It’s Wednesday: October 9, 2013

Last Wednesday I plunged into the struggle over the Affordable Care Act that has brought about a partial government shutdown. I plunged deeper on Shabbat morning. I recommend Dan Balz’s excellent analysis of the political pickle we are in (“The Shrinking Middle Ground”) on the front page of the Sunday Post. Beth El is doing what we can to help during the furloughs – we are planning another lunch for Friday. The situation is always on my mind, meaning I like many of you alternate between anger and distress much of the time. The column needs to go forward, regardless.

Last week I promised a discussion (delayed by the shutdown), catalyzed by the debate about our response to the Syrian chemical weapons, about whether America is special. Some say that we are indeed a country founded on a vision of freedom, dignity and equality for all, our history driven by a desire to get closer and closer to that dream within our own society and for all humanity. America’s uniqueness is not borne of a sense of our being better than others. Rather, what makes us unique is precisely that we have the humility as a nation to realize that we must collectively answer to a higher cause and seek the welfare of all humanity, that we cannot turn inward selfishly and worry only about our own wellbeing. We cannot ignore the suffering of others.

I happen to think this is true. With all the problems we have, I do think we have a vision of a just world that leads us to intervene in world events more than almost any other country. While some say our interventions are ultimately about markets and money, I am not convinced. I think we have become the world’s policeman, and the main source of aid to victims of natural disasters, because we think that is our duty as citizens of the world.

What’s more, I think that Israel shares a similar “exceptionalism,” the result of an understanding that it has a sacred prophetic obligation to be a light unto the nations. That has led Israel to be among the first nations to respond to global disasters with teams of medical and search experts, and that has led Israel to set up field hospitals and provide medical care to so many injured Syrians carried from the border by soldiers of the IDF every day, despite the fact that Israel and Syria are still at war. How extraordinary is that? And while these interventions have a modest public relations value, I think the motivation is more the prophetic vision.  So, I am doubly proud to be an American and a Jew, even with what is transpiring on the Hill.

Next time and beyond, as promised last week also, I take up the fascinating and worrisome Pew Research Center’s Survey of U.S. Jews that was released last week. You can find it yourself at Just a few teasers for now: after decades of high assimilation and intermarriage rates there are now an estimated 400,000 children with at least one Jewish parent who are not being raised Jewish at all and another 300,000 who are being raised partly Jewish and partly another religion; after WWII when there was a middle ground Conservative Judaism was the largest denomination, now 35% of U.S. Jews identify with the Reform movement, 18% with Conservative, 10% Orthodox, and 27% are “just Jewish.” 34% of respondents said that believing Jesus was the messiah is compatible with being Jewish. (That is especially shocking.) It’s not all bad news: 94% are proud to be Jewish (including 83% of those who are Jews of no religion) and the “just Jewish” people have strong Jewish identities that can be tapped. And there are Conservative shuls like ours and camps and youth groups that are flourishing.   More to come on this.

This Shabbat is the Bar Mitzvah of Benjamin Harris. It is the first clergy Bar/Bat Mitzvah at Beth El since Marc Rudolph had his exactly 13 years ago, so it is a big deal and we all look forward to celebrating with Greg and Rebekah and Ben and Maayan and Shoshana. In the meantime, have a great Wednesday.      Best,  Bill Rudolph

P.S. Samuel Scolnic Institute classes began this week, Tuesday morning and now Wednesday evening. The great lineup of courses for tonight can be found on our website. You can register at the door.  On Sunday at 10:30AM, our Age and Stage programming kicks off for the new year with the first of a number of sessions on parenting. Sharon Duke Estroff, educator and contributor of parenting articles to over 100 publications and mother of four, talks about digital parenting based in part on her book “Can I Have a Cell Phone for Hanukkah?”