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December 26, 2006

Losing Jews

It would be very easy to make fun of a Jewish couple who decided to buy a Christmas tree and celebrate Christmas -- and then felt it appropriate to write about it for half a gazillion readers of the New York Times. And even more than simply write about it, to revel in the fact that there was absolutely no principle involved at all: "We decided we could, and proceeded to embrace the holiday in all of its materialistic glory." It would be even easier to make fun of this couple if you knew that the writer of the article was "a writer and executive producer of 'Sex and the City.'"

But as easy as that would be, it would be far, far easier to make fun of an even more insipid article in the Washington Post along the same lines.

The problem is that making fun would actually be unfair. The writers weren't rejecting Judaism. They were rejecting non-Judaism.

Seventy years ago, Jews left Judaism because of social discrimination. You wanted that job? Being an Episcopalian was the answer.

Nowadays, when social discrimination against Jews is virtually extinct in most areas of the country, people don't leave Judaism because of discrimination. They leave Judaism because they think Judaism isn't offering them anything, except a Christmas-like Hanukkah.

This is a major failing of organized Judaism in America. Much of traditional orthodoxy seems to have turned inward, more concerned about the bad influence of outsider Jews on their community than on bringing their way of life to others. Conservative Judaism seems to have become mired in a philosophy of "what you're doing already is just fine." Not terribly inspiring. Reform Judaism is so busy mucking around in politics that all it has time for on the home front is to try desperately to cling to its intermarried families for one last generation.

But I think there's hope. Chabad, despite its looney-toons messianism, really cares about outreach. Aish as well. Various JCCs hold events to attract unaffiliated Jews, though JCCs are, by their nature, not religious.

My personal favorite organization focusing on outreach is the National Jewish Outreach Program. Here is a list of its programs. If you care about Jewish assimilation -- if you care about helping Jews learn the beauty of Judaism -- make a donation.