27 October 2009

The Real Gornisht

So we're hanging our hat on a few kids who got married? A whopping 57%?!

Wow! Have they had kids yet? Changed a diaper? Taught their kid the Kiddush? Chosen a school? Where's a guy to turn when the funders buy the academic departments and pay for the studies that interpret the direction of Jewish life?

I just don't get it. Why, even among the supposedly older and more dispassionate population, do academics stand at news conferences and release studies in academic institutions and departments paid for by the very philanthropists funding the projects being studied and the studies themselves--and pronounce them an objective success so soon after their purported launch? Academic perspective and historic conclusions about 18-26 year olds from 5-8 years ago? Is our attention span that corrupted?

Professor Len Saxe's "Generation Birthright" study looks at kids who went on birthright from 2001 to 2004 and concludes that because 57% married in, the trip is a rousing success. Could be. Who knows? After all, isn't that more accurately determined 50 years from now, based on what kind of kids they raised, what kind of lives they led, what kind of philanthropy they themselves practiced? Why all the need for instant statistical gratification?

Do we really know enough yet, from an historical perspective, to draw real conclusions? Or are we more interested in selling products for selling's sake? Michael Steinhardt, one of the great exemplars of irrational anger and odd pronouncements in the Jewish world, apparently said at the press conference, “Jews around the world should be appalled by the level of education in the non-Orthodox Jewish world. It has to be very different, and I don’t hear anything different today. You ask about the impact of Jewish philanthropy -- well, the impact has been 'gornisht.'

Several times in the past few years I actually asked Michael directly for funding aid to our growing community in Brooklyn (his native borough) and he declined, arguing that his focus was on other matters. Too bad. Solid investors know that there's a difference between quick profits and long-term gain and hard as it may be for the Steinhardts of the world to admit, the most long-running institution of Jewish life that has existed for nearly two thousand years has been the synagogue. To some, she's the ugly bride of the Jewish world, neglected by those ambivalent about their own relationship to Torah and God.

What is the difference if 57% marry "in" if there aren't adequate resources to teach Torah to young couples and their children should they be so blessed? The continued neglect of this crucial population is proof that the understanding of many funders for the real investment frontier of Jewish philanthropy is "gornisht."

Show me in real dollars the philanthropic investment in synagogues at the same level that we have seen for birthright, and I'll shut up. In the meantime, we are being condescended to and it's insulting.

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