COMES THE MILLENNIUM: ITS STILL TOUGH TO BE JEWISH! : 100 Years in the Life Of An Immigrant Family

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In , the largest communities were:. In the late s and the s the reconstruction and the reconstitution of existing communities, and the founding of new ones, were the order of the day throughout the Jewish world. The Jewish communities of continental Europe all underwent periods of reconstruction or reconstitution in the wake of wartime losses, changes in the formal status of religious communities in their host countries, emigration to Israel, internal European migrations, and the introduction of new, especially Communist regimes.

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Those communities in Muslim countries were transformed in response to the convergence of two factors: the establishment of Israel and the anticolonial revolutions in Asia and Africa. The greater portion of the Jewish population in those countries was transferred to Israel, and organized Jewish life, beyond the maintenance of local congregations, virtually came to an end in all of these countries except Iran, Morocco, and Tunisia.

English-speaking Jewry and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Jews of Latin America were faced with the more complex task of adapting their organizational structures to three new purposes: to assume the responsibility passed to them as a result of the destruction of European Jewry, to play a major role in supporting Israel, and to accommodate the internal changes of communities still in the process of acculturation. Many of the transient Jewish communities in Asia and Africa were actually founded or shaped in this period, while others, consisting in the main of transient merchants or refugees, were abandoned.

The collapse of the USSR and its Communist empire which had the last major concentration of Jews in Europe led to another spurt of community-building in the years immediately after Demonstrating the Jewish talent for self-organization, organized Jewish communities rapidly appeared throughout the former Soviet Union, first local communities, then countrywide.

While many of those who led in the establishment of these communities later emigrated to Israel, the communities have continued to exist. Thus, after seventy years of being denied the right to organize as Jews, with very few exceptions, every significant Jewish population concentration once again had an organized community.

At first, the pattern of Jewish communal organization followed that of the modern epoch with some modifications, but as the postmodern epoch leaves its own imprint, the differences in status and structure are diminishing. A common pattern of organizations is emerging, consisting of certain basic elements, including:. Governmentlike institutions , whether umbrella organizations or separate institutions serving discrete functions, that play roles and provide services at all levels countrywide, local, and, where used, intermediate which, under other conditions, would be played, provided, or controlled, whether predominantly or exclusively, by governmental authorities for instance, services such as external relations, defense, education, social welfare, and public, that is, communal, finance , specifically: -- a more or less comprehensive fundraising and social planning body; -- a representative body for external relations; -- a Jewish education service agency; -- a vehicle or vehicles for assisting Israel and other Jewish communities; -- various health and welfare institutions.

Local institutions and organizations that provide a means for attracting people to Jewish life on the basis of their most immediate and personal interests and needs, specifically: -- congregations organized into one or more synagogue unions, federations, or confederations; -- local cultural and recreational centers, often federated or confederated with one another.

General purpose mass-based organizations, operating countrywide at all levels, that function to: a articulate community values, attitudes, and policies; b provide the energy and motive force for crystallizing the communal consensus that grows out of those values, attitudes, and policies; and c maintain institutionalized channels of communication between the community's leaders and "actives" "cosmopolitans" and the broad base of the affiliated Jewish population "locals" for dealing with the problems facing the community, specifically: -- a Zionist federation and its constituent organizations; -- fraternal organizations.

Special interest organizations which, by serving specialized interests in the community on all planes, function to mobilize concern and support for the various programs conducted by the community and to apply pressure for their expansion, modification, and improvement.


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The resultant model is presented in schematic form in figure 2. The United States, with over half of all the Jews in the diaspora, stands in a class by itself.

The situation of a very large, fully modern society, established from the first on individualistic principles, pluralistic in the full sense of the word, settled by several significantly different waves of very adventurous Jewish immigrants who shared a common commitment in seeking new lives as individuals, was not conducive to the development of sufficient homogeneity to permit the formation of a neat communal structure.

The organized American Jewish community is entirely built upon an associational base. That is to say, not only is there no inescapable compulsion, external or internal, to affiliate with organized Jewry, but all connections with organized Jewish life are based on voluntary association with some particular organization or institution, whether in the form of synagogue membership, contribution to the local Jewish Welfare Fund which is considered to be an act of joining as well as contributing , or affiliation with a B'nai B'rith lodge or Hadassah chapter.

