priced our community life out of thernmarket of ordinary Jews; we also have imposedrnupon ourselves the dictatorship ofrnwealth. We have built costly institutionsrnof religion and culture. We have undertakenrnhuge fiscal responsibilities to worldrnJewry and especially to the state of Israel,rnand we have therefore defined ourselvesrnas financiers of world Judaism. Heavy financialrncommitments to overseas causesrnis natural to Americans who, after WorldrnWar II, undertook responsibility to financernthe reconstruction of much of thernworld and the industrialization of thernrest. So the American Jewish communityrnundertook its own Marshall Plan. Therncombination of expensive local institutionsrnand a massive commitment to overseasrnJewries defined the answers to all thernquestions of virtue and morality that peoplernmust answer for themselves. Andrnthat meant that the only Jews who wouldrnmake a difference, who could realize therngoals of American Jewry, would be thernver)’ richest ones.rnThe second greatest mistake we havernmade is to create a community more impressedrnby style than by substance, byrnprocedure than by program. Everythingrnflows from our generative mistake aboutrnthe primacy of money. Just as, in our societ)’,rnpeople watch out for whom theyrncan sue or be sued by, so in our communit}’rnpeople pay more attention to formrnthan content. They build impressivernsynagogues, which stand empty most ofrnthe time. They pay rabbis more moneyrnthan attention. They hold meetings torndiscuss holding meetings. They issuernpress releases and then believe everyrnword. They do this because, in the end,rnwhat matters most is money. Given therncurrent President, who can wonder why?rnThe third greatest mistake we havernmade is to stop arguing with one another.rnWe paper over differences and nornlonger try to persuade others throughrnreasoned discourse. Here I refer to thernrange of Judaisms among us and howrnthey relate. Why make a desert of desiccatedrndiscourse and call it consensus? Ifrnall that matters is raising this year’s budgetrnand next year’s increment, we cannotrnallow differences to intervene. We havernto gloss over points subject to controversyrnand dispute. So within organized Jewry,rnwe place imder administrative excommunicationrnwhomever passionately believesrnanything other than the conventionalrnwisdom. By contrast, the Catholicrncommunity makes a place for all kinds ofrnpeople and their aspirations, from thosernwho want to pray from dawn to dusk tornthose who want to engage in demonstrationsrnon issues of public policy (on prolifernissues, for instance). American Jewryrnhas a place for a single type only—thernone who gives and gets others to give —rnand cannot imagine any other type. Forrnexample, if you don’t like going to meetingsrnand fining chairs, don’t try to participaternin American Jewry, which even definesrna career in Jewish public life asrn”sitting in the chairs.” This is the Jewishrncounterpart to the “national conversations”rnthat Washington revels in.rnThe fourth greatest mistake we havernmade is to treat “being Jewish” as a personalrndecision, not as one’s engagementrnand responsibility in a public enterprise.rnWe have privatized Judaism and allowedrn”Jewish” to refer to merely individualrntraits and predilections. The “I” replacesrnthe “we.” This again derives from therntyranny of the annual campaign for money.rnEven while undertaking public responsibilities,rnthe Jewish community hasrndefined Jewish norms as personal andrnprivate — how much you choose torngive —and not as public and communal.rnBecause we do not debate public policy,rnthere is no sense of polit}’ and community,rnand, as a result, everything is treated asrnpersonal and individual. When peoplernsign checks for the Jewish federation,rnthey use the language of “giving,” not (asrnwith the Mormons) paying their religiousrntaxes, their tithe; “to give” in our societyrnis to act out of one’s own volition.rnAmerican Jews do not form a voluntaryrncommunity at all but a collection of individualsrnwho give money to the samerncauses.rnThe fifth greatest mistake we havernmade is to identify the Jewish communityrnwith issues of secular politics, so thatrnbeing a Jew means adopting a certain politicalrnagenda. That is to say, when wernhave finished with the campaign forrnmoney, we begin writing letters to ourrnsenators and representatives in Congressrnand finding “Jewish issues” in matters ofrnpublic policy that have no particularrnbearing upon our community—proabortion,rngay rights, and other shibbolethsrnof hard-core radicalism. To staternmatters differentiy, among all the manyrnthings we can do when we want to “dornJewish,” the thing we have chosen, beyondrnfundraising, is political action. Thernlist of issues to which American Jewsrncommit themselves includes many causesrnwithout a particularly Jewish or Judaicrnfoundation at all, and some of the issuesrnon which Jews take positions “as Jews”rncontradict the commandments of thernTorah.rnTo state the matter as clearly as I can:rna far higher proportion of the Jewishrncommunity votes for the DemocraticrnParty than observes the Sabbath of Judaismrnby celebrating light on Friday atrnsunset. So to be Jewish involves whatrntakes place in public, and not what takesrnplace at home or in private. At the beginningrnof this century a Russian Jew advised,rn”Be a Jew at home, and a humanrnbeing away from home.” We AmericanrnJews have turned it around: we are Jewsrnin public, and undifferentiated Americansrnin private.rnWhy do I think anyone not engagedrnby Jewry should care about our failings?rnBecause we form a mirror of America.rnThe mistakes we have made are profoundlyrnAmerican; they are the mistakesrnwe Americans generally make. The earliestrncritic of American culture, Alexis dernTocqueville, picked out the same qualitiesrnin his journey through early republicanrnAmerica: practicality, contentiousnessrnin matters of law and procedure, arnpreference for fact over theory and consensusrnover contention, individualism,rnand a preoccupation with politics.rnSo make no mistake —our weaknessesrnpoint to our strengths. These contradictoryrnyet complementary qualities formrnthe vices of a free people working in anrnopen society and a free economy. Quiternnaturally, we Jewish Americans havernLIBERAL ARTSrnHERE’S THE BOOKrnYOU REQUESTED,rnMR. PRESIDENTrn”A Guy’s Guide to Dating is bound tornhelp all those crotch-grabbing, flannel-rnwearin’, good-ol’-boys who can’trnquite figure out the feminine gender.rnAfter all, not all men think with therncontents of their Calvin Kleins.”rn—from promotional material forrnA Guy’s Guide to Datingrn(New York: Doubleday, 1998)rnJULY 1998/41rnrnrn