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He could sum up a politician or a historical trend in just a few words. Krauthammer excelled at explaining our times. He was ever generous toward the rising generation. The co-author of this commentary will be always grateful for his support at the start of her academic career. Krauthammer would meet with her students who learned much about politics from him, although nearly all disagreed with him—at least at the beginning.
He was not pessimistic, but realistic, about the future, writing: He was a prime example of someone who knows that man does not live by politics alone. His favorite diversion after chess was baseball, specifically the up-and-down, in-and-out, always unpredictable Washington Nationals, about whom he would wax poetic. The joy of losing consists in this: Where there are no expectations, there is no disappointment. But Krauthammer, liberal-turned-conservative, psychiatrist-turned-political commentator, expected good things from the people.
In his final column, he wrote: Of course, his was not a small, but rather a leading, role, one that will serve as a model for those with the right ideas who take up the responsibility of keeping this exceptional nation on the road to liberty. The United States is not a small nation. These nations may suffer defeats. They may even be occupied. But they cannot disappear. Prewar Czechoslovakia is the paradigmatic small nation: Israel too is a small country. This is not to say that extinction is its fate.
Only that it can be. Moreover, in its vulnerability to extinction, Israel is not just any small country. It is the only small country — the only period, period — whose neighbors publicly declare its very existence an affront to law, morality, and religion and make its extinction an explicit, paramount national goal.
Nor is the goal merely declarative. Iran, Libya, and Iraq conduct foreign policies designed for the killing of Israelis and the destruction of their state. They choose their allies Hamas, Hezbollah and develop their weapons suicide bombs, poison gas, anthrax, nuclear missiles accordingly. Others are more circumspect in their declarations.
No longer is the destruction of Israel the unanimous goal of the Arab League, as it was for the thirty years before Camp David. Syria, for example, no longer explicitly enunciates it. Yet Syria would destroy Israel tomorrow if it had the power. Its current reticence on the subject is largely due to its post-Cold War need for the American connection.
Even Egypt, first to make peace with Israel and the presumed model for peacemaking, has built a vast U. The fact that after five years and four specific promises to amend the charter it remains unamended is a sign of how deeply engraved the dream of eradicating Israel remains in the Arab consciousness.
For fifty years, Israel has been a fixture. Most people cannot remember living in a world without Israel. Nonetheless, this feeling of permanence has more than once been rudely interrupted — during the first few days of the Yom Kippur War when it seemed as if Israel might be overrun, or those few weeks in May and early June when Nasser blockaded the Straits of Tiran and marched , troops into Sinai to drive the Jews into the sea.
Yitzhak Rabin knew this. Only the land-grabbing, trigger-happy saints of the right do not know this. They are animated by the imagination of catastrophe, by the thrill of attending the end. Thrill was not exactly the feeling Israelis had when during the Gulf War they entered sealed rooms and donned gas masks to protect themselves from mass death — in a war in which Israel was not even engaged. The feeling was fear, dread, helplessness — old existential Jewish feelings that post- Zionist fashion today deems anachronistic, if not reactionary.
But wish does not overthrow reality. The Gulf War reminded even the most wishful that in an age of nerve gas, missiles, and nukes, an age in which no country is completely safe from weapons of mass destruction, Israel with its compact population and tiny area is particularly vulnerable to extinction. Israel is not on the edge. It is not on the brink.
But Israel is a small country. And it knows it. It may seem odd to begin an examination of the meaning of Israel and the future of the Jews by contemplating the end. But it does concentrate the mind. And it underscores the stakes. The stakes could not be higher.
It is my contention that on Israel — on its existence and survival — hangs the very existence and survival of the Jewish people. Or, to put the thesis in the negative, that the end of Israel means the end of the Jewish people.
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They survived destruction and exile at the hands of Babylon in B. They survived destruction and exile at the hands of Rome in 70 A. They cannot survive another destruction and exile. The Third Commonwealth — modern Israel, born just 50 years ago — is the last. The return to Zion is now the principal drama of Jewish history.
What began as an experiment has become the very heart of the Jewish people — its cultural, spiritual, and psychological center, soon to become its demographic center as well. Israel is the hinge. Upon it rest the hopes — the only hope — — for Jewish continuity and survival. In , there were 5 million Jews in the United States. In , the number was a slightly higher 5. In the intervening decades, overall U. The Jews essentially tread water. In fact, in the last half-century Jews have shrunk from 3 percent to 2 percent of the American population.
