THE FUTURE OF JUDAISM
REMARKS AT THE CORNERSTONE CEREMONY FOR MERCAZ SHIMSHON, 1998
It is a distinct honor and a privilege to be
standing here today among so many Jews from all over the world with whom
Lynn and I share a love of Judaism, a love of Israel and a love of Am
Yisrael - the Jewish People. Each and every one of you is a proven leader in
the Jewish world, a person whose dedication and commitment to Jewish life is
appreciated by far more people than you may ever fully realize; yasher koach
for your marvelous contributions to the Jewish community.
The completion of Mercaz Shimshon will "plant a
flag" for Reform Judaism in the heart of Jerusalem, and represents a
wonderful opportunity to improve Israel-Diaspora relations. It is our hope
that Mercaz Shimshon will be so architecturally compelling it will attract -
literally and figuratively - Diaspora Jewry to Progressive Judaism.
As more money than ever before flows into
Israel from the United States, Israeli institutions are growing and
prospering while the number of non-Orthodox Jews in America continues to
fall at an alarming rate. In our view, Israeli organizations must no longer
receive automatic priority over their American or international
counterparts. The degree to which a particular project helps Jewish people
wherever they live - not just whether it helps Jews in Israel - must be the
standard against which all funding opportunities should be measured.
Non-Orthodox Judaism is declining in America.
Assimilation has become epidemic. Reform Judaism is failing in its efforts
to convey the vibrancy, spirituality and deeply intellectual nature of
Judaism. Sadly, most of us lack the kind of knowledge of Jewish
history, heritage and tradition to understand the relevance of Judaism as we
approach the 21st century.
In a world where all Jews are now "Jews by choice,"
the onus is upon those of us who love and care for our Judaism to help
others experience the joys of Jewish life and share the magnificent ways in
which living Jewishly may enhance their lives. It is indeed ironic that
survival is the paramount concern for Jews living in the Diaspora when, in
many respects, this is the Golden Age for Jews. Never before in history have
we been stronger, either economically or socially.
Now that Jews can avail themselves of the best the
world has to offer, we run the dire risk of losing Jews in the Diaspora
unless our Jewish institutions there can compete. We are in the Catch-22 of
demanding excellence from our Jewish institutions but failing, in many
respects, to provide them with the resources and financial support necessary
to meet our expectations.
Unless we turn our American Jewish institutions
into centers of excellence, we will deny Judaism a legitimate chance to
compete in the marketplace of ideas, and it will continue to fall prey to
the ravages of assimilation. The very existence of Reform Jewish life in the
Diaspora depends upon our ability to convince a critical mass of people
throughout the world that Judaism has meaning for their lives.
My father, Sam, was an immigrant from Minsk,
Belarus. He worked hard, and very much loved me and the rest of our family.
Since he died when I was only 19, I did not get to know him from an adult
perspective and did not have the chance to work with him in his oil field
salvage business. It was his commitment to family and other Jewish values
that led me to use the name "Samson" in my business and, in his memory and
honor, to place the name "Samson" on the magnificent building that will
emerge on this site in the weeks and months ahead...