It seems clear that for big problems we need big solutions, and the oft-cited ship analogy here is pertinent. When one passenger drills a hole in the side of the ship in his cabin, it is no use for him to argue that he is only damaging himself, because in time the water that seeps in will sink the entire ship and everyone will lose their lives.
The challenge facing American Jewry cannot only be the problem of those who take leadership positions in the community. This has the potential to destroy the entire community, it therefore must be seen as everyone’s problem. We need an all-hands-on-deck approach to solving this stupendous challenge facing American Jewry, where more than thirty percent of Jews don’t identify as being Jewish by religion.
There is a story in the prophets that is somewhat analogous to what is going on here, and is also instructive to the kind of solution we should be looking for. The story is found in the Book of Samuel (1, Chapter 11), where Nahash King of the Ammonites threatens the dignity and security of a group of Jews. Those Jews reach out to the newly-minted King Saul for help.
Knowing that a threat to a portion of the Jewish people is in fact a threat to all the Jewish people, King Saul recognizes that he needs to galvanize the entire nation into action. Therefore, reminiscent of a previous story in the Book of Judges (Chapters 19-20) when the entire nation was mobilized to protect the dignity of one woman who was defiled and killed, King Saul takes two oxen, cuts them into twelve pieces and sends the pieces to all the tribes of Israel. He implores them to come forth and protect the dignity and security of their brethren. The entire nation answers the call, and Nahash of Ammon and his evil plans are thwarted.
Not just one person’s responsibilityAs then, so too now. Over 30% of the Jewish people are under threat of annihilation. For these young Jews who do not identify as Jewish by religion, their children will certainly not identify as Jews at all. This trend is not only unsustainable, it is a threat to our very existence.
Something must be done to galvanize the entire Jewish people into action. When King Saul sent the pieces of oxen, it was the ancient version of a marketing gimmick. He was doing something to get people’s attention, to get them to recognize the urgency and importance of acting so that they were able to clearly see that sitting on the sidelines was just not an option.
In our case, something must be done to awaken American Jewry to this tragedy that is happening to the Jewish people in America each and every day. Although people say that the first one to bring up the Holocaust loses the argument, here I am willing to take the risk. What is going on in the United States with fading Jewish identity has the potential to hurt Jews and Judaism in a way that rivals the Holocaust.
The similarities here are also important to note. When the Holocaust was raging in Europe and European Jews were being marched into the gas chambers day after day, many in American Jewry did not feel the urgency to act to save their brethren.
Here too we are seeing the extinction of 30% of our people, and the silence from American Jewry is deafening. Something needs to be done. Something drastic. Something to galvanize and awaken the American Jewry so they recognize that this is not just one person’s responsibility. It is not just the responsibility of wealthy Jews with large foundations, or rabbis and lay leaders, it is the responsibility of each and every single one of us.
Each one of us needs to ask ourselves each day the following question: What are we going to do today to help ensure that there is a bright, thriving, and flourishing next generation of Jews who are proud to identify as Jewish by religion? We need to start this conversation and continue having it until we have been able to significantly reverse this terrible trend.
Rabbi Levi Brackman is co-founder and executive director of Youth Directions , a non-profit organization that helps youth find and succeed at their unique positive purpose in life