The Jewish Connection

The vandalism of a Fort Smith, Arkansas mosque in 2016 by three young local men wouldn’t seem to have any Jewish connection. But it did. Or, better, it turns out that it does.

The vandalism, which consisted of spray-painted swastikas, obscenities and messages like “Go home” and “We don’t want you here” on the mosque’s doors, came after the two men spent most of a night drinking whiskey and, eventually, railing against the Islamic State. While IS is certainly most worthy for even sober citizens’ excoriation, what Craig Wigginton and Abraham Davis, along with another friend, Ezra Pedraza, did next – drive to the Al Salam mosque and deface it – was mindless. And a crime.

Mr. Davis said that, upon awaking the next day, he already regretted what he had done. His regret gnawed at him and then, four months later, the police, having analyzed security camera footage, arrested him.

Mr. Davis’s impoverished family could not make his bail, and so he was sent to jail. There, he expressed his regret by writing a note of apology to the mosque, which he sent to his mother to have delivered.

Mosque officials were surprised to receive the apology but fully accepted it and told the prosecutor they didn’t want to press charges. But it was out of their hands and the young men found themselves before a judge.

Despite the mosque’s best efforts, Mr. Davis ended up with a felony conviction, and with about $3,200 in fines.

He got a job and began making small court-ordered monthly payments. If he stopped them, he could end up in prison for six years. It was a constant fear.

A reporter for The New York Times went to Arkansas to interview the dramatis personae and, although a mosque official at first suspected her of being an F.B.I. agent trying to spy on the mosque, he came to recognize the legitimacy of her professional claim.

When the reporter’s story was published this past summer (remember summer?), modest donations from readers came in, both to the mosque and to the felon, whose family had received an eviction notice. The gifts allowed the Davises to pay the security deposit and first month’s rent on a new place, and get some used furniture and a bed for their 5-year-old. Someone from Texas paid off their electric bill. Mr. Davis was able to buy a bicycle, so he could bike to work.

He continued to make the monthly payments on his fine and then, one day, he was informed that the balance of his fine had been paid. By the mosque’s social director, Hisham Yasin. Mr. Davis was shocked.

“There’s no words,” he told the reporter, covering his face with his hands.

The Jewish connection?

Well, several weeks earlier, Mr. Yasin had called the reporter to say that the mosque had received a generous donation from the Jay Pritzker Foundation. No one at Al Salam had ever heard of it, and, ever suspicious, thought at first that it was a scam and that the “foundation” would ask for its bank account number to engage in identity theft.

A bit of research, though, yielded the fact that the group was legitimate, and that the late Mr. Pritzker, for whom the foundation is named, was a Chicago Jew with roots in a shtetl near Kiev who ended up owning the Hyatt hotel chain. The Pritzker family members are major philanthropists, and the donation the foundation made to the Al Salam mosque is what inspired it to, in turn, perform its own act of kindness to the man who had been part of the swastika-painting episode.

There are, I think, several lessons in this story. First, that kindness can count. There are hateful people, but also simple-minded misguided ones. And they can change.

Second, that, cognizant as we all are of a major strain of Islam that spawns evil people and evil acts, there is only good will to be gained by establishing appropriate bonds of friendship with receptive Muslims. When, last year, tireless Masbia director Sender Rapaport rallied support within the frum community for fearful Muslim neighbors, a donor to the celebrated soup kitchen withdrew his support of it. Reb Sender did something right; the donor, something wrong.

The third lesson is not from the story itself but how it was rendered in the many publications that covered it. Other than The Times, almost none of the other media reporting the mosque’s laudable deed cared to mention the fact that it had been motivated by the act of a Jewish charity.

© 2018 Hamodia

Fake Kashrus

Long before candidate Donald Trump ever uttered the phrase “fake news,” some of us in the Jewish world involved with media were well acquainted with the concept.

