“Never Again!-Again!”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

Two great events have shaped Jewish life in the last 65 years: the Holocaust and the rise of the State of Israel. Ironically, sixty years later, two great untruths have emerged from these two epochal events, threatening the viability of Jewish life today.

One untruth stems from a statement which Jews have passionately recited for the last 2000 years, affirming their undying devotion to the Land of Israel, but which in the last 60 years have been shown to be a hollow and meaningless declaration. The political and emotional abandonment of the State of Israel on the part of many Jews, let alone the failure of Diaspora Jewry to move to Israel in any significant numbers, underscores the emptiness of the popular pronouncemet, “L’shanah Ha’baah Be’rushalayim,” “Next year in Jerusalem!” Perhaps, I will address that issue in my comments on Yom Ha’atzmaut. Now, however, is the time to focus on Yom Hashoah–Holocaust commemoration day.

The untruth concerning the Holocaust has become, within the last 60 years, a veritable mantra of contemporary Jewish life. The vow “Never Again” is one of the very few things that Meir Kahane ever uttered that the world Jewish community has universally embraced. This pledge underscores the determination and resolve of world Jewry to never allow the wholesale destruction of the Jewish people to take place again.

But while the American Jewish community has been chanting its “Never Again” slogans and expending hundreds of millions of dollars building Holocaust museums and memorials, a “silent holocaust” has been raging throughout North America, indeed throughout most of the Jewish world–a holocaust of assimilation.

Our parents prayed for a melting pot, but instead we’ve gotten a meltdown! While, thank G-d, this time there are no storm troopers, no barbed wire, no barking dogs, no gas chambers, the net result is exactly the same–no Jews. Benjamin Netanyahu, the former Prime Minister of Israel, pointed out several years ago that since the end of 1945 the American Jewish community has in effect lost “6 million” Jews. Since the end of World War II, the general American population has more than doubled, but the American Jewish community, because of assimilation and low birth rate, has remained numerically the same.

Tragically, as American Jews were vowing “Never Again,” building award-winning buildings on the mall in Washington, and singing “Ani Ma’amin” (“I believe in the ultimate redemption”) each year at Holocaust memorial programs held at Madison Square Garden or Temple Emanuel, one million American Jewish children were being raised as non-Jews (700,000 have been raised as Christians and 300,000 without any religion whatsoever)! Over the last decade, over 800,000 Americans have started worshiping other religions, or now practice no religion whatsoever! Yet, despite this unprecedented hemorrhaging of the American Jewish community, there is no sense of alarm, no sense of emergency, no outrage. Yes, unproductive “Continuity” meetings and conferences have been abundant, but for all practical purposes, nothing, absolutely nothing, has been done to effectively address the incredible erosion of non-Orthodox Jewish life in America.

And so, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of American Jews wait desperately to be touched, yearning to be welcomed, but don’t know where to turn. The overwhelmed and underfunded outreach organizations are outmaneuvered and “outgunned,” and are capable of reaching only relatively small numbers.

It’s time to send out the ocean liner instead of the rowboat. A significant rescue effort to reach the 4 to 5 million unaffiliated or marginally-affiliated Jews must be initiated. However, an effort of this proportion can succeed only if the so-called “committed” Jews are mobilized to reach out to the non-committed. Efforts to invite unaffiliated Jews to Shabbat and holiday tables, and one-on-one learning drives must be organized. Unless we do so, and do so now (for I fear that ten years from now most unaffiliated American Jews will be irretrievable!), history will say about us: “American Jews cannot claim like the generation of the Holocaust that they did not know. This generation just didn’t care!”

May you be blessed.

Yom Hashoah is observed this year Sunday, April 15, 2007.