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The first edition of Community and Polity offered a description and analysis of the developments in the American Jewish community through the first postwar generation—roughly, 1946 through 1976. Since the appearance of the original edition of Community and Polity in 1976, the aggressive, advancing Jewish community of the late 1960s and early 1970s has given way to a far more quiescent and even troubled one.
This revised and updated edition of Community and Polity explores in depth these and other issues. Like the first edition, it is designed to serve two purposes: to provide a basic survey of the structure and functions of the American Jewish community and to suggest how that community should be understood as a body politic, a polity that is not a state but is no less real from a political perspective.
The book also looks at the new ambiguity in the sphere of community relations, the impact of demographic shifts on Jewish community organization, the institutionalization of new relationships between the American Jewish community and Israel, and the emergence of new model organizations to mobilize and serve the Jewish community.
the Author -- Community and Polity: The Organizational Dynamics Of American Jewry (Revised and Updated Edition)
Preface to the Revised and Updated Edition
INTRODUCTION:THE AMERICAN JEWISH COMMUNITY AND THE JEWISH POLITICAL EXPERIENCE
THE COMMUNITY IN ITS ENVIRONMENT
THE AMERICAN ENVIRONMENT AND JEWISH RELIGIOUS LIFE
THE EVOLVING FORM OF THE AMERICAN JEWISH COMMUNITY:
THE “STATE” OF AMERICAN JEWRY AND ITS INSTITUTIONAL BASE
THE MOSAIC OF JEWISH COMMUNAL LIFE
ORGANIZING JEWISH ACTIVITY
THE FIVE SPHERES OF COMMUNITY ACTIVITY
THE MAJOR COMMUNITIES AND THE NEW GEODEMOGRAPHICS
INSTITUTIONS AND DECISION MAKERS
HANDLING THE TASKS OF THE JEWISH COMMUNITY
FROM FRAGMENTATION TO REINTEGRATION?
A NONCENTRALIZED RELIGOETHNIC COMMUNITY
Within the unique polity that is the Jewish people, the American Jewish community can be conceived as a “state” of some six million people, one of several collectivities that exist in various countries of the world as religioethnic societies structured to maintain Jewish life. From this perspective the state of Israel is but another Jewish state, differing from the rest only in that it also possesses sovereignty under international law. Only certain countrywide Jewish communities in existence today—those with populations of over 20,000, plus a few others for exceptional reasons—can be reckoned as “states” with sufficiently comprehensive institutions to maintain themselves in a Jewish fashion. The others lack the wherewithal to do so, either in numbers, talent, or interest, and must be considered dependencies of one sort or another, looking to their sister communities for their basic communal needs. Although its history as a Jewish community extends back to 1654, the “state” of Jewish America was to all intents and purposes a colony of European Jewry until the nineteenth century, and was a dependency even longer.
American Jewry shares the long-standing American commitment to noncentralized decision-making. Decision-making in the United States is not decentralized but noncentralized. That is, there is no single center that can determine how or where decision-making should be dispersed, as the notion of cecentralization implies. Rather, there are many different centers of decision-making, each of which exists legitimately in its own right, while the existence of each is protected within the society in some “constitutional” way. In political life even the federal government, powerful as it is, is simply one center—some would even describe it as a cluster of centers—among many.
Noncentralization is institutionalized in American society in government, religion, education, and most of the other arenas of American life (perhaps least in the economy), all of which serve to reinforce what is not only a basic social pattern but one that is culturally and ideologically accepted as the correct one. This institutionalized noncentralization carries over to influence American Jewish life as well, where it is reinforced by organizational and cultural patterns well rooted in Jewish history.
The “state” of Jewish America has no single overarching governing body. Action in the name of American Jewry on a countrywide basis is undertaken by a number of organizations of countrywide scope, generally with specialized fields of interest, while the real powers of communal governance, such as they are, are particularly concentrated in the local Jewish federations. Chief among the countrywide bodies is the Council of Jewish Federations (CJF), the closest thing to an umbrella body that exists; its powers are growing because it represents the combined leaders of the local federations. In addition, there are specialized umbrella bodies associated with it such as the Jewish Educational Service of North America (JESNA), and the Jewish Community Centers Association (JCCA), which serves the Jewish community centers.
It is significant that all three of these organizations have changed their names since the mid-1970s. The Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds adopted its shorter name (CJF) in recognition that its federations had become comprehensive community federations and not simply welfare funds. JESNA is, in effect, the reorganized American Association for Jewish Education, which had failed when it lost the confidence of the federation leadership in its efforts to promote Jewish education. The Jewish JCCA was previously the Jewish Welfare Board. It adopted its new name to clarify its primary mission which is to provide an umbrella organization for the local Jewish community centers countrywide.
