Global Thoughts on Jewish Connections and Identity

Moadim L’Simcha! I hope everyone is enjoying the Sukkot holiday. Sadly, a bit too wet to sleep in the sukkah, but still my favorite holiday.

As we enter day 28 of our 100 Days of Impact, I am delighted that we have already raised over $1.8 million! This is an incredible start to our campaign thanks to our very successful Cornerstone and Women’s Events and all of YOU who have already made your 2017 Campaign Gifts.

 Next is the Federation Gala on Wednesday with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic. JOIN US -- it is an evening not to be missed. We are almost sold-out, so please get your tickets as soon as possible! (online registration closes today)


Sadly, on Tuesday morning, the executive board of the United Nations cultural agency voted to adopt a controversial resolution that denies a Jewish connection to the Old City of Jerusalem.

The approval comes five days after the resolution passed in a preliminary vote of the executive board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). In that vote, there were 24 votes in favor and 6 against (United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands, and Estonia), with 26 countries abstaining. On Monday, Mexico changed its vote from “in favor” to abstain, saying in a statement, “Changing the vote reiterates the recognition that the government of Mexico gives to the undeniable link of the Jewish people to cultural heritage located in East Jerusalem.”

The UNESCO resolution refers to the Temple Mount several times as Al Haram Al Sharif, the Islamic term, without mentioning that it is the holiest site in Judaism. It also uses the term Buraq Plaza, placing Western Wall Plaza in quotes, appearing to deny a Jewish connection to the site.

The resolution is an affront to the Jewish people and our over two-millennia connection to the Western Wall and the Temple it once supported. By acknowledging the holy sites both on and around the Temple Mount solely by their Arabic names, this resolution seeks to invalidate any claim and connection the Jewish people have to our holiest site.

We urge the United Nations to see this for the anti-Israel attack that it is, to consider the damaging effects this change will have on Israel and the entire Middle East, and to condemn it in absolute terms.


Over the past few weeks, two important studies were released that have implications for the Jewish community at-large.

First, earlier this year, the Portland Jewish community was involved in the international Jewish dialogue sponsored by the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI). I am delighted that we had 50 people participate in our focus groups, second most of the thirty-one Jewish communities around the world involved!

The topic posed by the JPPI – “Exploring the Jewish Spectrum in a Time of Fluid Identity.” The key consensus findings include:

  • Communities must be inclusive and welcoming (including in its language and messaging) toward all those who seek to participate in Jewish life.
  • Jews of all groups understand that there is growing complexity in defining Jewishness as a result of fragmentation and secularization, integration and the establishment of Israel.
  • Peoplehood and culture are considered by dialogue participants as the main components of Judaism – more than religion and ancestry.
  • Jews accept the reality of intermarriage, and the complications it creates for defining Jewishness. They strive to have a welcoming environment for non-Jews, but question the long-term impact of intermarriage for the Jewish people.
  • Dialogue participants tended to be pragmatic – rather than look for any unitary “definition” of Jewishness they apply different definitions to different situations.

The study has many more data points and ideas. What struck me the most was a comment from Professor Jack Wertheimer of the Jewish Theological Seminary who observed “when it comes to the US Jewish community, questions of personal status have become irrelevant…and the community has no interest in enforcing its boundaries. The watchwords today are inclusiveness, pluralism, trans-denominationalism, and ‘journeys’ leading to a ‘self-constructed’ Judaism tailored to the needs of each Jew. If this accurately describes much of the North American Jewish community, and in somewhat different ways large segments of other communities, Israeli Jews included, then the sovereign individual pursuit of Jewish grounding at times trumps the advantages of having uniform communal criteria for entry and ‘membership’ in the Jewish people.”

The other study from the Pew Foundation titled, American and Israeli Jews: Twin Portraits from Pew Research Center Surveys, highlights different viewpoints and realities between Jews in Israel and the United States.

  • Israeli Jews see internal economic issues as the major long-term challenge facing Israel (only 1% of US Jews mentioned the economy in Israel) while US Jews see security issues as the top priority for Israel.
  • Jews make up 80% of Israel’s total population of 8 million. US Jews represent about 2% of the US population.
  • In Israel, nearly all Jews say their religion is Judaism. One in five Jews in America do not identify with any religion, yet consider themselves Jewish in other ways.
  • Most American Jews are part of organized Jewish denominations or “streams” (i.e. Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, and Orthodox Judaism). In Israel, Jews generally place themselves into one of four informal categories of Jewish religious identity: ultra-Orthodox (Haredi), religious (Dati), traditional (Masorti), and secular (Hiloni).
  • Reform and Conservative Judaism make up 53% of the US Jewish population yet only 5% in Israel. On the whole, Israeli Jews are more religious than American Jews, but Israel has a much more religiously polarized Jewish public.

These studies provide a snapshot into Jewish life today – and I do not think anything was surprising. The real issue is what we do with this information, trends and opinions as we plan for the future.

On a final note, I am delighted that construction has officially begun on our new community mikvah located on the Schnitzer Family Campus. We held a ceremonial groundbreaking yesterday afternoon and we are looking forward to its completion in February/March 2017.

Shabbat shalom.



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