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New York, NY - JFNA Chair: American Non-Orthodox Jews Need To Have More Babies

Published on: November 7, 2015 10:00 PM
By: Jerusalem Post
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New York, NY - Non-Orthodox American Jews must have more babies to ensure the future of their community, according to Michael Siegal, the outgoing chairman of the Jewish Federations of North America.

“The one thing that is occurring in the United States which is most damaging is we’re just not having enough babies in the non-Orthodox world, and that’s going to create all kinds of issues for the American Jewish community 30 or 50 years from now,” Siegal told The Jerusalem Post.

“The first law for the Jewish people is to survive; it supersedes everything. Clearly, we’re looking at a diminishing birthrate in the non-Orthodox community, which is going to create all kinds of challenges of survivability.”

Siegal spoke in a telephone interview ahead of the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, which represents more than 150 Jewish federations and 300 smaller communities in the US and Canada, from Sunday through Tuesday in Washington.

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One of the more than 30 “FEDovations” that are being presented at the GA this year is about a “Making Miracle Babies” fertility fund established by the Miami Federation to help finance the high cost of in-vitro fertilization.

FEDovations are a series of sessions in which federations from across North America showcase their work in TED Talk-style presentations to explain how they and their communities are innovatively solving these issues and looking toward the future.

Siegal, who hails from Cleveland, will be replaced as chairman during the GA by Richard Sandler, the immediate past chairman of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Sandler is a past vice chairman of the JFNA board and current executive vice president and trustee of the Los Angeles-based Milken Family Foundation.

The keynote speakers at the GA this year, which is expected to attract some 3,000 delegates, include Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, opposition leader Isaac Herzog (who will be interviewed on stage by The Jerusalem Post’s political correspondent Gil Hoffman, and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.

Israel and the American Jewish community also need to communicate more effectively, Siegal said. “Both sides of the water, Israel and the United States, have got to listen to each other much better, as opposed to just talk to each other,” he told the Post. “I think in the American Jewish community, we have a vision of Israel that is not necessarily accurate, and vice versa.”

He urged Israeli officials to visit the United States in an attempt to bridge the gap in mutual understanding.

“I think we have to understand that we really are different cultures. Israeli politicians have to understand that they have to come to the ground of the United States, and start to look and listen, and get a sense of the American Jewish narrative,” Siegal said. “When people like Prime Minister Netanyahu, Ronnie Milo, Ehud Olmert and Bennie Begin were young politicians, they came often to the United States to learn about how we connect to each other.

I think you’ve got a lot of young politicians coming up in the system in Israel who really have no connection to the Diaspora world. As an elected official in Israel, you need to know that you have a responsibility to the Jewish world as well.”

He noted the theme of the GA this year is “Thinking Forward.”

“We often get criticized as a large establishment doing the same old things, so we’re now focused on what we call ‘FEDovation’: How do we get young people more engaged in a more effective fashion? How can we bring a narrative that proves it’s not your grandfather’s organization?” he said.

Siegal said the GA was offering discussions on a diverse range of subjects. “In terms of recognizing what we’re doing for the community, we have different tracks you can sign up for,” he said. “It’s very organized, so if your interest is in aging or security, we have set up the GA so you can follow the track of the greatest interest to you while you’re there.”

According to Siegal, “The most important part of the GA is to give the people who show up the time to speak to each other, to share the best practices of your own community. ‘Here’s where I am doing well in Cleveland, or here’s where I’m doing poorly in Pittsburgh, and let’s talk with each other about how we engage our communities.”

Asked what he had achieved in his three years as chairman, Siegal pointed to what he saw as significant advances made by JFNA in working together with other Jewish organizations.

“When I got to the role, we had some issues with our partners. We have created a much more open dialogue with our partners at the Jewish Agency and Joint Distribution Committee,” he said. “There is now what I’d call ‘shalom bayit,’ respect for everybody’s role. I think we’ve created organizational structure to support the communities of North America, which is our role.”

He said the JFNA leadership had also “done some remarkable things in community support for the anti-BDS movement on campuses.

What we’ve done on security awareness in the United States is pretty profound, and we’ve also done a lot with Holocaust survivors by lobbying the US government to provide funding for their dignity. We have accomplished a great deal, recognizing we have a mission to support the most vulnerable parts of our communities.”

Siegal advised future leaders to look at the positive side of things.

“We have to listen to the next generation.

I think Shimon Peres was the author of the quote, ‘We’re a people of great dissatisfaction.’ We have a tendency to look at what we could be doing better as opposed to how much we have done. And so, I think what we have to do, is keep focusing on the positive. And the best example is the BDS movement on college campuses.

You can say, ‘Look at the rising aspects of BDS,’ as opposed to, ‘In the last year, there were four times more pro-Israel activity on campus than anti-Israel activity.” So you can say, let’s make sure we get it in the face and be anti-BDS, or we can say let’s get the four times more pro-Israel activity to 10 times! So I would always focus on the need to push forward, but not to undersell the success that we’re having by making a substantive addition to the vibrancy of the American Jewish narrative.”