Indeed, the usual pattern for affiliated Jews is one of multiple association with memberships in different kinds of associations that reinforce one another and create an interlocking network of Jewish ties that bind the individual more firmly to the community. Without the associational base, there would be no organized Jewish community at all; with it, the Jewish community attains social, and even a certain legal, status that enables it to fit well into the larger society of which it is a part. The associational basis of American Jewish life is manifested in a wide variety of local and countrywide organizations designed to suit every Jewish taste.

While these organizations may be confined to specific localities or may reflect specific interests, classes, or types on a strictly supralocal basis, the most successful ones develop both countrywide and local facets. It is no accident that B'nai B'rith, a countrywide even worldwide federation of multistate districts and local lodges, and Hadassah, a countrywide organization that emphasizes the role of its local chapters which are further divided almost into neighborhood groups , are the two most successful mass Jewish organizations in the United States.

Hungary before 1918

The key to their success is that they provide both an overall purpose attuned to the highest aims of Jewish life as well as local attachment based on the immediate social needs of the individual Jew in such a way as to allow people to be members for either reason. Sooner or later, all large countrywide Jewish organizations have found that their survival is contingent upon developing some sort of serious local dimension to accommodate the very powerful combination of American and Jewish penchant for organizational arrangements on federal principles.

While certain of its organizations sometimes succeeded in developing from the top down, the institutions of the American Jewish community are essentially local and, at most, loosely federated with one another for very limited purposes.

The three great synagogue movements, for example, are essentially confederations of highly independent local congregations, linked by relatively vague persuasional ties and a need for certain technical services. The confederations function to provide the requisite emotional reinforcement of those ties and the services desired by their member units. As in the case of the other countrywide organizations, they combine countrywide identification with essentially local attachments. With the exception of a few institutions of higher education and, once upon a time, a few specialized hospitals, now nonsectarian , all Jewish social, welfare, and educational institutions are local in name and, in fact, some loosely confederated on a supralocal basis.

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The demands placed upon the American Jewish community beginning in the late s led to a growing recognition of the need to reconstitute the community's organizational structure at least to the extent of rationalizing the major interinstitutional relationships and generally tightening the matrix. These efforts at reconstitution received added impetus from the changes in American society as a whole and the Jews' position in it after They signaled the abandonment of earlier chimerical efforts to create a more orthodox organizational structure in imitation of foreign patterns which, given the character of American society as a whole, would have been quite out of place.

What has emerged to unite all these highly independent associations is a number of overlapping local and supralocal federations designed for different purposes. The most powerful among them are the local federations of Jewish agencies and their countrywide confederation, the Council of Jewish Federations CJF , which have become the framing institutions of American Jewry and its local communities. They are the only ones able to claim near-universal membership and all-embracing purposes, though not even the CJF has the formal status of an overall countrywide umbrella organization.

Other federal arrangements tend to be limited to single functions and their general organizations rarely have more than a consultative role or power of accreditation. This unity on a confederative basis , which characterizes American Jewry, is very different from unity on a hierarchical one; what emerges is not a single pyramidal structure, nor even one in which the "bottom" rules the "top" as in the case of most of the communities with representative boards , but a matrix consisting of many institutions and organizations tied together by a crisscrossing of memberships, shared purposes, and common interests, whose roles and powers vary according to situation and issue.

While there are variations among them, characteristic of all of the Jewish communities whose origin is in the British Commonwealth is an ambivalence in defining their Jewishness. On the one hand, there is the sense on the part of both the community and the larger society of which it is a part that Jewish attachment is a form of "religious affiliation" and that every individual has free choice in the matter. On the other, there is an equally strong feeling that somehow Jews stand apart from the majority "Anglo-Saxon" population and can never bridge that gap.

Regardless of the intensity of their Jewish attachments, the overwhelming majority of Jews in these countries have culturally assimilated into the wider society's way of life.

COMES THE MILLENNIUM: IT'S STILL TOUGH TO BE JEWISH! : 100 Years in the Life Of An Immigrant Family

Thus the associational aspects of Jewish affiliation are far more important than the organic ones, however real the latter may be, and the community structure is built around associational premises from top to bottom. The communities themselves have no special status in public law. At most, there is an umbrella organization which is formally or tacitly accepted as the "address" of the Jewish community for certain limited purposes, and subsidiary institutions which are occasionally accorded government support along with similar non-Jewish institutions for specific functions.

