The year was 2006, and as we sat in the backseat of a town car driving through North Beverly Hills, Rabbi Grossman watched in amazement as a machine was talking to the driver.
“What is this machine called?” asked the Rav.
“A GPS”, he was told. Having no Internet or TV in his home, much less a GPS in his own car, Rabbi Grossman was star-struck, very apropos to LA.
“What is it doing for you?” he asked.
The driver explained. By now the Rav had a twinkle in his eye; you knew this was going to be good.
“So,” the Rav said. “SONY sends a satellite up into the sky, and the TV up there watches you. The man in the TV tells you to turn left, you turn left. He tells you to go straight, you go straight. Yes?”
“Exactly,” laughed the driver.
“So if SONY tells you to go right, but you don’t want to listen to SONY and instead you go left, you have a crash, correct?”
“Maybe,” said the driver. “But why would I do that and get myself into trouble? I listen to what the GPS tells me to do.”
By now the twinkle in his eye turned into a great epiphany. Rabbi Grossman looked at me and said: “Nu, and we Jews have a JEW-PS, not a GPS. His name is Hashem. His Torah is our satellite. If every Jew in the world would follow the word of the JEW-PS like they do the GPS, we would have no problems!”
I wished I could stop the Jewish World right then and there, and make everyone listen. What a concept!
Two weeks ago we presented the facts associated with the results of the Pew Survey on Jewish Identity, a study which hit hard and often at the belly of American Jewry. Jewish Leaders across the spectrum chimed in with their opinions and visions, many of which were so naïve, so simple-minded that one quickly realized how easy it was to get into this mess in the first place. I ended my column by observing that not one opinion or explanation included a simple five-letter word solution which is the basis of our existence. Torah.
I want to pay homage here to a man named George Hanus from Chicago. A businessman with great vision, nearly two decades ago he called on all Jews to bequeath 5% of their wealth to a local Jewish day school. Fearing the inevitable, Hanus understood and foresaw the realities we are dealing with today. He spoke publicly and he placed ads in newspapers in an effort to cajole people to participate in his 5% Solution. If every Jew followed suit, American Jewry could have a viable future. Hardly anyone paid heed.
The time for Band-Aids is over. Our identity is based on the Torah, on a belief in one God, whose word was handed down to us through Moses. We are a monotheistic religion and people. There is nothing new here, yet in an age where there is every imaginable shtick to reach every Jew in every way to get them to somehow identify as Jewish, the one solution not tested and tried by 80% of our brethren is the Torah. Too old-fashioned. Too dogmatic. Too questionable. Too biased. Too chauvinistic. Too immoral. Too easy to dismiss. Because it tells the truth that people don’t want to hear.
Unless our mega-philanthropists convene yesterday and agree to form an immediate multi-billion dollar plan to register every Jewish child for free into a Jewish day school, it’s game over for almost all of us. Make that free Nursery and Kindergarten and even grades 1 and 2. And throw in free Jewish camp too. Hire the best actuarial group you can find, do the math and get to work. And quickly please. Or else. Or else what, you say? Or else the following three things occur in America within the next two generations:
The Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements shrink into oblivion;
The Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionist movement dwindles to a precious few, as most of the adherents make aliyah to Israel, thus leaving the Yeshivish/Chareidi movement as being the only viable, flourishing form of traditional Jewry left in America.
To extrapolate, 10 generations from now tour guides in Israel will be running “legacy trips” to Teaneck and the Five Towns to show our great-grandchildren how we once all lived, much like we now visit Poland and Russia, Germany and Hungary. And you can bet the tour participants will each have the latest GPS, as they won’t recognize the place.
Robert Katz has been a Bergen County resident for 25 years and has been a Jewish communal professional since graduating Yeshiva Unversity in 1985. He can be reached for comments at: rkatz_jewishlinkbc.com
By Robert Katz