Ads against Jewish assimilation pulled over uproar

By Amy Teibel
Associated Press / September 10, 2009

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JERUSALEM - An ad campaign against Jewish assimilation, cosponsored by the Israeli government, has been yanked after outraging Jews abroad, an official said yesterday, laying bare the sometimes fraught relations between residents of the Jewish homeland and world Jewry.

The Hebrew-language campaign was launched by Masa, a joint venture of the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency and the Israeli government. It included newspapers ads and TV clips showing mock missing persons fliers emblazoned with Jewish-sounding names and the word “Lost.’’

Jews abroad saw the campaign as an attack on intermarriage - the common practice of Jews marrying non-Jews.

Statistics show that in the United States - home to the largest Jewish community outside Israel - about half the marriages of Jews over the past 25 years have been mixed.

A TV ad called on viewers who know young Jews living abroad to contact Masa, warning that they were “in danger’’ of marrying non-Jews.

“Together, we will strengthen their bonds to Israel, so we won’t lose them,’’ the voiceover intoned.

Religious leaders, bloggers, and editorial writers criticized the campaign as an affront to children of mixed marriages, and Jewish Agency officials said hundreds of people contacted the organization to denounce it.

Some deplored imagery that evoked the Holocaust, such as one showing railroad tracks.

J.J. Goldberg, editorial director of the Jewish-American weekly The Forward, called it “one of the most spectacularly knuckle-headed advertising campaigns in modern Jewish history.’’

No one, says Goldberg, is going to win the hearts of young Jews of mixed parentage “with commercials implying that their parents’ marriage was a form of genocide.’’

Assimilation, or gradual weakening of Jewish identity with immersion in Western culture, is one of the most explosive issues in the Jewish world. One-third of the world’s Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and some Jews fear that intermarriage and assimilation now threaten the community’s continued survival.

Yesterday, Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky issued a statement saying he ordered the offending ads pulled.

“There is no doubt that strengthening the ties between Diaspora Jewry and the state of Israel assists in the struggle against assimilation,’’ Sharansky said.

“At the same time, we must avoid offending Diaspora Jews and find a common language between them and citizens of Israel,’’ he said.