A New Michael Steinhardt Award

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Steinhardt.jpegIn our day, a statement of such awe-inspiring obtuseness has been emitted by a Great Personage that it not only demands widespread notice but actually merits special recognition for all time. Therefore and herewith, I announce the b’rit milah (we Jews don’t do baptisms) of the Michael H. Steinhardt Award for Macher Dopiness, the first recipient of which is, of course, Michael H. Steinhardt himself.

Steinhardt, for those of you who don’t know, is the billionaire founder of the Steinhardt, Fine, Berkowitz & Co. hedge fund and a Jewish philanthropist of no mean donations. These days, he is perhaps best known as having funded (with Charles Bronfman) Taglit-Birthright Israel, which has sent some 200,000 young American Jews on an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel. That’s a lot of trips.

Now comes a good sociological study, by Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, showing that the trips have markedly increased the likelihood that the young Jews who go on them will marry other Jews. Specifically, 72 percent of those who make the trip do so, as opposed to a 46 percent rate among a control group that didn’t manage to make the trip. So, in the American Jewish community, this is good news. Except (as Gal Beckerman of the Forward reports):

The only voice to pierce the self-congratulatory tone of the
gathering was that of Birthright co-founder Steinhardt. During a
question-and-answer session, he stood up and railed against the notion
of time and energy being spent on reports and what he called “dialogue.”

study is an important study, and I think it says some very significant
things,” Steinhardt said. “But do you recall any Jewish study
meaningfully changing the Jewish world over the last 20 or 30 years? I

Now, 19 years ago, the National Jewish Population Study “changed the agenda of American Jewry.” It did so by finding that less than half of American Jews–say, about 46 percent–were marrying other Jews. In short order, the agenda of the organized Jewish community became “continuity”–i.e. keeping the next generation within the fold. And a key element of that agenda has been, you got it, Taglit-Birthright Israel. And you know what? It appears to be working.

So a study created an agenda that created a program that appears to be helping to solve the problem identified by the study. Mazel tov, Mr. Steinhardt. And congratulations on your new award!