In addition, there are the “big three” community-relations organizations (American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, Anti-Defamation League), the Synagogue Council of America, and the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform synagogue federations plus their auxiliary bodies, and, for foreign affairs, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (more familiarly called the Presidents’ Conference). The lastnamed has become more prominent in recent years, at least in the headlines.
Internally the “state” of Jewish America is divided into approximately 900 local communities organized through 176 local federations. Originally these federations encompassed single cities, but since the development of suburbanization they have spread out to embrace virtually all organized Jewish communities within the vicinity of their original cities of jurisdiction; in that way most of the organized Jewish communities in the United States have become roughly analogous to counties. In most cases they have done so by redrawing their boundaries to embrace suburbs and small towns within their metropolitan orbit. Thirty-eight of them have names reflecting their metropolitan scope. In fully suburbanized areas (such as parts of New Jersey), areas of widespread semi-urban settlement such as California, Florida and Texas, and substate regions with small scattered Jewish communities like southern and central Illinois, regional federations have been organized to serve the needs of the whole area. In some cases, each local community continues to maintain its own local institutions as well. There are 25 such regional federations by name and 20 more federations that are named after the counties in which they are located and that are structured in essentially the same way. The trend toward “countyization,” essentially a product of the postwar generation, is growing.
By and large American Jewish communal organization has not been based upon the state model, as is the norm in American society generally. Nevertheless, in four cases—Arkansas, Delaware, Hawaii, and Rhode Island—local federations have been reorganized and renamed after the states that they now serve in their entirety; in two more, the Jewish Federation of Portland is defined as embracing all of Oregon, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Manchester serves all of New Hampshire. Despite this relative neglect of the states for purposes of self-definition, it is testimony to the impact of the American environment that only a handful of the local federations have jurisdiction across state lines, and these are strictly responses to perceived necessity. Washington, D.C.’s United Jewish Appeal (UJA) serves the Maryland and some of the Virginia portions of the Washington metropolitan area; the Jewish Federation and Council of Greater Kansas City includes both the Missouri and Kansas portions of that metropolitan area; in Portland the federation, in addition to embracing all of Oregon, also includes the narrow suburban strip across the Columbia River in Washington; and in 1973 the Jewish communities of Rock Island, Moline, Davenport, and Bettendorf in Illinois and Iowa combined their federations to establish the United Jewish Charities of the Quad Cities. The Jewish Federation of Trenton (New Jersey) is now the Jewish Federation of Mercer and Bucks Counties NJ/PA, embracing the area immediately across the Delaware River in Pennsylvania where many former New Jerseyites have settled. The Jewish Federation of Southern Illinois expanded to include southeastern Missouri and western Kentucky, as it name indicates. One or two other federations located in cities along state borders may reach across them to serve adjacent territories (such as Cincinnati and the neighboring Kentucky counties), but this brief list seems close to being exhaustive.
In most interstate metropolitan areas Jews have divided their structures to recognize the state boundaries. Nowhere is this more evident than in the New York metropolitan region, where, despite the very free movement of Jews across state lines, the federation service areas have hewed entirely to state boundaries. This is a very subtle example of the influence of American society on Jewish organization.
While the countrywide pattern of organizational diffusion is also replicated locally within each federation’s area of service, the local federations tend to be more powerful umbrella bodies, which, through their great role in fund raising and community planning, have become bodies that all Jewish organizations and institutions locally must reckon with. The some 900 smaller communities, plus uncounted neighborhoods and suburbs, are roughly analogous to “towns,” in the original American sense of the term. Organized Jewish life in these subcommunities is generally centered around one or more congregations that function as the “town” institutions, while for their more involved services and activities they rely upon the “county.”
Coming back to Community and Polity in a revised edition two decades after first reading it is a bit like revisiting an old friend who has changed in a few identifiable ways, but remains basically the same person whom we felt so good about and comfortable with years ago.
- Jonathan Woocher, Jewish Book World
Analyzes the developments in the American Jewish community through the postwar generation to the present, surveying the structure and functions of the community and suggesting that it should be understood as a body politic. Addresses topics such as assimilation, adaptation to American life, and religious and educational community activity. This revised addition looks at the impact of demographic shifts on community organization and the institutionalization of new relationships between the American Jewish community and Israel.
- Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
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