Shmuel Rosner, Chief U.S. Correspondent
February 26, 2007 http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/rosnerGuest.jhtml?itemNo=830462
Rosner's Guest: Scott Shay
Scott Shay is a banker. He is the Chairman of the Board of Signature Bank of New York and is active in private equity investments through Shay Ventures LLC. Shay was previously a partner and a co-founder of Hyperion Partners, and served for eight years as a member of the board of Bank Hapoalim.
But Shay is also heavily involved in Jewish causes: He serves as a board member of the UJA - Jewish Federation of New York, the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education and the Jewish Agency for Israel. He is immediate past chair of the Commission on Jewish Identity and Renewal of UJA-Jewish Federation. He is also a member of the Birthright Israel Steering Committee and is chair of The Fund for Jewish Education.
With Shay, we will discuss his recently published book: Getting our Groove Back: How To Energize American Jewry in which he "examines the current state and future prospects of American Jewry and finds a Jewish community that is dangerously adrift and on an overall downward trajectory, due to a community-wide lack of shared purpose, focus, and mutual concern."
Readers can send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your "to do list" will probably anger some members of the community. You ask parents to "encourage man to marry earlier," to "start families earlier, and to" discuss with daughters the risk of pregnancy after 35." You also ask rabbis to "promote early marriage and larger families". Can such advice be practical with the younger Jewish generation? Aren't you going to alienate them by making them feel that your policy invades their privacy?
You are quite right that some of the planks in the book are controversial. Interestingly, after have spoken to a fair number of audiences this position surprisingly is less so. I think almost everyone intuitively understands that there are just too many Jewish young adults remaining single for too long. About 15 percent of Jewish women do not marry until they are at the end of their child bearing years. The median age that Jewish men marry has passed 35. If you net out the children of intermarried couples who are specifically not being raised as Jewish, you get a net fertility rate of 1.2. At that rate a typical population halves in about 45-50 years. Because we American Jews are so much older on average than Americans as a whole, our population will fall by 50 percent in less time.
I think that people basically understand these facts even if they do not know the precise figures or the pace. The fundamental problem is that Judaism is not important enough for many to change their behaviors. If it is important to Jewish parents to see their children marry Jews then they need to make sure that they have Jewish experiences such as camp, youth movements and Israel trips. If it is important for Jewish parents to see their children marry Jews then they need to be models for why being Jewish is important to the world and personally meaningful. We need to explain why it is important for us to be fruitful and multiply. In modernity, bearing children is the ultimate unselfish expression of our peoplehood. None of this happens by accident, yet many in the American Jewish community expect it to be so.
In my plank on child bearing, I do not call on American Jews to suddenly begin having 6-10 children families. Rather I ask couples to think about having one more child. Those who have 2 children should think about having 3 and those who want to have 3 might think about bringing a 4th child into the world. These kitchen table decisions are more crucial to the future of American Jewry than all of weighty decisions brought down by the rarified councils of the organized Jewish community.
Probably the most satisfying part of having written the book is from hearing from some readers that they have seriously considered having another child even though they had previously thought they were done. If that happens than all of the time writing the book was well worth it.
All the best, Scott
I'll start with a more general question in order to let the readers know what we're talking about. The subtitle to your book is "how to energize American Jewry" and your answer is 300 pages long, but for this dialog we need the shorter version. So let me ask just these two quick questions:
1. Why energize American Jewry?
2. Your three-most-important-steps for revitalizing Jewish America.
I passionately believe that American Jewry has been and is a force for tremendous good for world Jewry, for America, for Israel and the world. When American Jewry galvanizes itself there are few limits to what it can accomplish. The success of the Save Soviet Jewry movement which directly contributed to the demise of the communist monopoly on power in the former Soviet Union is but one example. This was followed by a massive financial effort by American Jewry to pay for a large chunk of the cost if the exodus and resettlement.
The same impulse leads American Jews to be at the forefront of social justice causes, medical research, cultural contributions and political involvement. The current Congress has 40 Jewish members.
By the same token, when American Jews were divided and, partially justifiably confused and subject to anti-Semitism themselves, they did not adequately galvanize themselves to publicize and protest the unfolding Holocaust in Europe. That is not to say American ''Jewry could have stopped the Holocaust but it is possible to imagine that they could have lobbied for the bombing of the concentration camps and the like.
I also passionately believe that American Jewry still possesses the strength to revitalize its purpose, passion and numbers. But in 25 years the shape of American Jewry could be quite different and its ability to be a force for good in the world could be quite diminished. So we need to act now.
In terms of what 3 items I would place first, I would initially plead we need all ten outlined in the book. I think a good place to start is with the first three planks. They are reinventing Hebrew schools, changing the financing of day schools so that 50 per cent of American Jewish children can attend day schools and unifying Birthright Israel, summer trips to Israel and Masa in a way that insures that every American teen and young adult visits Israel on a quality experience trip.
These three steps along with the others would revolutionize the shape of American Jewry.
All the best, Scott