From The New York Times’ description at the time of the 1991 Crown Heights riots as “[violence] between blacks and Jews,” when Jews were entirely on the receiving end of the ugliness, to a veteran Jewish reporter’s reporting as fact Orthodox Jewish blackmailers in Brooklyn, when all she had was an anonymous phone caller’s false tip. From a news description of a large, heartfelt Tehillim rally in Manhattan as “40,000 Orthodox Jews vent[ing] anger…” to the identification of a bloodied Jewish boy in Israel as a Palestinian beaten by an Israeli policeman. From the propagation of the myth that an Arab boy victim of Palestinian fire had been killed by Israeli soldiers to ahistorical descriptions of the Makom Hamikdash. An updated list would include much of the reportage on Kosel Maaravi happenings and on heterodox leaders’ claims about American Jewry.

Then there are the more subtle layers of bias. Like the aforementioned Gray Lady’s report on the twelfth Daf Yomi Siyum Hashas in 2012, a most newsworthy event, indeed; the paper chose to focus on the fact that Orthodox women don’t traditionally study Talmud.

And then there are the misquotes and words wrenched out of context. Having served as Agudath Israel of America’s media liaison for more than two decades, I have ample personal experience with that sliminess. Had I a few dollars for each time my words were misrepresented, I could put a decent dent in the tuition crisis.

The first few times I was misquoted or my words mischaracterized, I assumed I hadn’t been sufficiently clear, or that the reporters had made innocent mistakes. Eventually, though, I sobered and realized that some reporters were – sit down, please – not really interested in accuracy or truth. They were seeking, rather, some quote to plug into the article they had already written (in their heads if not their computers), on a quest to get some words from me to “massage” to fit their preconceptions.

A fresh example: Open Orthodox clergyman Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, a poster boy for the movement that ordained him, recently penned a piece for Newsweek.

After lauding himself for creating “the Tav HaYosher ethical seal to attest that kosher restaurants in North America treated their workers to the highest standards of decency and dignity,” he bemoans what he sees as a kosher certification industry “consumed with ritual detail but largely… unconcerned with… worker rights, animal welfare, environmental protection, human health, among many important ethical considerations.” And he recalls participating in a 2008 panel on kashrus at Yeshiva University.

I was on the panel too, and though Dr. Yanklowitz doesn’t identify me by name, I was the “ultra-Orthodox” spokesperson who he claims in his article implied that “people want kosher meat that tastes good and is cheap, but don’t care about the ethical route it took to the plate.”

Wondering what I said? So was I, when I saw the piece. Fortunately, at that panel, I read my speech straight from notes that night, and have the notes.

The social consciousness initiative that Dr. Yanklowitz was defending at the time was something called Hekhsher Tzedek (later renamed Magen Tzedek), a “kashrut seal” indicating that a product was not only kosher but whose production had met various workers’ rights, animal rights and environmental requirements. (Four years later, no product had received the seal, and there is no sign of it on supermarket shelves to this day.)

Since the initiative’s literature stated that the certification was intended to reflect a higher degree of kashrus, I sought to make the point that, while there are certainly valid issues of tzaar ba’alei chaim and dina dimalchusa dina by which observant food processors and producers are bound, such concerns are independent of the halachic definition of “kosher.”

“So,” I explained, “while kosher food producers are required by halachah to act ethically in every way, any lapses on that score have no effect on the kashrus of the food they produce.”

Yes, that’s it. That’s what Dr. Yanklowitz claims was a declaration that “people want kosher meat that tastes good and is cheap, but don’t care about the ethical route it took to the plate.”

And readers of Newsweek are now under the impression that Orthodox Jews are unconcerned with mistreatment of workers, animal cruelty and the environment.

In truth, Dr. Yanklowitz’s misrepresentation shouldn’t surprise me. Misrepresentation, after all – of the Jewish mesorah itself – is the very raison d’être of the movement that produced him.

