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Archive photo Photo: Reuters
 
 

Are we ready for 'Jewish Peoplehood'?

Peoplehood has become an ever present Jewish buzzword, but what does it mean?

Moty Cristal
Published: 10.29.07, 07:30 / Israel Jewish Scene

This article should have been written in Hebrew, the language of the Jewish People. However, despite the fact that Israel is rapidly becoming the largest Jewish community in the world, most of the conversations on Jewish matters are conducted in English. This is just one manifestation of the challenges, and opportunities, Jews face in a global world where people have multiple identities and a variety of access points to Jewish Peoplehood.

 

"Peoplehood" – the ever present word in Jewish communities, organizations and conferences - is a vague and undetermined buzzword. What is it actually? What does it represent? Who is "entitled" to be part of Jewish Peoplehood? How do you do Jewish Peoplehood?

 

The following presents five evolving elements that Jewish Peoplehood comprises. The Jewish conversation still struggles with the inherent contradiction between the sense of inclusiveness associated with a global world, and the need to define concepts in order to accept them as organizing principles. Therefore, rather than defining the concept of Jewish Peoplehood, and still one step sharper than just describing it, here are the five fundamental elements through which Jewish Peoplehood evolves.

 

Jewish Halacha. The religious dimension of Jewish Peoplehood is represented by the fascinating developments within halacha or Jewish legal codes. From struggling with medical ethics to the role of women in religious hierarchy, Rabbis and religious leaders from all forms of Judaism are meeting, daily, the challenges that modernity imposes on the traditional laws.

 

Jewish Culture. The amazingly eclectic composition of traditional and less traditional Jewish culture has undergone a renaissance in recent years. Artists, scholars, writers - one cannot afford ignoring the overwhelming richness of Jewish cultural creation. And yes, even in Israel. Jewish book fairs, film festival, painters, artists, music makers, websites, communities of interests and knowledge, blogs have all played a key role throughout the last decade in boosting Jewish culture that is neither religious, nor national. It's simply Jewish.

 

Israel. Not only as a Jewish state, but rather as a conceptual homeland, Israel plays a new role today and many Jews are seeking ways to engage with Israel beyond the traditional ones of making Aliyah and sending money. From real-estate and business investment, through Birthright Israel and MASA, obtaining higher education at Israel's leading universities, or just through participating in political conversations in their own communities – Jews are finding new avenues to engage with their "homeland." At the same time, we hear in Israel more and more voices calling to institutionalize the role of Jewish communities worldwide in Israel's decision-making processes, and to increase Israel's responsibility towards world Jewry.

 

Hebrew. If the dictionary definition of Peoplehood is "the awareness of the underlying unity that makes the individual a part of a people" the spoken language has, or should have, a vital role in strengthening that awareness. Hebrew should become the spoken language of the Jewish people in two distinct levels, even for those Jews whose mother tongue is not Hebrew. The first is a basic communication-level Hebrew, which allows every Jew to communicate with each other, and conversational Hebrew that will allow Jews to engage in a simple conversation and feel that they are able to express themselves.

 

Tikkun Olam. This ancient Jewish value, and its adoption as a major element in the agenda of many Jewish organizations, reflects the current new phase in the life of the Jewish people. With a strong and secure (though always under threat) nation state, Jews are starting to ask themselves, as they should, what they can do for the non-Jews worldwide. Human rights emergencies, environmental challenges and ethical dilemmas associated with biological innovations, rightfully attract Jewish capital and human resources. We are on the verge of global Jewish moral leadership, which ought to be accompanied with engagement with the moderate Muslim world, supporting it in its fight against the fundamentalists.

 

Halacha, Culture, Israel, Hebrew and Tikkun Olam – there are the five ideas that Jewish Peoplehood encompasses. Indeed, I envy Herzl. Though controversial at the time, his organizing principle of "Zionism" was clear and could have been easily defined: establish a nation state for the Jewish people. If we believe, or feel, that Jewish Peoplehood, in which modern forms of Zionism are embedded, is the next organizing principle for the Jewish People, it's our role to continue developing its definition. This piece is just another step along the path.

 

Moty Cristal is a negotiator and a KolDor leading activist

 

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