He acknowledged that this year’s Iran deal had divided the American-Jewish community, and said the JFNA had sought to facilitate “an open dialogue.”

“The Iranian dialogue, for want of a better word, created dissonance not only between Washington and Jerusalem, but very much so in the Jewish community itself between the various opinions of how that played out,” he said. “During the Iranian debate, we made ourselves open to dialogue. We represent every color of the rainbow when it comes to the Jewish community. We have far Left, we have far Right, we have everything in between. We try to take a position on a national basis – individual communities took their own stances – by trying to provide our communities with the best and the most accurate information unfiltered by the media. So we arranged any number of meetings, including with the president [Barack Obama] and the prime minister [Netanyahu].”

He said there had been more than 40,000 log-ins to the 15-minute webcast on August 28 of the Jewish leadership session with Obama at the White House, which addressed such questions as “How do we repair the damage? How can we watch the hateful language? How is it we’re stressing mutual respect to the Iranians, while they’re disrespecting us?” “We asked numerous questions that you would not necessarily see in the media, and the White House was welcoming to us and pleased with the outcome,” he said.

Siegal, the chairman and CEO of the Cleveland- based Olympic Steel who is also known as a generous philanthropist, said that after stepping down as JFNA chairman, he would continue to be involved in the American-Jewish community, with a focus on encouraging Jewish camps for children.

“My personal plan is to continue to be engaged with the Jewish community in a way that I can be most useful,” said the 63-year-old father of three and grandfather of four.

Last year, he and his wife, Anita, established a $1.25 million endowment to send Jewish children to overnight camp.

“We recognize that day school education is too expensive for much of the community, so I’ve been a big supporter of Jewish camps, which I think creates great connectivity to Israel and the Jewish religion,” he said. “We need to put more resources into camping, so I’m going to work to do something about that.



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Read Comments (25)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Nov 07, 2015 at 10:44 PM yudaleph Says:

Solve the tuition problem and babies will follow.

2

 Nov 07, 2015 at 10:54 PM Anonymous Says:

Mr. Seigel,
Follow the Torah that's the ultimate formula for Jewish survivability.

3

 Nov 07, 2015 at 11:05 PM MyThreeCents Says:

The only hope for Jews is Orthodoxy.

4

 Nov 07, 2015 at 11:06 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #2  
Anonymous Says:

Mr. Seigel,
Follow the Torah that's the ultimate formula for Jewish survivability.

Its not realistic to expect modernishe yidden to drive around in minivans with 7 kids and run from mikvah to soccer practice to ballet lessons etc.

5

 Nov 07, 2015 at 11:22 PM SHHHH Says:

#1 I couldn't agree more. The tuition is holding bk a lot of babies

6

 Nov 07, 2015 at 11:31 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #1  
yudaleph Says:

Solve the tuition problem and babies will follow.

Tuition, room and boards at a good college runs from $50,000-60,000 per year so you are 100 percent correct. All the democratic candidates for President have proposed plans to reduce or eliminate tuition so this is another reason for yidden to vote democratic.

7

 Nov 07, 2015 at 11:54 PM judith Says:

Lol, there isn't even one secualar Jew under the age of 70 that is even paying attention to him.

8

 Nov 08, 2015 at 12:06 AM Anonymous Says:

What I learned from working in a secular environment was that, for the most part, the Non - Orthodox from the previous generation (in their 50s and older) are proud of their heritage and only married within the faith. They also go to Synagogue a handful of times a year.

From my generation (30s and 40s) the Non - Orthodox don't seem to care about their heritage and will marry someone from any background. They also don't go to Synagogue for prayers (they'll go for a wedding or other affair).

I don't think that having more kids is the solution.

9

 Nov 08, 2015 at 12:15 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #6  
Anonymous Says:

Tuition, room and boards at a good college runs from $50,000-60,000 per year so you are 100 percent correct. All the democratic candidates for President have proposed plans to reduce or eliminate tuition so this is another reason for yidden to vote democratic.

If the government gives it for free, who's gonna pay for it? Who will cover the costs. Our government is already outta cash. They'll only find some way to raise your taxes. Be careful what you wish for

10

 Nov 08, 2015 at 12:15 AM lazerx Says:

the non orthodox, need to return to being Torah observant. Just saying that non observant Jews need to have more babies is a waste. Non observant Jews only want to be like goyim, who don't have kids since it interferes with their personal enjoyment of life.

11

 Nov 08, 2015 at 01:36 AM ayinglefunadorf Says:

Reply to #9  
Anonymous Says:

If the government gives it for free, who's gonna pay for it? Who will cover the costs. Our government is already outta cash. They'll only find some way to raise your taxes. Be careful what you wish for

"If the govt gives it for free..." The Govt spends 450 billion on the military. How about give 1/4 of that money for free Colleges/Yeshivas etc.