© 2018 Hamodia

Window on the Warped

Interested in making a quick $14.88? Well, you might want to consider writing a racist or anti-Semitic article and submitting it to “The Daily Stormer,” one of the more famous neo-Nazi websites that sprout like noxious mushrooms on the internet.

The strange remittance amount the publication, run by a deceptively baby-faced man named Andrew Anglin, offers writers is intended to honor the 14 words of the far right slogan “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”; and the initials of “Heil Hitler” – “h” being the eighth letter of the alphabet. Those neo-Nazis are just so clever.

The site takes its name from the infamous Holocaust-era “Der Stürmer” weekly tabloid published by the notorious Julius Streicher, ym”sh, who was convicted for “crimes against humanity” in the 1946 Nuremberg Trials and hanged at Nuremberg in 1946.

Streicher’s putrid product was read by millions in wartime Germany, and regularly offered up things like a close-up of the deformed face of a man wearing a Jewish cap above the legend “The Scum of Humanity: This Jew says that he is a member of G-d’s chosen people”; a cartoon of a vampire bat with a grotesquely exaggerated nose and Jewish star on its chest; and another of a Jewish butcher sneakily dropping a rat into his meat grinder. He propagated the myth that Jews killed German young people for their blood, and advocated for the annihilation of all Jews.

Streicher famously cried out “Purim Feast 1946!” before the trap door opened beneath him on that Hoshana Rabbah. Having been apprehended serendipitously by a Jewish soldier after the war ended, in his final moment he apparently sensed something deep.

The late Nazi’s new American imitator is more subtle than his predecessor, but not by much.

The Daily Stormer’s stylebook was recently made public by a reporter, and it presents a wondrous window on warped wits.

The 17-page guide starkly states the site’s ultimate goal: “to spread the message of nationalism and anti-Semitism to the masses.” No obfuscation there.

In addition to assorted grammar and spelling rules, the guide helpfully provides long lists of offensive terms to use in the place of “Jews,” “blacks,” “Muslims,” “Hispanics” and “women.”

Still, “the tone of articles on the site,” the guide advises, “should be light,” since “most people are not comfortable with material that comes across as vitriolic, raging, non-ironic hatred. The unindoctrinated should not be able to tell if we are joking or not.”

Joking, though, Mr. Anglin is not. He states that, all kidding aside, he seriously would like to “gas Jews” – though he replaces that last word with a slur.

Astute observers of the modern (or, for that matter, not-so-modern) world have long suspected that a strange rule was being observed, one that The Daily Stormer guide declares outright: “Always Blame the Jews for Everything…As Hitler says, people will become confused and disheartened if they feel there are multiple enemies. As such, all enemies should be combined into one enemy, which is the Jews.”

“This is pretty much objectively true anyway,” the guide takes pains to add, “but we want to leave out any and all nuance.” Nuance, to be sure, isn’t much evident on the site.

“There should be a conscious agenda to dehumanize the enemy,” the document continues, “to the point where people are ready to laugh at their deaths.” Then, to simplify things for readers overly challenged by that sentence, the document boils it down: “Dehumanizing is extremely important.”

And the dehumanized, while they include other groups, must above all be “the Jews.”

“What should be completely avoided,” the guide cautions, “is the sometimes mentioned idea that ‘even if we got rid of the Jews we would still have all these other problems.’ The Jews should always be the beginning and the end of every problem, from poverty to poor family dynamics to war to the destruction of the rainforest.”

Didn’t know rainforest destruction was our doing? Welcome to the twisted world of The Daily Stormer.

Mr. Anglin claims that his site’s popularity is soaring, despite numerous internet domains’ refusals to host it. (He has reportedly moved it to the “dark web,” a part of the internet favored by the worst sort of criminal elements and accessible only with special software.)

We’re well accustomed to witnessing more “refined” forms of Jew-resentment, often cloaked in leftist “social activism,” anti-Israel rhetoric and United Nations votes.  It’s more rare to see the workings of entirely self-aware, unabashed anti-Semites.

