Despite an increasing sense of betrayal, Reform Jews must reach out to allies among other faiths and cultures and at the same time work to preserve their own identity and convert others to their faith, the movement's leader urged yesterday.
The "builders of bridges" in the old civil rights coalition have been replaced by "demagogic clowns and anti-Semitic hatemongers," infecting "an ever-increasing number of American Jews with their own separatist virus," said Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
"But we Jews have never achieved our freedoms alone," he reminded more than 4,000 delegates to the union's biennial meeting at the Baltimore Convention Center.
Victories over the Syrians in Biblical times were aided by the rise of the Roman empire; Jews were freed from the 19th-century ghettos of Europe by enlightened non-Jews; and the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution, which has "buoyed our present high status in this land," was "neither crafted nor realized by Jews," Rabbi Schindler argued.
"We need friends to prevail," he said. "But we will not find and retain them if we care only for ourselves. If we do not feel the pain of others, they will not feel our pain. If we stand aloof from their causes, we can scarcely expect them to stand at our side."
His keynote address comes at a time when David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klansman and neo-Nazi, is running a strong race for governor of Louisiana and after a summer in which the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn exploded in violence when a black child was struck and killed by a car driven by a Hasidic Jew.
It also came a day after a study by the Marjorie Kovler Institute for Black Jewish Relations showed that the gulf between blacks and Jews may not be as wide as one might think.
"Statistics show that we may soon be less than 2 percent of the American population," Rabbi Schindler said. "How shall 2 percent win battles on behalf of Israel, on behalf of Soviet Jewry, on behalf of church-state separation if we have no allies?"
Not only must Jews reach out to allies, but they must reach out to other Jews who have fallen away from their faith and to non-Jewish spouses, he said.
While the Reform movement has grown in recent years, the ranks of practicing Jews has continued to shrink. More Jews have converted out of the faith than others have converted to it. And more than half of Jewish children marry outside the faith.
Yet forbidding intermarriage would only alienate young Jews, who would marry outside the faith anyway, and create painful rifts in their families, Rabbi Schindler said. Instead, he said, Jews should "intensify our efforts to gain converts both before and after marriage."
He coaxed the delegates to "move away from the neutral, non-proselytizing stance" and put on "a full-court press" to "persuade our children either to marry Jews or to urge their non-Jewish partners to opt for Judaism."
And in order to strengthen the faith of young Jews, Rabbi Schindler called for intensified programs of Jewish study for adults as well as children, for expansion of summer programs and for an endowment program for synagogues that are "responsible for teaching our children to be Jews."
Turning to international issues, Rabbi Schindler also called for an end to arms sales in the Middle East.
"Let us call on our government to reign in the machinery of war," he said, "so that the tables of Madrid will not be standing astride a minefield which can detonate with the slightest misstep and blow our slender hopes for peace sky high."