Monday, February 07, 2005

Kosher dates

For those who consider Anglo Jewry to be a major centre of world Jewry, a recent article in the Sunday Times made for sobering reading.

In just 50 years, the community has shrunk from 450,000 to barely 300,000 now. Emigration is part of the answer, over 30,000 have moved to Israel in recent decades, but to really see what's going wrong, you only have to go to Bushey Cemetary. I'm only 32, but these days I find myself going to more funerals than bar mitzvah's, weddings and brits combined. Just a few years ago, a vast part of the cemetary was empty, now it's completely full.

The situation facing Anglo Jewry is no different to the US, but being in a smaller community makes you all the more aware of it's decline. Every few months, you hear of another regional Synagogue closing it's doors, or of another community losing it's kosher butcher. At the present rate of decline, there will only be 140,000 Jews left by 2080.

As the article made clear, the only organisations having some success in reversing the trend are Chareidi ones, which means that by 2080 the only Jews left in the diaspora will be the ones wearing black hats.

The article focused on the two most sucessful organisations, Aish and the JLE. Whilst both are Chareidi, most of their converts are not, and many aren't even religious. In fact, the majority who turn up at their events are more interested in the gashmius than the ruchnius but at least they end up meeting fellow jews (and hopefully) marrying in!

Whether or not you're a fan of the Chareidim, you have to give them credit where it's deserved. As my wife put it, it's very hard to be fanatically middle-of-the-road. Those who display the most passion will always be the ones best equipped to get their message across. And at a time when secular fanaticism is as rampant as it's religious equivalent, few people can avoid being pulled in one extreme or the other.

Whilst I'm saddened by their lack of interest in the secular world, I'd rather have descendants without a television than without a future.