But they’re out there, and their malice confirms the Torah’s predictions about Klal Yisrael’s galus and, ultimately, of our uniqueness.

© 2017 Hamodia

Agudath Israel on Today’s General Assembly Vote

Agudath Israel Statement on This Morning’s U.N. General Assembly Vote

The countries that voted this morning in the United Nations General Assembly to demand that the U.S. rescind its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and its plan to move its embassy there once again showed their true and ugly colors.

The General Assembly has long been a ludicrously anti-Israel forum, a grandiose soapbox where nations, including more than a few whose regimes routinely oppress, torture and murder their own citizens, wax righteously indignant at Israel’s audacity in defending herself against her many bloodthirsty enemies.

Today’s vote, however, forged a new low in the world body’s antipathy toward Israel.  Not only does the majority of the General Assembly seek to deprive Israel of the right to determine her own capital, but it seeks to prevent our own country from respecting that right.

In 1995, Congress passed a law explicitly establishing the position of the United States that “Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel,” and requiring that the American Embassy in Israel be moved to Jerusalem.  Earlier this month, President Trump announced the implementation of that law.

We are proud of the steadfast friendship toward Israel and recognition of reality that Congress and President Trump have demonstrated.  We applaud President Trump and Ambassador Haley for their courageous articulation of American values in the lion’s den of the United Nations.

And we remain ever hopeful that other responsible nations will come to recognize the special status of Jerusalem not only to the state of Israel but to the Jewish people throughout the millennia.

What is Jerusalem?

Whether one regards President Trump’s declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel as a dangerous and foolhardy move or wise and deeply principled, it cast a well-deserved bucket of cold water into the faces of the Arab and European worlds. But it also begged a question: What, exactly, is “Jerusalem”?

The recent history of Eretz Yisrael is well documented. After the decline of the Ottoman Empire, the League of Nations, in 1922, granted the British a mandate to oversee “Palestine.” In November, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly approved a partition plan creating two states: one Jewish and one Arab. Jerusalem, which had by then developed well beyond the walls of the Old City, would fall under international control as a Corpus Separatum, or “separate entity.”

That never happened. The Jewish Agency for Palestine accepted the partition plan; the Arabs did not. And the following year, on the very day the British Mandate ended, the Arabs invaded the Jewish community, starting a war which, to the invaders’ surprise, they decisively lost. So, in fact – and despite what many media persist in stating – the Corpus Separatum status of Jerusalem, as part of the Arab-rejected partition plan, never became reality.

When Israel declared its independence in May, 1948, the western half of the expanded city of Jerusalem became part of the nascent state, while the eastern half, purged of its Jews, along with the Old City, was occupied by Jordan. As we all know, and some of us vividly remember, during the 1967 Six Day War, Israel rebuffed Egypt, Jordan and Syria, and captured the Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula, Shomron and Yehudah, including the eastern part of Jerusalem and the Old City.

The Old City. The Ir Haatikah. We sometimes forget that, while Israeli law and colloquial shprach applies the name “Yerushalayim” to the greater metropolitan area outside its walls as well, the name really refers to the Old City alone.

Chanukah is coming to an end, which, to Jews who mark time Jewishly, means that the next celebration in our sights is Purim.

And hidden in Megillas Esther, as it happens, is a passuk that holds a hint well worth pondering in the context of recent events.

“Ad chatzi hamalchus,” Achashveirosh offers Esther, “up to half the kingdom” (Esther, 5:3). The Gemara (Megillah 15b) explains that Achashverosh said “up to” in order to indicate that he was not willing to offer something in the middle of the kingdom, something that would cause a political rift were he to relinquish his control over it: the Beis Hamikdash.

