lifetime, and at times make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives. Schools, synagogues, youth groups and student societies are part of that process and we must view them from that perspective. What makes people proud to be Jews? What makes them involved as Jews? What makes them want to have Jewish grandchildren? These are the questions we will continually have to ask. So Jewish Continuity will have a global, integrated and people-based strategy.
The fourth question was what kind of organisation Jewish Continuity should be. The key decisions we took were these. It should be a lean and enabling organisation. Education and outreach are best done at the grass-roots. They cannot be done from a head-office. We have to trust and empower the people in the field. Continuity would not engage in education. It would resource those who are engaged in education and give them the help they need to do their work better.
It would implement strategy by ‘steering, not rowing.’ It would shape policy by the decisions it took to fund this, not that. It would make its funding conditional on objectives, whether these concerned quality control, or networking, or success in reaching target populations. Where it identified a gap in communal provision, it would contract it out to organisations with the most appropriate record of achievement. It would encourage educators, Rabbis, youth workers, student leaders and outreach practitioners to engage in problem solving, lateral thinking, integration and innovation. It would work through, not over, the heads of local organisations.
It would be a national community-wide, overarching body involving schools, synagogues, youth groups, student societies, university chaplaincy, informal, family and adult education. It would attempt to enlist Israel and welfare organisations as well. It would be broadly based, so that every Jewish community in Britain would have its own Jewish Continuity committee, its local leaders and its own developmental plan.
Finally, it would be a task-oriented rather than a representative organisation. Its concern would be doing, not debating. It would recruit new and preferably young lay leadership, drawn from those who sensed most acutely the problems of continuity and the specific needs of the fourth generation. It would be focused towards vision, strategy and objectives rather than consensus and coalition, something which is in any case unobtainable in today’s divided Jewish world. It would recognise the diversity of ways in which Jews arrive at Jewish commitment. It would establish dialogue with Anglo-Jewry’ s representative organisations and be broadly answerable to the community as a whole. But it would aim at creativity, innovation and excellence rather than a common-denominator approach to Jewish life.
So we have a name and a mission statement, a strategy and a sense of organisational style. What then will Jewish Continuity aim at achieving?
- A Third Arm of the Community
Jewish Continuity will be a community-wide body and will become Anglo-Jewry’s third organisational arm, alongside Israel and welfare.
Fragmentation has prevented the emergence of education as a major force in the community. Education is seen as a local and parochial problem attracting local and parochial leadership. It has failed to generate the leaders and funds it needs if we are to have a healthy community in the future.
Jewish Continuity will address this problem directly. As an overarching, enabling body it will not own schools or programmes, but it will help to resource them in a structured way so as to advance an overall strategy. It will provide vision, leadership, strategy, research and resources. Where co-operation or rationalisation are necessary, it will promote this and make it a condition of its support. Where there are neglected areas, Jewish Continuity will ensure that gaps are filled by the organisations with the best available skills in that area.
- A Vision of Continuity
Jewish Continuity will provide vision. Its aim is to secure the future of Anglo-Jewry by creating a community in which every Jew is given the opportunity to learn about and experience Jewish living, and thus become a proud, knowledgeable and committed Jew. It will encourage a communal environment in which learning and experiencing become so attractive that Jews will wish to live Jewishly and hand that life on to their children.
It recognises that this vision must be the subject of dialogue between Jewish Continuity and the Anglo-Jewish community as a whole. Through its consultative processes and through the forums it creates or encourages others to create, it will encourage that dialogue so that the many individuals and organisations concerned with the Anglo-Jewish future feel that they or their representatives had a voice in formulating strategy and subjecting it to scrutiny and evaluation. Though Jewish Continuity will be a task-oriented rather than a representative organisation, it recognises the need for transparency and accountability, and for Anglo-Jewry to have a collective policy for its own future.
- Promoting People
Creating continuity depends almost entirely on people. A school can have poor buildings, an adult education programme can be housed in unsuitable premises, and yet they can transform the lives of those they touch. Identity and commitment are built not by buildings but by relationships between people. Whilst not excluding capital projects from its remit, Jewish Continuity will concentrate on the people dimension of education.
Professor Daniel Elazar has shown that successful educational programmes depend on good lay-leaders, good professionals, and a strong interactive relationship between them. The combination of strong lay-leaders and weak professionals, or strong professionals and weak lay-leaders, tends to produce failure.
Jewish Continuity will therefore do two things. First, it will recruit lay leaders and make them ‘champions’ for continuity at both the central and local level. It will undertake not merely to energise them but also to educate them in what resources Anglo-Jewry has and what it might have – focusing on models of best practice here and elsewhere. It will focus on new leadership, young leadership and recruiting excellence. It will also aim to match leaders to tasks, and to encourage movement in communal leadership so that people are regularly faced with fresh challenges, and challenges are met by new faces.
Second, it will develop a strategy for recruiting and training educators, pre-and in-service. It will aim to raise standards not only of teachers in schools but also of youth and community workers, outreach workers and adult educators. In doing so, it will work in conjunction with teachers, head-teachers and governors so that they share ownership in and responsibility for the process. It will enlist the best available expertise, not only within Anglo-Jewry, but drawing also on the resources of secular institutions in Britain and Jewish institutions elsewhere, especially Israel.
- A Communal Strategy
Jewish Continuity will develop a community-wide strategy for Jewish learning, experiencing and doing in all forms and context and for all ages and group. It will commission research so that the effectiveness of different forms and institutions can be judged. It will monitor and evaluate programmes and institutions. It will implement this strategy by the way it allocates funds and resources. Within the context of an overall, long-term vision, it will develop a five-year plan, to be annually reviewed. It will develop broad criteria of success, together with quantifiable targets for specific tasks. It will develop structures of accountability for the achievement of its targets.