And now they are headed for not just relative but absolute decline. What sustained the Jewish population at its current level was, first, the postwar baby boom, then the influx of , Jews, mostly from the Soviet Union. Well, the baby boom is over. And Russian immigration is drying up. There are only so many Jews where they came from. Take away these historical anomalies, and the American Jewish population would be smaller today than today.
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In fact, it is now headed for catastrophic decline. Steven Bayme, director of Jewish Communal Affairs at the American Jewish Committee, flatly predicts that in twenty years the Jewish population will be down to four million, a loss of nearly 30 percent. Projecting just a few decades further yields an even more chilling future. How does a community decimate itself in the benign conditions of the United States? The fertility rate among American Jews is 1.source
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The replacement rate the rate required for the population to remain constant is 2. The current rate is thus 20 percent below what is needed for zero growth. Thus fertility rates alone would cause a 20 percent decline in every generation. In three generations, the population would be cut in half.
The low birth rate does not stem from some peculiar aversion of Jewish women to children. It is merely a striking case of the well-known and universal phenomenon of birth rates declining with rising education and socio- economic class. Educated, successful working women tend to marry late and have fewer babies. Add now a second factor, intermarriage. The intermarriage rate is 52 percent. A more conservative calculation yields 47 percent; the demographic effect is basically the same.
In , the rate was 8 percent. Most important for Jewish continuity, however, is the ultimate identity of the children born to these marriages. Only about one in four is raised Jewish.
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Thus two-thirds of Jewish marriages are producing children three-quarters of whom are lost to the Jewish people. Intermarriage rates alone would cause a 25 percent decline in population in every generation. Math available upon request. In two generations, half the Jews would disappear. Now combine the effects of fertility and intermarriage and make the overly optimistic assumption that every child raised Jewish will grow up to retain his Jewish identity i.
You can start with American Jews; you end up with In one generation, more than a third have disappeared. In just two generations, two out of every three will vanish. One can reach this same conclusion by a different route bypassing the intermarriage rates entirely.
Are you raising your children as Jews? Only 70 percent said yes. A population in which the biological replacement rate is 80 percent and the cultural replacement rate is 70 percent is headed for extinction. By this calculation, every Jews are raising 56 Jewish children. In just two generations, 7 out of every 10 Jews will vanish. The demographic trends in the rest of the Diaspora are equally unencouraging. In Western Europe, fertility and intermarriage rates mirror those of the United States.
Over the last generation, British Jewry has acted as a kind of controlled experiment: Over the last quarter- century, the number of British Jews declined by over 25 percent. The reason for this relative stability, however, is a one-time factor: That influx is over. In France today only a minority of Jews between the ages of twenty and forty-four live in a conventional family with two Jewish parents.
France, too, will go the way of the rest. The process is taking place before our eyes and is already far advanced. The story elsewhere is even more dispiriting. The rest of what was once the Diaspora is now either a museum or a graveyard. Eastern Europe has been effectively emptied of its Jews. In , Poland had 3. Today it is home to 3, The story is much the same in the other capitals of Eastern Europe. The Islamic world, cradle to the great Sephardic Jewish tradition and home to one-third of world Jewry three centuries ago, is now practically Judenrein.
Not a single country in the Islamic world is home to more than 20, Jews. After Turkey with 19, and Iran with 14,, the country with the largest Jewish community in the entire Islamic world is Morocco with 6, There are more Jews in Omaha, Nebraska. These communities do not figure in projections. There is nothing to project. They are fit subjects not for counting but for remembering. Their very sound has vanished. Yiddish and Ladino, the distinctive languages of the European and Sephardic Diasporas, like the communities that invented them, are nearly extinct.
Is it not risky to assume that current trends will continue? Nothing will revive the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe and the Islamic world. And nothing will stop the rapid decline by assimilation of Western Jewry. Projecting current trends — assuming, as I have done, that rates remain constant — is rather conservative: It is risky to assume that assimilation will not accelerate. There is nothing on the horizon to reverse the integration of Jews into Western culture. The attraction of Jews to the larger culture and the level of acceptance of Jews by the larger culture are historically unprecedented.
