Prior to reading Andrew Silow-Carroll’s column “Jewish is as Jewish does,” (Jan. 16), I too read Naomi Schaefer Riley’s NY Post piece, “The hunger of ‘activism’.” I forwarded it to a few folks with the following words: “I thought about posting this on Facebook but said to myself…it’s from the Post, it goes against the prevailing view, and I’ll be labeleda right-wing Tea Party nut. So the challenge remains…how do we communicate the need for and promote particularistic philanthropy (without denigrating the universal) to the point where we are not labeled and ignored? Still working on it.”
I will not — cannot — challenge Silow-Carroll on what constitutes “Jewish” philanthropy. Riley’s asking what is and is not Jewish is unfortunate. Perhaps if she had asked what particularistic philanthropy is, how it is fairing today and why it is important, she would have avoided his ire. Labeling was not the primary thrust of her column and frankly in most of it she presents a challenging and disheartening trend. For those of us keeping score during the past decade or so the universal is routing the particular among a very large swath of the American Jewish community.
I hear in her column a cry to not forget our poor, our needy, and our institutions. Despite the American Jews’ upwardly mobile progress, those particular/inward needs have not “waned” as much as Silow-Carroll or many in our community may imagine. A short conversation with any of the leadership of our local agencies will confirm their struggles to keep up with our Jewish community’s needs. A conversation with representatives of JDC, JAFI, et al. will, on a Jewish international scale, do likewise.
Labeling philanthropy “Jewish” and “Not Jewish” is a fool’s errand and woefully misguided. However, I am not prepared to accept that the debilitating trend away from the particular is just fine since “whatever Jews do is Jewish.” Pointing out that caring for those outside the family should not come at the expense of those within is worthy of commendation, amplification, and repetition. Although I do not fully agree, for this debate I’ll concede “the Jewish agenda will be determined by the people calling themselves Jewish.” However, leaders of the Jewish community certainly should lead “the people” to an understanding of their Jewish identity that includes not only meeting universal needs but the particular needs as well. I would place that responsibility on all “Jewish” institutions.
Gary O. Aidekman