For decades, study after study tells us that the Jewish community’s biggest fear remains Jewish detachment and assimilation. We remain Jewish for three reasons: religion, strong affinity and/or strong feelings of historical connection. All three of these reasons, however, are not preventing our assimilation rate, shockingly, from growing higher and higher. Those Jews who are connected are in the fold and understand why they are Jewish and why they want their families to remain Jewish. It does not guarantee their children or future generations will feel Jewish, but it provides a needed baseline. How do we all work together to stem our future losses?
Over the past 20 years, the communal world has come to understand the importance of Jewish day schools and the State of Israel as the two best strategies in combating our assimilation. The recognition and growth of Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and community day schools through dynamic supporting organizations such as PARDES, PEJE, RAVSAK, SDSN and YU and federations throughout the country, as well as the growth of Birthright, is proof of these communal priorities. It is time to add the third prong to our strategy of Jewish continuity and survival.
For decades the communal response to the Holocaust has been based on perpetuation and memorials with the year-after-year promotion of Yom Hashoah, Kristallnacht, sending survivors as speakers to non-Jewish and Jewish day schools and survivor and generation groups and meetings. The day of firsthand accounts is sadly nearing the end, as our survivor generation is nearly over.
Relying on the same formula with second and third generations is not an answer. It is time for a new and bold understanding of how important the memory of 6,000,000 precious Jewish souls can have on our assimilation and continuity woes when connected and applied with similar strategies as our Jewish day schools and the State of Israel.
To succeed, those combating assimilation need to view the Holocaust through the new prism of post-survivor realities.
Combating assimilation is all about connecting Jewish souls to their feelings. Focusing in creative and unique ways on the lives of those who survived, had children, built successful lives from nothing within our local U.S. cities, and who established long and lasting relationships with the broader community, is one of many ways to reach back to the lives lost.
How we succeed in making these new and creative connections to engage our future lost Jewish souls is the question. Just 20 years ago, Jewish day schools and Israel were not believed to be credible responses to assimilation, and that has changed dramatically today.
Becoming creative with the memories of those who perished is just as vital to prevent the loss of future generations. G-d willing, may we continue to work together to find ways and methods to prevent the continuing loss of so many Jewish souls.
Harry Kozlovsky is a former chairman of the Holocaust Commission at the Baltimore Jewish Council and currently is a board member of the Jewish Community Centers of Baltimore.