We optimists hope that Mr. Trump’s recent blunt statement might, in the end, push the Arab world to come to terms with reality and actually shuffle, grumbling but surely, to the negotiation table. To fantasize further, maybe Arabs in Eretz Yisrael will be brought to see the incitement and hatred they sow as counterproductive to their goal of a state alongside Israel, and desist from their regularly scheduled vilifications of Israel and Jews.

Unlikely, certainly. But, whatever our personal feelings about whether a “two-state solution” is a healthy or a noxious prospect, it is the declared goal of both Mr. Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. So let’s imagine further what might emerge from such an agreement.

It really doesn’t need much imagination; the general terms of a peace agreement have long been obvious to all informed observers. Parts of Yehudah and Shomron, from which Israel’s withdrawal would not pose undue security risks, would be ceded to the Arab state. The state would be demilitarized, and pledged to abandon its hostility toward Israel.

The western part of Jerusalem would remain Israel’s capital, and the eastern part, the new state’s.

And the Old City? Oy, there’s the rub.

Would – could? – Israel cede even part of it to an Arab state? And even if it did, what about the source of the city’s kedushah, the Mekom Hamikdash?

Truth be told, Israel is not really in possession of that sacred ground even now. While she controls access to the Temple Mount, the compound is administered by the Wakf, itself controlled and funded by the Jordanian government.

That sad reality is not likely to change, not until we merit the bias go’el tzedek. Until then, though, it should be a reminder that, even were “Jerusalem” to be recognized as the capital of Israel by the entire civilized world, even by all Arab countries and a new Arab state, rejoicing would be premature. Klal Yisrael remains, l’daavoneinu, stalled in galus.

May that situation end bimheirah biyameinu.

© 2017 Hamodia

Body and Soul

It sounds like a story about the fictional Chelm. The town philosopher sagely informs his fellow citizens that he has no face. He can’t perceive it directly, he points out, and besides, as anyone can plainly see, what people claim is his face clearly resides in his mirror.

The silly scene is inspired by celebrated scientists. Like Yale psychology professor Paul Bloom, who has lamented human beings’ stubborn commitment to “dualism,” the idea that people possess both physical and spiritual components. He pities those who believe that there is an “I” somehow separate from one’s body and brain.

“The qualities of mental life that we associate with souls…,” he asserts confidently, “emerge from biochemical processes in the brain.”

Also enlightening the backward masses is Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker, who condescendingly advises people to set aside “childlike intuitions and traditional dogmas” and recognize that what we conceive of as the soul is nothing more than “the activity of the brain.”

Or, as they might say at the University of Chelm, since the soul seems perceptible only through the brain, the brain, perforce, must be the soul.  And your stereo speakers are the music.

Sometimes, though, intuitions are right and scientific dogmas wrong. Scientists, the noted British psychologist H. J. Eysenck famously observed, can be “just as ordinary, pig-headed and unreasonable as anybody else, and their unusually high intelligence only makes their prejudices all the more dangerous.”  Some, in fact, are prone to a perilous folly: the confidence – despite the long and what-should-be chastening history of science, littered with the remains of once-coddled beliefs – that they have – eureka! – arrived at conclusive knowledge.

Were the contemporary “dualism” debate merely academic, we believing Jews might reasonably choose to ignore it. Unfortunately, though, the denial of humanity’s specialness and, perforce, of our responsibility for our choices – the unmistakable ghost in the Bloom/Pinker philosophy-machine – is of substantial import.

The idea of the  neshamah goes to the very heart of many a contemporary social issue. It influences society’s attitudes toward a host of moral concerns, from animal rights to the meaning of marriage to the treatment of the terminally ill.

In the absence of the concept of a human  neshamah, there is simply nothing to justify considering humans inherently more worthy than animals, nothing to prevent us from considering any “lifestyle” less proper than any other, nothing to prevent us from coldly ending the life of a patient in extremis. Put starkly, without affirmation of the  neshamah, society is, in the word’s deepest sense, soulless.

