Michael Freund in Commentary Magazine: predicting the Jewish future
What will the Jewish future look like in 50 years? Commentary Magazine asked 70 Jewish leaders to tackle this weighty subject. Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund was one of those writers.
Freund’s piece appeared in the October 14, 2015 issue of Commentary. In it, he writes that, “the Jewish people are in the initial stages of a demographic revolution, a change so profound and historic in nature that it will reshape the contours, character, and even the color of Jewry.”
The thrust of that revolution is the hundreds of thousands of people with Jewish roots – Bnei Anousim, Bnei Menashe, Hidden Jews of Poland, Hispanic Americans, Jews in Kaifeng – who are increasingly seeking a way back into the Jewish fold.
It’s not just an academic question. “In order to thrive in the global village…size does matter,” Freund writes. “Demographically and spiritually, the Jewish people will be stronger for it.”
The full text of the article and a copy of how it appears in the print magazine are below. You can read Freund’s essay, along with the 69 other Jewish leaders online here. (Scroll about half way through the page.)
The Jewish people are in the initial stages of a demographic revolution, a change so profound and historic in nature that it will reshape the contours, character, and even the color of Jewry.
Around the world, an unprecedented awakening is taking place. Descendants of Jews from all walks of life are looking to return to their roots and embrace their heritage.
For the past 15 years, through Shavei Israel, the organization I chair, I have come to discern that there are multitudes of people whose forefathers were once part of us and who now seek a way back into the fold.
From the Jews of Kaifeng, China, whose Sephardic ancestors traveled along the Silk Road, to the Bnei Menashe of northeastern India, who claim descent from a lost tribe of Israel, and to the Hidden Jews of Poland from the Holocaust, there are multitudes with a historical connection to the Jewish people.
Perhaps the largest of them all is the Bnei Anousim, whom historians refer to by the derogatory term Marranos and whose forebears were Spanish and Portuguese Jews forced to convert to Catholicism in the 14th and 15th centuries. Scholars estimate their numbers worldwide to be in the millions, and genetic tests have revealed that 10 to 15 percent of Hispanic Americans have Jewish roots.
If we are prudent enough to seize the opportunity and extend a hand to these communities and strengthen our connection with them, then in the coming decades we will witness the return of hundreds of thousands, and possibly more, to our ranks.
After all, size does matter, whether in basketball, business, or diplomacy. To make a difference in the world and to live up to our national mission as Jews, we need a much larger and more diverse “team” at our disposal, one with an expanded roster and a strong bench.
Historians estimate that during the Herodian period two millennia ago, there were approximately 8 million Jews worldwide. At the same time, the Han Dynasty conducted a census in the year 2 c.e. which found that there were 57.5 million Han Chinese. Jump ahead to the present, and the numbers are of course quite different, with China home to 1.1 billion people, even as world Jewry barely numbers more than 13 million souls.
During the past 2,000 years of exile, we lost countless numbers of Jews, whether through assimilation or oppression. Many of their descendants are now clamoring to return. This development is testimony to the power of Jewish history and the triumph of Jewish destiny.
The world, it has been said, is growing smaller by the day thanks to the processes of globalization and growing economic and strategic interdependence. In order to thrive in this global village, the Jewish people will need Chinese Jews and Indian Jews no less than American and British Jews.
This means that we not only need to do more to keep Jews Jewish, but we must also begin to think outside the box about how to boost our numbers. We need more Jews, so why not reach back into our collective past and reclaim those who were torn away from us due to exile and persecution? Many descendants of Jews are already knocking on our door, asking to be allowed in. All we need do is turn the knob, pry open the entrance, and they will come.
This nascent process is already under way, and I call on Israel and Jewish leaders worldwide to recognize this salient development and to act.
Five decades hence, the Jewish people will be one nation with many faces, far more numerous and diverse than anyone could possibly have imagined at the start of the 21st century.
People will gaze back and see the turning point that we have reached, as we stand on the cusp of a tidal wave of return, one that will see millions of Jewish descendants reconnect with Jewry. Demographically and spiritually, the Jewish people will be stronger for it.