12

 Nov 08, 2015 at 08:05 AM yaacov Says:

Mr. Siegal Babies will not solve your problem because more babies means either more בעלי תשובה or more mixed marriages. So either way your group is on the loosing end. The ONLY way for grow is being a Jewish the real way the TORAH way any other way you are leaving in denial.

13

 Nov 08, 2015 at 08:18 AM Anonymous Says:

Actually , Mr Siegal is right on the money ,except for the wrong reason .

14

 Nov 08, 2015 at 08:49 AM Moishe_Mechel Says:

go ahead have more kids- chances r they'll become frum anyway. the issue is when they become frum& have kids of they're own- most yeshivos & B.Y.'s won't accept THEIR children (unless they're $ucce$$ful)

15

 Nov 08, 2015 at 10:32 AM Anonymous Says:

Some people have no hesitation to display their idiocy in public. Let's look at this from a realistic perspective.

Non-Orthodox build their lifestyle according to the country where they live, not the dictates of Torah. This lifestyle neither values Torah, its mitzvos, nor the insularity of הן עם לבדד ישכון. They do not want children because they view them as burdens, not Divine gifts. They generally adopt the liberal view that lifestyle is a choice, and one is as free to marry who they wish, or what they wish, and that "freedom" means that Torah is only appropriate for someone that specifically wants it. So if non-Orthodox were to somehow feel an incentive to have more children, there would still be poor likelihood of creating continuation of that form of "Judaism". The idea may sound good on paper, but it has no practical value. I would think that this speaker should have the brains to realize that.

16

 Nov 08, 2015 at 11:04 AM ayoyo Says:

The first thing is to get all jews regardless of their affiliation to send their children to jewish schools , where they will get to appreciate their jewish heritage,history ,language and culture The average american jew with a secular education has no connection with his or her history and culture only bagels and lox and matzoh ball soup For this there is no need to marry a jewish partner
The predominant american culture model is for girls to behave as men do and become professional career seekers first. Home and children aren't important here

17

 Nov 08, 2015 at 03:28 PM MyThreeCents Says:

Non Orthodoxy is a Non religion. Having more babies will not make more Jews because like the above said, either they'll marry out or they'll become baalei teshuva.

18

 Nov 08, 2015 at 04:19 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #1  
yudaleph Says:

Solve the tuition problem and babies will follow.

He is saying secular people

19

 Nov 08, 2015 at 04:26 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #10  
lazerx Says:

the non orthodox, need to return to being Torah observant. Just saying that non observant Jews need to have more babies is a waste. Non observant Jews only want to be like goyim, who don't have kids since it interferes with their personal enjoyment of life.

Yes you are 100% correct plus non orthodox intermarry and that is the end of JUDAISM altogether. No othodox want only to have 1 or 2 kids if any and want a good life. Even the mizrachai movement limit their families in ERETZ YISRAEL. mAYBE 4 IR 5 BUT Not as many as they come.I know intermarry couples and not one has kids that are any way Jewish. There are intermarry with anybody

20

 Nov 08, 2015 at 06:10 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #6  
Anonymous Says:

Tuition, room and boards at a good college runs from $50,000-60,000 per year so you are 100 percent correct. All the democratic candidates for President have proposed plans to reduce or eliminate tuition so this is another reason for yidden to vote democratic.

Any Jew who votes democrat is mentally ill. Only the frei do....

21

 Nov 08, 2015 at 06:12 PM Anonymous Says:

How many kids does HE have????

22

 Nov 09, 2015 at 09:42 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #21  
Anonymous Says:

How many kids does HE have????

why does that matter?

And why is it your business?

23

 Nov 09, 2015 at 09:46 AM Seriously? I mean, seriously? Says:

Reply to #21  
Anonymous Says:

How many kids does HE have????

Who cares how many of this kind of Jew will be around? many are not technically Jews and don't even realize it.

Has no one ever heard of quality over quantity?

the frum Jews are doing just fine, which is as it should be. the frei Jews are doing what they want, marrying whom they want, and let them continue to do so. Should any of them come back from the dark side, they and their fifteen-children families will be welcomed by the frum communitites with open arms.

and with any mazel, Moshiach will be here before these predictions have time to come true.

24

 Nov 09, 2015 at 04:14 PM Anonymous Says:

My block has between 12 and 18 kids each in each house. Is this what the author desires? The kids are dirty, have runny noses, run into the street, aren't toilet trained til almost 4 years old. No thanks to more kids for these people.

25

 Nov 13, 2015 at 08:35 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #24  
Anonymous Says:

My block has between 12 and 18 kids each in each house. Is this what the author desires? The kids are dirty, have runny noses, run into the street, aren't toilet trained til almost 4 years old. No thanks to more kids for these people.

they will grow out of it. be grateful that they are happy and healthy, and they don't have to come into your house!

if, on the other hand, you feel they are being seriously neglected, call Social Services to check on them.

Otherwise, why is this such a problem for you?

26

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