Rabbi Marc Schneier

Rabbi Schneier is President and Founder of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU) and serves as Chairman of the World Jewish Congress Commission on Intergroup Relations. He is President of the North American Board of Rabbis, a federation of presidents and past presidents of rabbinical boards from more than 50 major cities across the United States and Canada. He is also the founding rabbi of The Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach, and The New York Synagogue in Manhattan (full bio here).

Our discussion this week will focus on the demographic changes in America - just a month after celebrating the threshold of the 300 millionth American - and its implications on the Jewish community.

Readers are welcomed to send questions to rosnersdomain@haaretz.co.il.

Dear Rabbi Schneier,

You talk a lot about the Latino and black communities, but do not mention two other important groups: the Asian - that has no natural affinity toward the Jewish community - and the Arab-Muslim American community, which might be even hostile and is also growing.

How do you deal with these groups?

Thank you for your comments and important work.

Tom Hertz, AZ

Shmuel,

The Asian-American community has seen a significant growth period according to the latest census. There are now 12.5 million Asian-Americans and that number is projected to grow to 18-20 million by the year 2020. Outreach efforts on the part of the Jewish community continue to Asian-American leaders, in particular those areas where our two communities reside such as New York and California. There is a growing partnership between the Jewish Congressional delegation and the Asian-Pacific caucus in the U.S. Congress.

Finally, there is growing concern within the Jewish community as to how to reach out to the ever-growing American-Muslim population. Recently I had a very disappointing experience at my congregation, The New York Synagogue. I extended an invitation to the Imam Omar S. Abu Namous, Grand Cleric of the 96th Street Mosque and the Islamic Center of New York for a dialogue on Muslim-Jewish relations. This was the Imam's first visit to a synagogue in New York. What began as a discussion on issues of mutual concern and interest quickly deteriorated into an emotional and heated divide regarding the state of affairs in the Middle East. Nevertheless, I left that experience with even greater determination and resolve to identify centrist Muslim Clerics to further dialogue between our two communities. In this changing demographic climate, we simply have no choice.

Very truly yours,

Rabbi Marc Schneier

Dear Rabbi,

And how will Jewish demography influence this dialog? If there are less Jews, and a bigger percentage of Orthodox, does it matter?

Rosner

Shmuel,

This issue will be measured in qualitative not quantitative terms. I believe that irregardless of the future population of the American Jewish community, inter-group relations will be a priority issue. By reaching out to other ethnic coalitions we will strengthen support for the State of Israel and defend Jewish communities around the world. For example, the immergence of Latin America leaders such as Chavez in Venezuela and Ortega in Nicaragua behooves us to partner with Latino Congressional leaders in monitoring the status of Jewish communities in those respective countries.

Concerning the demographic growth of the orthodox Jewish community once again, I am optimistic. The orthodox community has a built in tradition of social action and concern for others. This was most evident at the Save Darfur April rally in Washington, D.C. with the overwhelming participation of orthodox Jews from around the country. Finally, as a point of information, the three national conferences on Black/Jewish relations convened by The Foundation For Ethnic Understanding in the mid-nineteen nineties were held at one of the great Citadels of Orthodox Jewry, Yeshiva University. I warmly recall the gracious hospitality accorded Reverend Jesse Jackson, Senior by then YU President, Dr. Norman Lamm and other leading rabbis on the faculty of Yeshiva.

Very truly yours, Rabbi Marc Schneier

Dear Rabbi,

How can you claim that the Jewish-African-American alliance was successful? Jews worked very hard to help get equal rights for the black community, but now this community is quite hostile to Israel (and American Jews) and its legislators score very low on all issues concerning Israel's security and well being. Aren't we going to go through the same process with Latinos? How can it be changed?

Thank you for your answer.

Rita Gravitz FL

I respectfully disagree with the premise that African Americans are not supportive of the State of Israel and other issues of Jewish concern. I would define the state of Black/Jewish relations today as one of cooperation and not of conflict as African and Jewish Americans nationwide have engaged in programs and activities to explore and rediscover shared values.

Regarding the question of Latino support of Jewish issues, for the last few years, efforts at building a dynamic Jewish/Latino coalition have been gaining momentum across the United States. Latinos view the Jewish community as a model for building their own political and organizational strength. The most natural issue for an alliance between the two communities is immigration, which allowed the Jewish community to grow and prosper in the last century. Finally, there are strong and extensive relationships between the two congressional groups.

We are extremely pleased that the Hispanic Caucus members have been most supportive of the State of Israel. Jews and Latinos must continue to recognize the strength that comes from sharing our similarities and differences.

Very truly yours, Rabbi Marc Schneier

Dear Rabbi Marc Schneier,

I live in Texas on the border with Mexico but am originally from Mexico city. A place where some 50,000 Jews live among 20,000,000 Christians.

For a few years I was an officer in the Mexican Army and had lived and worked outside the Jewish community. I can say that at best Mexicans are indiferent to Jews or Israel. The majority don't know the difference between a Jew and a Muslim and for some people they are the same.

Other Latinos only know that the Jews had something to do with Jesus' death.

