Our friend and anonymous Jewschool.com blogger “Kung Fu Jew” wrote a raw and emotional piece a few weeks ago exploring an important tension in the Jewish communal profession, and in the Jewish community in general: are we only for ourselves, or are we serving all people? He concisely identified several different points where these tensions converge, from supporting Israel to intermarriage, and tried to explain how his work as a Jewish communal professional is actually in service to the entire world through a Jewish lens, and not in a parochial interest to perpetuate the Jewish bloodline. In doing so, he gives a powerful voice to sentiments shared by many young Jews:
There are plenty Jews in my world of the predominantly young and unaffiliated who are tired of the drumming of “Jew Jew Jew” and recoil from its incessant self-centered, self-referential, self-ish concerns. Every synagogue is just a ghetto to lock out the goyyim, they feel, every Jewish social event serves the agenda of the claustrophobic “marry a Jew!” crowd. Tied to a community that is lacking in fulfillment yet insists on their loyalty, they can’t stand to be around it. I feel the same. Yet here I am, working in the Jewish world. A young career-nik.
But I do it for the Other, not myself. For those outside my tribe, not ourselves, though beneficial to us it is. I fulfill the admonishment of Rabbi Hillel “for myself” and “for others” simultaneously. Just as the encounter with the “not me” defines “me” more than I could by myself alone, my work for others through us defines our quality…. What I abhor about the fight “against” intermarriage is the drive to identify and then root out non-Jewishness to protect us against its invasion. Jewish identity is an idea, not a bloodline; Jewish values and ideas are a legacy of appropriated Gentile ideals, not an ideology straight from Mount Sinai.
The piece begins by admitting it is an emotional reaction, and in retrospect the author may concede to some of the pushback on it, such as in response to the line, “Our communal infrastructure—federations, hospitals, schools, etc.—becomes an entrenchment of race and class privilege, where Jewish needy get saved and the rest are abandoned.” One of the responses in the comments section correctly points out, “I’m not sure it’s a fair charge that federations and hospitals care only about Jews. To the contrary, I’m pretty sure that they help a lot of people who aren’t Jewish or related to the Jewish community in any way.”
In fact, few “Jewish” hospitals have anything to do with the Jewish community anymore, as that system was build at a time when discrimination prompted parallel social-service structures based on religion, which is no longer the case. And many, if not most, of the beneficiaries of local Jewish federations are not Jewish. UJA-Federation of New York, the largest local charity in the world, provides important social services like Meals-on-Wheels for literally tens of thousands of non-Jews every year.
But the point I believe “Kung Fu Jew” is making is that to young Jews, even to young Jewish communal professionals like himself, the messaging from those institutions is about “Jews above all others.” How much marketing and advocacy is directed towards Jews about the work federations do for non-Jews, compared to promoting the Jewish “continuity” plans and Israel advocacy? Of course the Jewish community must first take care of Jews in need, this is not an “either-or” equation, but what does “in need” genuinely mean? “Kung Fu Jew” harshly criticizes how “the continuity panic drives philanthropists to prioritize week-long free vacations over the simple safety and well-being of the less fortunate.”
For “Kung Fu Jew” and many like him, promoting the Meals-on-Wheels program is actually a bigger attraction and greater Jewish value. And this is an important lesson, not just for federations that are already serving so many people in both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities, but even more so for those Jewish organizations that really are guilty of becoming an “entrenchment of Jewish privilege,” those that are driven by a perception of hanging on to the Jews rather than creating an outward-looking Judaism that is strong enough to fully engage with the outside world while retaining its core values.
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