Last week was a busy week in Israel, first at the World Zionist Organization’s World Conference for Orthodox Rabbis and Community Leaders and also some lecturing for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a think tank headed by former Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Dore Gold, founded by noted political scientist Daniel Elazar. It is comprised of prominent academicians in a wide variety of fields, attorneys and judges, municipal leaders, rabbis, and journalists who all hail from across the ideological and religious spectrum.
My lecture — and the follow up seminar — was entitled “The Growth of Orthodoxy in America: Trends and Counter-trends” which more than fifty people attended. I shared my observations of the dozens of Jewish communities I have observed over the past five years, discussed my impressions drawn from my rabbinate and professional psychological experience, and shared my opinions regarding the alleged “sliding to the right” of the Modern Orthodox community. I also discussed the various problems facing the Orthodox community, including the cost of Jewish education, drop-out from Orthodoxy, the singles phenomenon, addictions and abuse, smugness and triumphalism, and the wide-spread deterioration of Orthodox Jewish family life. Of particular interest to the group was my analysis of the changing relationship of the Orthodox Diaspora to Israel.
From there I was given a ride to the WZO conference by Rabbi Moshe Edelman, the Chief Rabbi of Helsinki, Finland. This was my first opportunity while here to learn in detail about some of the lesser-known “exotic” Jewish communities across the world.
At the conference, I chaired a panel on “Jewish Solidarity in a Time of Crisis”. I gave brief introductory remarks and was followed by a stirring address by former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau who drew from a “Ksav Sofer” in the week’s parsha and used a simple thought to great advantage with his typical homiletic flair. Rabbi Lau was followed by Bar Ilan Rector Moshe Naveh, President of the Paris, France “Consistoire”, Dr. Yoel Margui, and Director of Emunah Israel Mrs. Liora Minke. We also heard opening remarks from the director of the Chief Rabbi’s office, our good friend Mr. Oded Wiener.
The next day, at Kibbutz Lavi I sat during dinner with a group of rabbis from a fascinating array of countries: (the former) Yugoslavia, Macedonia, and Croatia. The rabbi from Yugoslavia, based in Belgrade, learned about Kashrut at the very first ASK OU seminar eight or 9 years ago. On a side note, he translated several of the OU’s Arye Kaplan books into Serbian and reports that they are widely read.
A panel discussion today focused Pidyon Shevuyim and the role of the rabbi in times of crisis. Rav Shear Yashuv Cohen, Chief Rabbi of Haifa was in attendance and he, a strict vegetarian, still remembers the vegetarian meal Chavi prepared for him at our home in Baltimore about twenty years ago.
I met as well with some younger men on the trip who are attending yeshivot and hope to return to their far-flung communities to assume rabbinic positions, Selah, from the Bnai Menasheh of India who is now studying at Yeshivat HaKotel. Am mefuzar u’mefurad indeed!