This game-changing exploration of a possible path for a Jewish future is both alarming and hopeful. The facts Keinan relays about Jewish population trends, weakening Jewish identity, and the costs of exclusivity in Jewish movements and organizations are heartbreaking. His most frightening observation is that his book, and the understandings and arguments it offers, may be ninety years too late. Keinan is pointing the way toward a revolution, a last-ditch effort to combat and counter the forces that, if not checked will, in a few generations or less, make Judaism extinct.
Keinan won’t allow Jews to keep betting on God’s love for the “chosen people” to save the day. God’s love has always been conditional. If God is anywhere, it is in the hard-won consensus about Jewish identity and values that those who care will bring about. In this way, God is in the crowd.
In a situation that demands greater inclusivity, Keinan argues that embracing the standards, practices, and goals that approach universal acceptance among Jews worldwide represents our best best at turning the tide and ensuring a Jewish future. To get there, educational patterns and priorities must change, and steadfast commitment needs to go viral.
Keinan carefully examines the strengths and weakness of the two dominant centers of Jewish life: the U.S. and Israel. He diagnoses the shortcomings of each, the ways in which societal segments exclude and undermine one another, the established conditions funneling Jewish history, wisdom, and creativity into a death spiral. He offers challenging solutions that require buying into a master plan — or inventing a better one.
His plan is three-pronged: the reinvigoration of the “wisdom machine” that maintained and shaped Jewish communality during the Diaspora epoch, the formation of a Jewish World Endowment that would engage and provide resources for young Jews, and the retasking of Israel’s presidency as global administrator of the Jewish people. Keinan envisions the presidency as becoming “the convening point for Jews around the world to debate fundamental questions of Peoplehood.”
Keinan expects and encourages responses to his impassioned plea for Jews worldwide to end their march toward suicide. The power of the book is as much in the abundance of precise details as in its overall vision, which is clarifying and magnetic.
Woven through the tapestry of facts and ideas is the compelling strand of Keinan’s own life as an American student, an officer and a fighter pilot in Israel’s Air Force, a successful entrepreneur shuttling between the U.S. and Israel, and a concerned parent. He asks, echoing the great Talmudic-era Jewish leader Rabbi Hillel, “If not now, when?”
Philip K. Jason is professor emeritus of English at the United States Naval Academy. A former editor of Poet Lore, he is the author or editor of twenty books, including Acts and Shadows: The Vietnam War in American Literary Culture and Don’t Wave Goodbye: The Children’s Flight from Nazi Persecution to American Freedom.