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Jewish Groups Are Criticized For "Sowing The Seeds of Fear"

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
September-October 2000

Discussing the Anti-Defamation League`s fund-raising efforts, which "sow the seeds of fear," columnist Leonard Fein, writing in The Forward (Sept, 8, 2000) states that, "...as many organizations of uncertain purpose are wont to, it now sends mail appeals that are, well, downright embarrassing. Did you know, for example, that `our very existence as Jews is in danger?' You didn't know that? Read your mail. You will also learn that `there is no better way to show how much you care about the survival of the Jewish people' than to `accept' the B'nai B'rith Heritage Card that's enclosed with the appeal, Why? Because `in the fight for Jewish continuity, Jewish security and Jewish unity, B'nai B'rith stands alone.' It is `the heartbeat of the Jewish world.' Such nonsense is by no means unique to B'nai B'rith...the focus on fear does damage to the Jewish psyche, and thereby to the very Jewish continuity it purports to defend."  

In Fein's view, "B'nai B'rith, the World Jewish Congress and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, to name but three of the frequent offenders, all know better. They know...that American Jews are just now in very nearly a golden age...the overwhelming truth of our time is that we've never had it so good, either as individuals or as a community. Perhaps it is possible to attract some, or even many, Jews with talk of imminent crisis, of rampant anti-Semitism and escalating terrorism...But must our fears and our resentments...be the basis of our appeal for organizational loyalty? What of the love of learning and of justice, of pride and prayer? What of Judaism's attractions? The `there's an anti-Semite under your bed' school of Jewish fund-raising doesn`t make sense even for organizations that specialize in under-the-bed searches, let alone for organization that (presumably) have a richer and more hopeful agenda."  

The dangers Jews face at the present time, Fein argues, are not from bigots but "are most often dangers of our own devising. Notwithstanding the fact that adult Jewish education is burgeoning, we remain afflicted by ignorance. Notwithstanding our alleged passion for justice, too many of us remain indifferent to the plights of our less fortunate neighbors."  

Murray Friedman, director of the Myer and Rosaline Feinstein Center for American Jewish History at Temple University, writes: "Jews need to come to grips with the fact that...Jews are no longer outsiders...Almost 50 years ago, Will Herberg, whose book Protestant, Catholic, Jew profoundly influenced the study of religion in this country, declared that while it was possible: to understand Jewish sympathies for a strict reading of the First Amendment, `such a stance would not, over the long run, prove beneficial.' American Jews, he argued, `must rid themselves of the narrow and crippling minority group defensiveness that dominates much of their thought and behavior.' Herberg`s words take on special saliency today." (The Forward, Sept. 22, 2000)  

Speaking to the Jewish Federation of Washington's 75th annual meeting, Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz said that American Jews should leave behind their outdated fears of persecution and embrace a "positive" Judaism that focuses on Jewish education and knowledge." (Washington Jewish Week, Sept. 21, 2000).  

Dershowitz said that, "The great Yiddishe kop is half empty, full of all kinds of secular knowledge but bereft of Jewish knowledge. We are the least educated community in America today in terms of our own tradition...No Jew can be proud of his heritage if he doesn't understand it."  

Challenging the "tsuris theory of Jewish survival" which believes "we need problems...and persecution to stick together," Dershowitz declares that such an approach is no longer valid: "We are in the post-persecution era of Jewish life. There are anti-Semites out there, but they are at the margins...And yet somehow we can't accept the good, because we're afraid that with the good news will come the bad news of assimilation and disappearance."  

It is time, Dershowitz told the audience, to emphasize the "positive aspects of Judaism."

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