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Bonnie Glick, Guest Columnist

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Yes, Virginia, there are Jews there
by Bonnie Glick, Guest Columnist
May 25, 2017 | 125 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
First, the bad news. Shockingly, we have all been hearing and reading about vicious anti-Semitic attacks in Europe: shootings, stabbings, political leaders rabble-rousing crowds to rise up against Jewish communities and to blame them for society’s ills. This has led to a large uptick in the decision by many European Jews to make aliyah and relocate to Israel. Here at home, we’re hearing more about anti-Semitism on college campuses — anti-Jewish rhetoric that is cloaked in the venomous language of “anti-Zionism,” a convenient way for Students for Justice in Palestine and similar social justice warriors to smear the Jewish people and the Jewish homeland.
Now, some good news. What we don’t often hear about are the vibrant Jewish communities south of our border. Having spent much of my career in Latin America, I have had the wonderful opportunity to visit, worship and participate in activities with many of these communities in their synagogues, their day schools, their community centers and among their citizens. I am happy to report that Jewish life, from Mexico southward, is active, meaningful and much larger than many Americans believe. In fact, hundreds of thousands of Jews live in Latin America, with communities in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, home to the largest among them.
This misunderstanding runs in both directions. During a Shabbat service at the Orthodox Beit Yaakov Congregation in Sao Paulo, Brazil, my Brazilian friend introduced me as her “sister from the United States.” One of her local friends asked if I was from New York. When I responded that I wasn’t, rather that I was from Washington, D.C., she asked with sincere surprise, “There are Jews in Washington, D.C.?” The following Shabbat I was sitting in my Conservative congregation and told my friend that I spent the previous Shabbat in shul in Sao Paulo. He was somewhat surprised and asked, “There are Jews in Brazil?”
I make a point of visiting synagogues everywhere I travel, and strongly encourage other Jews to do the same. This exploration is in part out of curiosity, but started mostly because I spent a year saying Kaddish every day for my father, of blessed memory. I have continued visiting these holy places as part of my regular travels in the region. In each city, including Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Bogota, Montevideo, Uruguay, Santiago, Chile, Mexico City, Managua, Nicaragua, San Jose, Costa Rica, and Panama City, Panama, I made sure to check out the Jewish presence in each. We in the United States need to remember that Jewish roots in Latin America often date back to the 1600s. In every city, I was welcomed by local co-religionists, invited to daven and even received an aliyah to the bimah to recite El Maleh Rahamim in Mexico City to note the end of the first 30 days of mourning for my father.
Although each country is nominally Catholic, many other faiths are recognized, including large communities of evangelical Christians, Mormons and Jews. In spite of their small numbers, Jews in Latin America are among the leaders of their countries. In most countries, kosher food and locally butchered kosher meat is available. In Argentina Jews serve in the Parliament. In Panama, Jews have built up much of the infrastructure around the nation’s airport and banking industry. In Brazil, hundreds of young people travel to Israel each year as part of the Taglit/Birthright Israel program. Hundreds more participate, along with older generations, in the March of the Living in Eastern Europe.
Jews are vibrant members of the communities in which they reside. Last month, I was in Montevideo during Yom HaShoah and was invited to a community-wide memorial service held in the Comunidad Israelita, the local Jewish Community Center. To my surprise, there were thousands of people crowded into the sanctuary for a beautiful and meaningful commemoration ceremony that included the following unforgettable scene: Seven Holocaust survivors were invited to light memorial candles, one of whom was a Sephardic woman from Macedonia who fled through Albania and was protected there by Muslims during the war.
Her daughter, Dinah Spitalnik, has written her mother’s history in Spanish and is in the process of editing a version in English. The book, roughly translated as “Escape from the Balkans: The Valiant Saga of the Konforti Family During the Holocaust,” tells the story of her mother’s journey from Macedonia through Albania to Italy, to Brazil, and ultimately to Uruguay. Those of us with relatives who survived the Shoah can certainly appreciate this family’s determination to survive and to thrive against all odds.
I was also struck by the sheer number of teenagers present at the event. There were literally hundreds of teenaged youth group members, all decked out in their varying youth group t-shirts, showing their ties to their friends but also to their community. I imagined similar Shoah commemorations in the United States, and I teared up knowing that young people here share this unique bond with young people thousands of miles and a different language away. The respect, the learning, and the love shown by these young people is evidence that our people’s story and legacy will continue, from one generation to the next.
The next time someone at shul says to you, “Really? I didn’t know that Jews live there,” be sure to note that Jews live and thrive in places you might never have considered. And while our hearts break over stories of anti-Semitism in parts of Europe, we in the United States can find comfort in knowing that Jews from around the world as well as in Israel are able to thrive, to lead their communities, and to raise engaged and involved Zionist children and teenagers.
Bonnie Glick is a nonprofit executive and veteran American diplomat and businesswoman. She lives in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.
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Laurence Kotler-Berkowitz, Guest Columnist