Since the largest minority in U.S. in the future will probably be Latinos, how can we educate them and other minorities with the same views about Israel and the Jews.

Fernando A. Russek Harlingen Texas

Recent census figures are a wakeup call to the Jewish community. The Hispanic population is expected to grow to over 60 million in 2020, close to 20 percent of all U.S. residents. Almost half of the Latino growth during the next two decades is expected to come from second generation Hispanics, a third of them born in the U.S. About 25 percent will be immigrants. That reverses the trend between 1970 and 2000, when immigrants accounted for nearly half the growth.

This distinction augers well for the Jewish community based on findings in a national poll surveying the state of Jewish/Latino relations, commissioned by The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding that American born Hispanics are far more supportive and sensitive to Jewish issues than recent Hispanic immigrants from Latin and South America.

A high level of shared social and political values make Jewish/Latino coalition building possible. Both communities often find themselves in the same place on issues such as immigration, education and the fight against discrimination. In fact, two-thirds of Latino respondents felt that schools don't teach enough about the holocaust.

The areas in which Hispanic aspirations are most pronounced often consist of the nations largest Jewish population including New York, California and Florida.

The shared values of Jews and Latinos are a strong foundation to address a common social agenda both domestically and abroad.

Yours truly,

Rabbi Marc Schneier

Dear Rabbi Schneier

As usual, my first question will be more general in nature as to lay the foundations for our discussion this week. A year ago, The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding Released its "National Survey on Race Relations and Changing Ethnic Demographics in America." Reacting on the results, you said that "Ethnic changing demographics are creating new tensions and obstacles in our communities. We must honestly and openly begin a dialogue between and within communities and families in order to ensure a better future for our children."

These are all general statements. You talk about "obstacles" and "tensions" - but you do not specify. You also don't give any prescription for resolving the problematic issues - except for saying that a "dialogue" is needed.

Can you try and explain what is this dialogue about and what will be the desired outcome?

Best

Rosner

Dear Shmuel,

Thank you for your timely and thoughtful question.

As you know, The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding in its continual pursuit of strengthening race relations did a landmark study last year that presented a comprehensive analysis of the impact of the rapidly changing racial and ethnic demographics of American society.

I believe it is incumbent upon the American Jewish community to acknowledge these changing demographics in our country, in our cities and in Congress.

Demographers are forecasting that within fifty years, current minorities, African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans will constitute a majority of the population.

The most recent U.S. census reported that almost 50% of children under the age of six belong to an ethnic minority. New York City's population by the year 2020 will be 50% Latino. In fact, California, Texas, New Mexico and Hawaii are already minority majority states, where the majority of the population consists of minority groups. Within the next two years, New York, Maryland, Georgia, Mississippi and Arizona will also me minority majority states. It is estimated that the next generation of Americans will be growing up in a minority majority country.

Shmuel, we have also seen significant demographic changes in the United States Congress. In 1986, just twenty years ago, there were 21 African American members in Congress, today in 2006, there are 44 members of the Congressional Black Caucus. In 1986, there were 10 Hispanic members in Congress, twenty years later in 2006, there are 24 members of the Congressional Hispanic Delegation. In 1986, no Asian Congressional Caucus existed, now in 2006, there are 10 Asian American members in Congress. These significant demographic changes will impact the American Jewish community and the State of Israel in particular.

Surveying the Jewish world, we find that many of the crises and challenges facing the Jewish people are a direct result of changing demographics.

I just returned from Paris, where I spoke at the governing board meeting of the World Jewish Congress. In France, as in the rest of Europe, the concern of Jewish leaders is the dramatic demographic shift in that part of the world, specifically the growing radical Islamic population that has been the cause of increased anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitic attacks.

Furthermore, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is rooted in changing demographics. Prime Minister Olmert and his government's concern about a Jewish minority in the Jewish state is due to the exponential growth of Palestinians within the land of Israel.

Similarly, the American Jewish community must confront demographic changes. It is imperative to strengthen alliances with other ethnic groups by channeling our time, energy and resources to coalition building. This includes reaching out to the ethnic leadership of "the new United States," sensitizing them to the particular issues and concerns of the American Jewish community; namely support for Israel and combating anti-Semitism around the world. If we fail in these efforts just like our European counterparts, we could wake up to a very difficult situation in fifty years.

I am confident that American Jewish leaders will meet this challenge based on our singular history in championing the causes and concerns of other ethnicities. For example, the Black-Jewish alliance of the 1960's civil rights movement brought about the greatest social and political changes in the history of our nation.

In this spirit, I have reached out to Russell Simmons and Jay-Z, two of the most celebrated African American leaders, to join me in speaking out against rising anti-Semitism in Europe. Public service announcements featuring these two demigods of the MTV/Hip Hop generation will air throughout Europe beginning in January.

The late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood, that a people who fight for their own rights are only as honorable as when they fight for the rights of all people. In this spirit, we welcome the support of Russell Simmons and Jay-Z in championing the civil rights of Jews as well.

Very truly yours,

Rabbi Marc Schneier