A Holocaust memorial statue has been proposed by a local Jewish interior decorator here in St. Petersburg. The 80-foot statue would be situated in one of the parks that line Tampa Bay, in downtown St. Pete. The decorator has already selected a London sculptor, who, in turn, has designed the statue. Everything is set. All that is needed now is money, both Jewish and municipal. The cost would be three million dollars, not counting the land and the annual maintenance, which the city is supposed to provide. In Tampa Bay’s Jewish world, three million dollars is a lot of money; the two Jewish federations on both sides of the bay do well to raise that in a good year.

St. Petersburg already has a Holocaust Museum, with an active educational program; it is among the biggest in the United States. Why a statue as well? Someone got a bright idea and ran with it.

It’s a good example of how personal whims replace proportion, balance, and public discussion of the public interest in Jewish community affairs. I personally think that three million dollars would be much better spent on building the Jewish future in this lovely county—on synagogues, schools, and youth programs—than on elaborately, expensively, memorializing the tragic past (for a second time, no less). But what I find most interesting in this bizarre initiative is how private enterprise is taking over the “organized Jewish community.” Organized Jewry is going out of business, and disorganized, self-motivated, amateurish Jewish hobbyists are taking over.

That is what we have come to. There was a time, not long ago, when the Jewish federations presented themselves as the “Jewish community’s central address,” where everyone met to discuss Jewish public policy and to decide how Jewish business should be carried on. There was an age when most money for Jewish causes was raised through Jewish federation drives. But the time of a Jewish commonwealth, the age of a Jewish public interest, gave way to entrepreneurial Jewishness: Do as you like, and if you can get away with it, well and good. The “Jewish community” be damned.

Personal and amateur family foundations have replaced public, professionally administered philanthropy. Eew family foundations take a broad and enlightened view of Jewry as a whole, Judaism and its requirements, the Jewish community and what it needs to do to carry out its responsibilities; many private foundations fund only private causes and individual whims. I can document the damage, the corruption of Jewish values, the utter contempt for Judaism, that the “Jewish” family foundations have brought about.

But here in a small and provincial corner of the Jewish world, with weak federations and a vast population of Marrano Jews (who do not wish to present themselves as Jews at all), matters have deteriorated even more dramatically. Now, for a major project such as this, the public press is where Jewish public policy is discussed, and the discussion is after the fact. Someone got into her mind a bright idea, and the next thing we know, she has chosen a sculptor, selected his piece, and decided that the best thing that the Jewish community can do with three million dollars is to fill up a municipal park on the waterfront with yet another holocaust memorial. How self-indulgent! How short-sighted! How grotesque!

But to this we have come. About five years ago, a local Jewish dermatologist (so I recall; he could have been a dentist—it was something with a “d”) got it into his head that the local Roman Catholic bishop should speak to the Jewish community of Tampa Bay. So he invited him to address die Jewish community. The bishop accepted the invitation, assuming that the dentist had some sort of official standing to offer it, and a date was set. Then I got a call from the panicked physician: Bishop Favalora is coming to address the Jewish community; what should I do? I realized that the doctor had committed the Jewish community to a major public event, with no support, no backing, not even a location. I advised him to go to the Jewish Community Center for a location, to the local rabbis and synagogues and federations for sponsorship, and to various Jewish organizations for co-sponsorship; they would give the event the Jewish community auspices that the bishop had every reason to anticipate. Would I speak? the physician asked. I suggested that Bishop Favalora give the address, I would respond briefly, and then a question period would follow. We would hold it at the Jewish Community Center’s holocaust exhibit (the museum was then years away), and the bishop would visit the exhibit on the occasion of his address to Jewry. Bishop Favalora sent me his text, a comprehensive and workmanlike statement on Catholic-Jewish relations, past and future. I sent him mine; we made sure we were talking about the same thing and contributing to the public interest; and the event took place in good form. My memory is that many Catholics, lay and religious, came, but not so many Jews, and no rabbis or “lay leaders.”

When the Jewish community loses all organizational and institutional coherence, then private enterprise takes over, and Jewry splits up into personal fiefdoms. Judaism is a religion for families and communities, not for isolated individuals; it does no good when individuals play at being Jewish. Now each Jew wants to be king of the Jews and play alone in her own sandbox—except when it’s time to commit the entire Jewish community to build a sand castle that afternoon, while the tide is still out. And then the tide rises.