And the game is zero-sum: Either humans are something qualitatively different from the rest of the biosphere, or they are not. And a society that chooses to believe the latter is a society where no person has any reason to aspire to anything beyond self-gratification. A world in denial of the  neshamah might craft a utilitarian social contract. But right and wrong could be no more meaningful than right and left.

The notion is hardly novel, of course. Philosophical “Materialists,” believing only in the physical and bent on despiritualizing humanity’s essence were the high priests of the Age of Reason and the glory days of Communism.

And the footsteps in which they walked were those of Yavan. The ancient Greeks hallowed reason and inquiry, and celebrated the physical world. Eratosthenes calculated the earth’s circumference to within one percent; Euclid conceived and developed geometry; Aristarchus proposed a heliocentric model of the solar system. And the early Greeks exalted the human being – but as a physical specimen, not more.

Accordingly, the most worthwhile goal of man for the Greeks was the enjoyment of life. The words “cynic,” “epicurean,” and “hedonist” all stem from Greek philosophical schools.

Which may be why the culture that was Yavan was so enraged by Klal Yisrael’s focus on kedushah. Shabbos denied the unstopping nature of the physical world; milah implied that the body is imperfect; kiddush hachodesh saw holiness where the Greeks saw only mundane periodicity; modesty, moreover, was unnatural.

The Greeks had their “gods,” of course, but they were diametric to holiness, modeled entirely on the worst examples of human beings. And Hellenist philosophers who spoke of a “soul” were referring only to the personality or intellect. The idea of a tzelem Elokim, of a  neshamah that can make choices and merit eternity, indispensable to the Jew, was indigestible to the Greek.

Ner Hashem nishmas adam – “The soul of man is a Divine flame” (Mishlei 20:27). When we light our Chanukah lecht, we might keep in mind how, despite the declarations of some scientists and Chelmer holdouts, Klal Yisrael overcame Yavan not only on a physical battlefield but on a conceptual one no less.

© 2017 Hamodia

Agudath Israel Letter to Turkish Consul Condemning Erdogan’s Ugly Words

 

December 11, 2017

 

BY REGULAR MAIL & E-MAIL ([email protected])

Honorable Ertan Yalçın

Consul General

Turkish Consulate General in New York

825 3rd Avenue

New York, NY 10022

Dear Mr. Consul General:

I write on behalf of Agudath Israel of America, a national Orthodox Jewish organization, to register outrage over the recent reported comments of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who ludicrously called Israel – the only true democracy and humanitarian country in the Middle East – a “terrorist state” that “kills children.”

Compounding the absurdity of that charge was Mr. Erdoğan’s ahistorical assertion that “Jerusalem was ruled by Muslims for many centuries but never closed to the believers of the other religions during that time.”  It is clearly documented that, at least from 1948 until 1967, Islamic authorities and Jordan prevented Jews and Christians from visiting their holy sites in the Old City, including the Western Wall.  And it is well known and entirely evident that Israel provides access to all religious sites within its territory.  To claim the opposite is nothing less than an attempt to create false “facts.”

Mr. Erdoğan’s further assertion that “Jerusalem is the worshipping center for mainly Muslims, Christians, and partially Jews” betrays not only further deep ignorance but even deeper prejudice.

Such baseless and incendiary rhetoric has become commonplace among barbaric enemies of peace who in fact murderously target innocents as a matter of policy.  That such language now emerges from the mouth of a head of state is utterly contemptible.

Turkey for many years represented a voice of sanity and responsibility in a region cursed with delusion and violence.  It is unfortunate, indeed tragic, that recent years have seen it influenced by the worst elements around it.

Sincerely,

                                                                  Rabbi David Zwiebel

Executive Vice President

Agudath Israel of America

 

Truth Is Attractive

It wasn’t a phone call the head of the Union for Reform Judaism ever wanted to get. Taglit-Birthright was calling, with bad news.