If anything, the trends augur an intensification of assimilation. It stands to reason. As each generation becomes progressively more assimilated, the ties to tradition grow weaker as measured, for example, by synagogue attendance and number of children receiving some kind of Jewish education. This dilution of identity, in turn, leads to a greater tendency to intermarriage and assimilation. What, after all, are they giving up? The circle is complete and self-reinforcing.
Consider two cultural artifacts. With the birth of television a half- century ago, Jewish life in America was represented by The Goldbergs: Forty years later The Goldbergs begat Seinfeld, the most popular entertainment in America today. The Seinfeld character is nominally Jewish. He might cite his Jewish identity on occasion without apology or self- consciousness — but, even more important, without consequence.
It has not the slightest influence on any aspect of his life. Assimilation of this sort is not entirely unprecedented.
In some ways, it parallels the pattern in Western Europe after the emancipation of the Jews in the late 18th and 19th centuries. The French Revolution marks the turning point in the granting of civil rights to Jews. As they began to emerge from the ghetto, at first they found resistance to their integration and advancement.
They were still excluded from the professions, higher education, and much of society. But as these barriers began gradually to erode and Jews advanced socially, Jews began a remarkable embrace of European culture and, for many, Christianity.
In A History of Zionism, Walter Laqueur notes the view of Gabriel Riesser, an eloquent and courageous midth-century advocate of emancipation, that a Jew who preferred the non-existent state and nation of Israel to Germany should be put under police protection not because he was dangerous but because he was obviously insane. Moses Mendelssohn was a harbinger. Cultured, cosmopolitan, though firmly Jewish, he was the quintessence of early emancipation. Yet his story became emblematic of the rapid historical progression from emancipation to assimilation: Four of his six children and eight of his nine grandchildren were baptized.
In that more religious, more Christian age, assimilation took the form of baptism, what Henrich Heine called the admission ticket to European society. Assimilation today is totally passive. Indeed, apart from the trip to the county courthouse to transform, say, shmattes by Ralph Lifshitz into Polo by Ralph Lauren, it is marked by an absence of actions rather than the active embrace of some other faith.
We now know, of course, that in Europe, emancipation through assimilation proved a cruel hoax. The rise of anti-Semitism, particularly lateth- century racial anti-Semitism culminating in Nazism, disabused Jews of the notion that assimilation provided escape from the liabilities and dangers of being Jewish. The saga of the family of Madeleine Albright is emblematic. Of her four Jewish grandparents — highly assimilated, with children some of whom actually converted and erased their Jewish past — three went to their deaths in Nazi concentration camps as Jews.
Nonetheless, the American context is different. The American tradition of tolerance goes back years to the very founding of the country. It finds no parallel in the history of Europe. Nonetheless, while assimilation may be a solution for individual Jews, it clearly is a disaster for Jews as a collective with a memory, a language, a tradition, a liturgy, a history, a faith, a patrimony that will all perish as a result.
Whatever value one might assign to assimilation, one cannot deny its reality. The trends, demographic and cultural, are stark. Not just in the long-lost outlands of the Diaspora, not just in its erstwhile European center, but even in its new American heartland, the future will be one of diminution, decline, and virtual disappearance. This will not occur overnight. But it will occur soon — in but two or three generations, a time not much further removed from ours today than the founding of Israel fifty years ago. In Israel the great temptation of modernity — assimilation — simply does not exist.
Israel is the very embodiment of Jewish continuity: It is the only nation on earth that inhabits the same land, bears the same name, speaks the same language, and worships the same God that it did 3, years ago. You dig the soil and you find pottery from Davidic times, coins from Bar Kokhba, and 2,year-old scrolls written in a script remarkably like the one that today advertises ice cream at the corner candy store. So do some secular Jews. Well then, call these people what you will. They started out as Hebrews, then became Israelites.
It is a latecomer to history. What to call the Israeli who does not observe the dietary laws, has no use for the synagogue, and regards the Sabbath as the day for a drive to the beach — a fair description, by the way, of most of the prime ministers of Israel? It does not matter. Plant a Jewish people in a country that comes to a standstill on Yom Kippur; speaks the language of the Bible; moves to the rhythms of the Hebrew lunar calendar; builds cities with the stones of its ancestors; produces Hebrew poetry and literature, Jewish scholarship and learning unmatched anywhere in the world — and you have continuity.
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