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College doesn’t turn Jews away from Judaism
by Laurence Kotler-Berkowitz, Guest Columnist
May 25, 2017 | 83 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In a recent analysis of U.S. religious groups, the Pew Research Center reported that the most educated American Jews are also the least religious.
In considering these findings, it’s tempting to think that secular education leads to assimilation among American Jews (I want to be clear that Pew, a leading source of data on contemporary Jews in the United States, Israel and globally and a non-advocacy fact tank, did not put forth this reading of the data). The reason this might make sense: In a diverse, open society, education can draw people away from their particular group and its ways of life. Highly educated Jews, it seems, may be more likely to distance themselves from some traditional Jewish practices.
But that interpretation would be narrow and incomplete. It turns out that sometimes secular education is linked to assimilation, sometimes to connectivity and sometimes to neither.   
Using data from its landmark 2013 survey of U.S. Jews, Pew showed that college-educated Jews are less likely than Jews without a college degree to believe in God with absolute certainty and less likely to affirm that religion is very important to them. Partly accounting for these differences, Pew noted, are Orthodox Jews, who are more religious and tend to have lower levels of secular schooling than non-Orthodox Jews. But even when non-Orthodox Jews only are examined, the more educated are less religious.
My own analysis of the same survey data confirmed Pew’s findings and more. Jews with a college degree are also less likely to keep kosher at home, to refrain from handling money on Shabbat, to report that all or most of their close friends are Jewish, and to say that being Jewish is very important to them. (Note: I analyzed Jews 30 and older because by that age most people have either gone to college or decided not to).
These data points may be particularly troubling because secular education has been one of the prime engines of Jewish social, political and economic success in America. Could it be that higher education, that storied upside of American Jewish life, has a serious downside, too?
Fortunately, the answer is no.
Jewish life is multifaceted. It encompasses religion, ethnicity and culture. It spans family, local community and global peoplehood. It has attitudinal and behavioral aspects. By looking further at the Pew survey data, we can see that in many cases college education has no association with assimilation. In other cases, higher education encourages Jewish connectivity, the very opposite of assimilation.
The data reveal that Jews with and without college degrees display many similar attitudes and behaviors. The two groups are just as likely to express pride in being Jewish, to have a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people, to feel a special responsibility to Jews in need, to say it’s essential to them to be part of a Jewish community and to be emotionally attached to Israel. In addition, they are just as likely to attend Jewish religious services monthly or more, to be able to converse in Hebrew, and, among those who are married, to have a Jewish spouse. On these measures, college education and assimilation do not go hand in hand.
The data also show that in some circumstances, higher education is associated with connections to other Jews and especially to Jewish organizations. College-educated Jews are more likely than their non-college educated counterparts to belong to synagogues and other types of Jewish organizations, to make donations to Jewish causes, to travel to Israel, to hold or attend Passover seders, and to fast on Yom Kippur. Here, higher education may promote increased Jewish connectivity (which elsewhere I have called cohesion), not assimilation.
These patterns intensify when non-Orthodox Jews are analyzed separately, as I (like Pew) did. Among the non-Orthodox, college education promotes connectivity on even more measures and assimilation on fewer.
So yes, higher education appears to make Jews less certain about the existence of God, less observant of some rituals, and less inclined to say religion and being Jewish are very important to them. It also appears to weaken Jewish friendship networks modestly. In these ways, then, education may contribute to assimilation.
But taking a broader view of the multiple connections Jews have to each other and Jewish life allows us to see a fuller picture. Secular education often has no relationship to assimilation; Jews with and without college degrees are remarkably similar to each other on numerous Jewish behaviors and attitudes. Meanwhile, those with college education are sometimes more connected to other Jews, Jewish organizations and Jewish life — that is, less assimilated — than those with less secular schooling.
Higher education, responsible for so much American Jewish achievement and vitality, has no consistent, straight-line relationship with assimilation. Instead, its association with assimilation and connectivity varies quite a bit.
Jews have a quip that conveys the complexity of Jewish life: “Jews are just like everyone else, only more so.” As this example shows, Jews with a college education are no exception. The complexity of their lives demands close examination. It deserves a rich and nuanced understanding. And it defies easy interpretation.
Laurence Kotler-Berkowitz, Ph.D., is senior director of research and analysis and director of the Berman Jewish DataBank, both at The Jewish Federations of North America. He served as an adviser to the Pew Research Center on its 2013 survey of U.S. Jews.
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Saul Paransky
May 25, 2017 | 340 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print

PARANSKY: Saul Paransky, age 98, on May 22, 2017. Beloved son of the late David and Rose (Berez) Paransky, brother of the late Louis (Leah) Paransky and Frances (Morris) Berkowitz. Devoted husband of the late Ina (Cohen) Paransky and the late Ruth (Lappin) Levy Paransky. Cherished father of Harold (Nili) Paransky, Beth Paransky, and the late Ronald (Eta) Paransky. Stepfather of Skip (Renee) Levy, Sandy (Cathy Nunneley) Levy, Judith (Jim Donnelly) Levy, and Bob Levy. Adored grandfather and great-grandfather. Co-owner of Serta Mattress/Star Furniture Companies. Proudly served as an officer during World War II. Graveside services and interment were held at Beth Shalom Cemetery. Contributions may be made to American Red Cross, 2801 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. Arrangements entrusted to Ralph Schugar Chapel, Inc. schugar.com

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