In the U.S., the “Taglit” (“discovery”) part of the name of the non-profit organization that sponsors free ten-day trips to Israel for Jewish young adults is usually dropped; it is known simply as “Birthright.”

Founded in 1994 by two philanthropists, Wall Street money manager Michael Steinhardt and former Seagram Company chairman Charles R. Bronfman, Birthright is financed by them and other private donors, as well as by the Israeli government. More than 500,000 young people, mostly from the U.S. and Canada, have participated in the program to date.

The recent phone call was to inform the Reform leader that his movement was no longer authorized as a certified trip provider for Birthright. It wasn’t, the caller explained, because Birthright had anything against “progressive” Jewish groups, but rather a simple matter of the fact that the Reform movement had failed to meet participant quotas.

“We worked very hard with them to increase the numbers,” Birthright CEO Gidi Mark told an Israeli newspaper, “but unfortunately they could not meet our minimum.”

Although the overwhelming majority of Birthright participants come from non-Orthodox backgrounds – less than 5 percent are Orthodox Jews – Orthodox-affiliated trip providers, including the Chabad-connected group “Mayanot,” the Orthodox Union’s “Israel Free Spirit” and Aish Hatorah account for close to a quarter of total recruitment.

Birthright’s largest single donor these days is Republican supporter Sheldon Adelson. He is a promoter of the Israeli political right wing with regard to security issues and the Palestinians, but is not Orthodox. Messrs. Bronfman and Steinhardt say, “We are both secular Jews… we never saw Birthright Israel as a religious trip, though many alumni have changed their ritual practices.”

So why have Orthodox groups emerged as so disproportionate a conduit of young non-Orthodox Jews to Birthright trips?

Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, who bemoans that fact, blames it on the Israeli government’s support for what he calls “Ultra-Orthodox campus institutions.” He also is upset that young people on Birthright trips are given the option, if they choose, to attend Orthodox services during their stay in Israel.

Reform leaders are also chagrined that, although “religious indoctrination” is prohibited on Birthright trips, the Orthodox groups also often later convince Birthright alumni to, in Rick Jacobs’ words, “explore a more traditional way of Judaism.” The horror.

Asked about Orthodox organizations’ outreach work with participants after the trips, Mr. Mark said: “We are dealing with people who are very intelligent. They are all mature people older than 18. I myself never heard any one complaint about any misuse of the relationship by our trip organizers.”

Rather than stew over the fact that nonobservant young Jews seem to gravitate to groups dedicated to “a more traditional way of Judaism” – or, put more accurately, the authentic mesorah of Klal Yisrael – Reform leaders might stop seeking culprits for that offense and consider the fact that emes, truthis attractive.

Birthright certainly has never pushed Yiddishkeit in any way, and indeed shunned anything smacking of “religious indoctrination.”

It has helped ensure Jewish continuity by helping countless Jews connect in one or another way to their religious heritage by bringing them to Israel.

But for nearly 2000 years, visiting or settling in Eretz Yisrael was not even an option for most Jews. What sustained Jewish continuity over those millennia? Precisely Rick Jacobs’ “more traditional way of Judaism” – Jewish knowledge and Jewish living.

In fact, if Birthright really wanted to maximize its bang for the buck, it might consider dropping altogether its religious rejection of religion and consider a marvelous, gutsy move. Namely, amend Birthright’s existing program to maximize the Jewish impact of the gift it offers young Diaspora Jews, by providing them, say, for two or three of their ten days, an intensive Jewish learning experience in an Israeli yeshivah, seminary or outreach program catering to Jews from overseas.

Yes, that would violate the effort’s heretofore commitment to “pluralism.” But it would be entirely in consonance with Birthright’s professed goal, helping ensure Jewish continuity.

In fact, providing Jews who were raised distant from their religious heritage the opportunity to witness what it means to live a true Jewish life would be nothing less than, well, returning to them their birthright.

© 2017 Hamodia