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2019 Annual Assessment

The findings and discussion here are based upon three distinct sources of information: the individual and preliminary conversations held; the dialogue sessions conducted, and the questionnaire participants completed in the course of the sessions.

The first round of dialogue sessions took place in late February and early March 2019 and involved four communities: Toronto, Cleveland, Baltimore, and Detroit.

All four communities took pride in their extensive cooperation and collaboration to date (Perhaps Toronto less than others). This cooperation is based on the education aid the Frum community receives from the federations. Local factors in each community enhance cooperation (In Cleveland, Jews of various stripe live in physical proximity to one another in the Beechwood suburb. This leads to interaction and familiarity. In Baltimore, Herman Neuberger and the tradition of Yeshivat Ner Israel leaves a legacy of cooperation).

Nevertheless, as the sessions in each community progressed, participants realized that their cooperation and collaboration was less than it could be. This was due to a number of factors:

  • Lack of communication between the Frum and non-Orthodox communities. To a certain extent this was due to technical factors and living in different neighborhoods. Yeshivish Orthodox don’t use social media. A prevalence of stereotypes results from this lack of communication. There is a mutual lack of knowledge of the other community. For example, if the Orthodox do not attend a certain event, it is often assumed by the non-Orthodox that they have ignored the underlying issue, even if they have conducted their own events around same issue. For instance, the Yeshivish in Toronto did not attend an event held by the Toronto Federation related to the June 2014 kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers at the Tzomet Gush Etzion because the event was held at a large Conservative synagogue. Some Reform and Conservative Jews assumed that the Yeshivish had ignored or neglected the entire issue. In fact, the Orthodox, including the Yeshivish, held their own well-attended events in regard to this, which included reciting Tehillim and other activities.
  • In the New York Dialogue session, held in May 2019, several new issues were mentioned. The first is that the ultimate goals of project – increasing involvement of Haredim in general American public life, in public service and politics – may be antithetical to Haredi ideals and the Haredi way of life. The Haredi ideal is that one should dedicate one’s life to serving God through Torah study, observance of the commandments, and prayer. American Haredim for the most part agree that one needs to earn a livelihood, but that activity always carries a secondary, instrumental character. Successful involvement in American public life, whether in politics or civil service, in contrast, generally involves a career orientation.
  • To a certain extent, Orthodox (including Modern Orthodox) and non-Orthodox frame the American Jewish community discourse in very different terms. The Orthodox tend to place emphasis on assimilation and the resulting diminution of the non-Orthodox community. In our individual conversations with Haredi leaders, we learned that they have a sense of self-confidence. They feel that their model of Jewish life has stood the test of time and the trials of modernization and secularization; their population is growing, they are not beset by assimilation, and their institutions are flourishing. Thus, they desire some recognition from the wider Jewish community. However, some of the non-Orthodox reject this way of thinking, claiming that the discourse of survival/assimilation is not at the center of their Jewish lives. Rather, emphasize creating meaningful, creative Jewish lives. Thus, a potentially significant cultural chasm emerged in this session.

In almost all sessions, participants, to one degree or another, expressed a desire to learn far more about “the other” part of the community, in order to dispel stereotypes, and identity areas where joint thinking and planning might be productive. In some communities these themes were more pronounced in the discussion than in others. The discussion in the Los Angeles community was especially noteworthy insofar as these themes were the centerpiece of the session, both in the formal and informal sections. Here, the participants expressed a serious desire to extend the process.

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