Locked Out Of The Jewish Community
I attended the AIPAC conference in Washington DC this week. 10,000 Jews in one place coming together to proudly and unequivocally voice their support for Israel. The atmosphere is electrifying and the speakers are inspiring and amazing. Keynote speakers include Vice President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and Minister Ehud Barak. There are also hundreds of breakout sessions with top thought leaders, politicians, academics and journalists.
I know so many more people who would love to attend but the cost is simply prohibitive. It made me wonder about how many things in Jewish life cost money and how often only those with means are able to participate in Jewish communal life to the fullest extent. Shabbat dinners, Holiday parties, shul memberships and of course, most importantly, the prohibitive cost of Jewish Day schools.
I was talking with a community activist and we were discussing how many people we know who are sadly dating non-Jews or have inter-married. And these are the young Jews who we know of and have at some point attended a Jewish event or are self-identified as Jews. These are the Jews on the email list of communal organizations. We are not even talking about those that are so disconnected that they unknown to or can no longer be reached by these organizations. I have to believe that the expensive nature of being part of an active Jewish community at best does not help and at worst contributes to the alarming assimilation rates.
I run a very cash-strapped non-for-profit organization – Jewish International Connection New York (www.jicny.com ). Our various programs are very popular and more often than not, we have a long waiting list and have to turn people away from sold-out events. Given the fragile economic situation, we are often asked why we do not increase the price of our events – a function of simple supply and demand. I passionately feel that by doing so, we will just be yet another organization making Jewish life too expensive and paradoxically, those who are most disconnected from their Judaism are most sensitive to price so we would land up filling up our events with those who already value their connection to Judaism and turning away those most at risk of assimilation – a tricky situation for a cash poor kiruv organization indeed. Whether the perceived value is too high or people are new to NY struggling to make ends meet is somewhat irrelevant. I want to include all Jews without consideration of finances.
I am constantly bothered so much by the intermarriage and assimilation rates. It is constantly at the back of my mind and provides me with the passionate energy to spend 40 hours a week as a pure volunteer on JICNY work in addition to my “day job”. I don’t have immediate answers to solving the Jewish Day school cost problem or how AIPAC could include people who have difficulty coming up with the $500 to attend the conference. But, within the microcosm of my organization, I am determined to never let cost be a gating factor to participation in a meaningful Jewish life.
Originally published: March 7, 2013
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