Outreach Program Celebrates
25th Anniversary at St.
O reconnect Jews worldwide with
their faith, in 1987 Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, formerly of
New York’s Lincoln Square Synagogue, founded the National Jewish
Outreach Program., Prominent hedge fund manager Michael
Steinhardt donated $1.5 million to jumpstart the
organization that helps Jews rediscover the principles of
Judaism and learn how to engage in Jewish ritual.
Steinhardt, the world’s most famous
Jewish atheist, perhaps thought NJOP was focused too heavily on
religion. In 1999 he rallied millionaire Charles Bronfman
to create an alternate heritage program called Birthright
Israel. They have hosted 400,000 young Jews on free 10-day tours
of Israel that hopefully will rekindle interest in Jewish life
and history. "Making secular Jews proud to be Jews is an
extraordinary thing," Steinhardt said.
Over the years Buchwald attracted
other philanthropists, most notably real estate maven Sam
Domb. At the 25th annual NJOP dinner this
month, Buchwald honored Domb as NJOP’s largest single
contributor, having given or raised $3 million.
"I want to correct you, rabbi," Domb
declared. He fished a check out of his inner pocket and
declared, "The total amount is now $3,100,000."
Domb has rescued several New York
synagogues from disrepair and helped one Jew after another
rediscover the routine observance of Jewish faith. He is not
deterred that his goal might be unattainable. He illustrated
with a story about a boy on the beach who picked up one starfish
after another and tossed it back in the water. "What are you
doing?’ a man asked. "I’m saving the starfish," the boy said.
"But you can’t save them all," the man said. "You see this one?"
the boy said as he tossed a fish in to the water. "This one I
Buchwald invited Steinhardt to engage
in an after-dinner conversation which quickly morphed into a
theological smackdown moderated by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin.
Telushkin, the notable
author/lecturer, kindly granted that Steinhardt, the avowed
Jewish atheist, is "very concerned about the survival of the
Sitting in the middle, Steinhardt
looked left at Buchwald, then turned right at Telushkin, and
offered a history lesson: "Being an atheist and being a good Jew
is not inconsistent. Israel has a very large number of atheists.
A very substantial number of our coreligionists have been
atheists – Freud and Einstein among them."
Some 200 guests held their breath as
Steinhardt went on: "You don’t have to believe in the Red Sea
parting – that’s meshugas. You don’t have to believe in a
god that sits on a cloud."
The evening ended on a high note as it
was announced that the dinner raised $1.1 million for the
National Jewish Outreach Program.