Nor do the communities have any strong tradition of communal self-government to call upon. All are entirely products of the modern era, hence their founders were either post-emancipation Jews or Jews seeking the benefits of emancipation and desirous of throwing off the burdens of an all-encompassing corporate Jewish life.

The larger communities in this category, at least, were created by successive waves of immigration, the greatest of which arrived in the past years; hence the history of their present communal patterns does not go back more than three or four generations, if that. Most of their present leaders are sons of immigrants, if not immigrants themselves. Boards of Deputies: Eleven of these communities have representative boards, usually called "Boards of Deputies," as their principal spokesmen.

These representative boards in most cases formally embrace virtually all the other Jewish institutions and organizations in the community. Those other organizations, however, while nominally associated with the Board are, for all practical purposes, independent of and even equal to it in stature and influence. Fundraising, religious life, and social services tend to be under other auspices. The Board tends to be pushed in the direction of becoming the ambassador of the Jewish community to the outside world rather than its governing body.

This tendency has been accelerated since World War II by the "coming of age" of the last great wave of immigrants and the consequent diminution of the monolithic character of most of the communities. The increase in competing interests, the decline in religious interest, and the growth of assimilatory tendencies have all contributed to this change. Communities with representative boards are also constructed on federal lines. At the very least, the Boards become federations of institutions and organizations. In federal or quasi-federal countries, they become territorial federations as well.

The Eastern European Jews who migrated to Latin America in the twentieth century established replicas of the European kehillah , without official status but tacitly recognized by Jews and non-Jews alike as the organized Jewish community.

Hungary before 1918

The central institutions of these communities have a distinct public character but no special recognition in public law. Founded in the main by secularists, these communities were built in the mold of secular diaspora nationalism as it developed in Eastern Europe and emphasize the secular side of Jewish life. Since they function in an environment that provides neither the cultural nor the legal framework for a European-model kehillah , they must rely on the voluntary attachment of their members.

The Latin American communities were relatively successful in maintaining this corporate pattern until recently because the great social and cultural gap between Jews and their neighbors aided in giving the Jews the self-image of a special and distinct group, but it has become increasingly difficult to maintain this as the gap disappears.

Ashkenazim and Sephardim organized their separate communities, in some cases by country or city of origin. Just as Jewish immigrants did not assimilate into their host countries, so, too, they did not assimilate among themselves. In the course of time, these communities loosely confederated with one another to deal with common problems that emerged in their relations with their external environment, essentially problems of immigration, anti-Semitism and Israel.

At the same time, each country-of-origin community retains substantial, if not complete, autonomy in internal matters and control over its own institutions. In three of the larger Latin American countries Argentina, Brazil and Colombia the indigenous federal or quasi-federal structure of the countries themselves influenced the Jews to create countrywide confederations based on territorial divisions officially uniting state or provincial communities which are, in fact, local communities concentrated in the state or provincial capitals.

In the other countries, the local community containing the overwhelming majority of the Jewish population itself became the countrywide unit, usually by designating its federation as the "council of communities. None of these tacitly recognized communal structures has been in existence for more than three generations, and the communities themselves originated no more than four generations ago. Most of the smaller ones are just now entering their third generation, since they were created by the refugees of the s and s.

Consequently, many, if not most, are still in the process of developing an appropriate and accepted communal character. The great postwar adjustment that has faced the Latin American communities centers on the emergence of a native-born majority. This new generation has far less attachment to the "old country" way of life with its emphasis on ideological and country-of-origin ties, hence the whole community structure is less relevant to them. Moreover, most of the , Jews living in Latin America are located in unstable environments that do not necessarily encourage pluralism.

Many of them are already beginning to assimilate into their countries, or at least into the local radical movements, in familiar Jewish ways. For an increasing number of Jews, the deportivo , or Jewish community recreation center, often seems the most relevant form of Jewish association and the building block for Jewish organizational life. The rise of these new institutions may foreshadow a new communal structure, based on local territorial divisions, that is emerging in these communities, with its accompanying substructure of associational activities whose participants are drawn in on the basis of common interest rather than of common descent.

In the wake of the destruction in World War II and subsequent communal reconstruction, the Jews in this region have developed new forms of communal association while at the same time retaining the formal structures of governance of the previous epoch. This is most obvious in the case of those communities which in the modern epoch had exhibited either the characteristics of a Kultusgemeinde comprehensive state-recognized communal structure or a consistoire state-recognized or semiofficial religious structure.