- Raising Resources
Jewish Continuity will aim to generate resources for education and outreach in all its forms. Because it will aim to secure not only funds but also commitment and involvement, it will be judged not only by the sums it raises but by the number of donors it secures.
It will raise funds for three purposes. First, it will resource Jewish Continuity itself, with the proviso that it must remain a lean, enabling organisation with the minimum budget necessary to achieve its ends. The principles are that it will not do anything done by any other organisation, that it will not engage in education at the point of delivery but instead work through organisations in the field, that it will not do anything that could be done effectively at the local level, and that it will employ a minimum of paid staff.
Second and more importantly, it will support existing bodies through project-based funding, and direct this support in such a way as to influence the development of education in line with its overall strategy. Third, it will help existing bodies to fundraise for themselves. One way in which it will do so will be by creating a national campaign in which money is returned directly to the localities where, and the bodies for whom, it was raised.
- A Bias Towards Outreach and Innovation
Jewish Continuity cannot, by itself, meet all the needs of the AngloJewish future, nor would it be desirable for it to do so. It must aim to empower and facilitate the localities and organisations directly involved. Even so, it must establish priorities and aim at making a difference. Therefore, though it will be supportive of all ventures that create continuity, it will embody a bias towards those institutions and projects which most affect Jews whose involvement in Jewish life is marginal. It will, as part of its strategy, identify constituencies for which little or nothing exists in the form of contexts for learning about or experiencing Jewish life or forming Jewish relationships. It will also focus on key moments of affiliation and disaffiliation, such as leaving home for university, leaving university, getting married, having children and arranging for their education. Once it has identified gaps in communal provision, it will encourage and resource individuals or organisations to develop creative projects that speak to the needs of such groups or moments. It will work through those closest to the problem and will facilitate contact between those who know the constituency and those who have the requisite skills. In short, Jewish Continuity will have a bias towards outreach and innovation.
So Jewish Continuity will be a community-wide organisation encompassing all activities which promote Jewish continuity across the generations. Its aim is to secure the future of Anglo-Jewry by creating a vibrant community of proud, knowledgeable and committed Jews. It is built upon the principles that every Jew is precious, that Jewish life has a distinctive spiritual and ethical content, and that Jewish identity can only be sustained in the long run by
Jewish learning, experiencing and doing.
Through the structures it creates, the tasks it undertakes and the funds it raises, Jewish Continuity will aim:
- to promote the importance of continuity until it becomes the first item on the Anglo-Jewish agenda
- to develop strategies for continuity, informed by research, monitoring and evaluation
- to create an informed and energetic lay leadership dedicated to the task
- to increase funding for continuity-creating projects, including Jewish day schools, Jewish enrichment at non-Jewish schools, youth groups, adult , informal and family education, student societies chaplaincy, outreach activities, residential retreats and Israel experiences
- to allocate funds in such a way as to ensure a rational distribution of resources, minimising waste and duplication and encouraging excellence, creativity, coverage, integration and reinforcement
- to focus on the people dimension of continuity, the recruitment and training of teachers, youth leaders, adult educators and outreach workers – both paid and voluntary
- to create a central and nationally available pool of resources and specialised expertise,
and by these means,
- to raise Anglo-Jewry’s levels of knowledge and commitment to Jewish life.
Last words, First words
It is less than a year since the words Jewish Continuity first coalesced in my mind as an idea, a problem and the glimmerings of a solution. Since then, my office has engaged in consultation with Rabbis, educators, youth leaders, outreach workers, academics, lay leaders and communal representatives. We have drafted and redrafted proposals and subjected them to the detailed scrutiny of the world’s leading Jewish educational planners at a special consultation in Jerusalem. We have begun to recruit impressive teams of lay leaders, supporters and advisers. We have had the benefit of many exceptional individuals, two of whom need special mention: Dr Michael Sinclair, Jewish Continuity’s first chairman, and Jonathan Kestenbaum, Executive Director of my office.
Now with the appointment of our professional staff, we are ready to begin.
Throughout this whole process one thing has become clear: Jewish Continuity is an idea whose time has come. We are about to enter the third great era of modern Jewry. Almost everyone we have spoken to agrees on this, that the single most burning question in today’s diaspora is: will we have Jewish grandchildren? We will if we act now to make continuity our first priority.
The story of the world’s most remarkable people began almost four thousand years ago with two individuals: Abraham and Sarah. In the fifteenth chapter of the Torah, God appeared to Abraham in a vision and said: “Do not be afraid … your reward will be very great.” Abraham’s reply – the first recorded words of man to God in the history of the covenant – was this: “O Sovereign Lord, what will you have given me if I remain without children?”
As we look back on this extraordinary century – the century in which Yom ha-Shoah, Yom ha-Atzma’ut and Yom Yerushalayim were added to the Jewish calendar – we have cause to wonder and give thanks. I cannot fathom the mysteries of the Holocaust. But I know this, that after one of the greatest tragedies in human history, the Jewish people has emerged from the valley of the shadow of death and found independence and sovereignty in the land of its birth, and freedom and affluence in most countries of the diaspora. But the first recorded words of Abraham still reverberate with doubled and redoubled force. What will God have given us if we gain all else and lose our own children? Jewish Continuity begins with that question. We will not forgive ourselves nor will posterity forgive us if we fail. With the help of God, we will succeed.