Jeff Goldberg suggest that Palestinians should ask the UN not for greater recognition of independence, but to concede their nationalist aspirations for the right to vote in Israel instead. He suggest it as a strategy, not a sincere change of direction, and believes that it will yield a two-state solution:
Reaction would be seismic and instantaneous. The demand for voting rights would resonate with people around the world, in particular with American Jews, who pride themselves on support for both Israel and for civil rights at home. Such a demand would also force Israel into an untenable position; if it accedes to such a demand, it would very quickly cease to be the world’s only Jewish-majority state, and instead become the world’s 23rd Arab-majority state. If it were to refuse this demand, Israel would very quickly be painted by former friends as an apartheid state.
Israel’s response, then, can be reasonably predicted: Israeli leaders eager to prevent their country from becoming a pariah would move to negotiate the independence, with security caveats, of a Palestinian state on the West Bank, and later in Gaza, as well. Israel would simply have no choice.
But would it? Perhaps another outcome would result? What if Israel found itself unable to turn the clock back to a 2-state solution, for all the same reasons that a 2-state solution hasn’t worked thus far: an implacable Hamas, a corrupt and inept Fatah, a distrustful Israeli Right and a powerless and directionless Israeli Left.
Can we imagine an alternate future, where Israel found itself unable to avoid a transition of some kind into a civil state for all of its citizens? I wonder… would the masses of Diaspora Judaism in-gather themselves to defuse the demographic Palestinian time bomb? Would secular, American Jews arouse themselves to come to Israel and struggle for its liberal democratic soul? Would comfortable Orthodox Jews be seduced by the dream of the Biblical Land of Israel, to go along with the more prosaic temptation of affordable housing and religious education? And perhaps Palestinians would find that with voting rights and equal citizenship, political alliances across the religious and ethnic divide could yield better results than insurrection and resistance. To say nothing of the right, at long last, to move out of Gaza and out of refugee camps, and out of the indignity of border checkpoints and work papers.
If all this sounds familiar, it’s because I wrote about it in almost exactly the same terms three years ago, prior to the last election in Israel. Three years later, not much has changed.
It’s Tisha B’Av today, but instead of mourning the destruction of the Temple or remembering the Holocaust, I’m thinking about how we can rebuild our Jewish community. Many of us believe that the key to a brighter Jewish future is Jewish education that is better, that reaches more people, and that is more relevant and applicable to our lives.
Today, Jewish children receive a Jewish education through Jewish day schools, Jewish supplementary schools, or Jewish camps. And of course, some Jewish children receive no Jewish education at all. There’s plenty of research out proving that day school is an effective way to deliver Jewish education for those who are willing and able to access it. The costs of accessing day school education, both in dollars and in lifestyle choices are very high, and even stipulating that the content of that education is terrific, day school will not be a realistic solution for many Jewish families. Camps, on the other hand, may be a fine complement to education received during the school year, but few would consider it to be an effective way, by itself, to provide Jewish education.
We must instead consider supplementary Jewish education – Hebrew school. Today’s Hebrew school is not the Hebrew school of the past, as caricatured in such films as A Serious Man. The days of uninspiring teachers, rote memorization of Hebrew, and listless classrooms filled with bored students are behind us. Today, and for some years now, Hebrew schools have provided an enjoyable experience that students emerge from with a sense of pride in their Jewish identity, some community service credits, and perhaps some Jewish friends and memories. What they do not get is Hebrew literacy, or even much by way of Jewish knowledge. While progress has been made, claiming success would be a case of setting the bar far too low.
There are many challenges to doing Hebrew school right, but I want to focus on two big-picture issues. The first is content, and the second is distribution. In the non-Orthodox world, the primary values of Jewish life have been Zionism and Tikkun Olam – supporting the State of Israel philanthropically and politically, and perfecting the world through a variety of social, political and environmental initiatives. A framework of Jewish holidays, rituals and traditions that were at times harmonic and at times dissonant with these values provided the structure for Jewish communal living. Hebrew schools taught to this content – the values and the framework for their expression. However, over time, allegiance to these values has waned, and questions and doubts continue to emerge about the values and the framework of non-Orthodox life.
The result of these growing doubts has been a complete lack of confidence and conviction over the way to express Jewish identity and to live a Jewish life within a Jewish community. The very meaning of who is a Jew and what is a Jewish community continues to go through convulsive changes. In the world of education, the question of what to teach is so toxic, so fraught with division and doubt that it is rarely broached at all. The absence of leadership is most evident when you consider that the newest thinking on this challenge is to privilege the consumer, and provide a plethora of options for the learner in a marketplace. Put another way, rabbis, educators and leaders are stepping away from the responsibility of defining a core set of content, values, rituals, and behaviors, and instead letting the market decide. No doubt, some curating of the vast sea of choices is happening, but nevertheless, it is astonishing how much Jewish leadership has conceded that it has no idea which way to lead.
Viewed in this light, the declining rates of synagogue affiliation and attendance reflect the declining interest in the type of Judaism these institutions stand for. Teachers continue to teach students how to live a Jewish life that most will find outmoded and irrelevant as they grow into adulthood. Students come away with vague good feelings about being Jewish but few Jewish habits or behaviors. Judaism becomes a more superficial identity that can be shrugged on and off, rather than the organizing principle for our values, our choices, and our life missions.
Is there hope in the emerging class of Jewish movements and organizations that are forging new paths in Jewish life? Perhaps, taken together, they are defining new possibilities for Jewish identity and community. Certainly, the growth, vitality, and passion in Jewish life is found more in the independent minyans, the new Jewish food movement, and radically open Jewish learning than in JCCs, Federations, and traditional synagogues.
Yet these new approaches face many challenges. Many of them haven’t even built educational material and pedagogies for teaching children and teens, and there’s certainly no comprehensive curriculum that existing schools could adopt or adapt. And let’s face it, so many of these celebrated young organizations are composed of no more than a handful of idealists who lack the requisite capital, expertise, and manpower to reach significant scale. Too many operate in such financially precarious states that they have to focus on making payroll instead of making change.
The truth is that we have no effective distribution mechanisms in the Jewish community. Our institutions, built to raise money and deliver social services to Jewish communities defined by geography and proximity, are struggling to reinvent themselves in the wake of the ongoing communication revolution. There are no national clearinghouses of educational programming, no open databases of comprehensive educational content, and a dearth of online programs of Jewish instruction. A consolidated online school? Not yet.
But can you solve the problem of distribution without solving the problem of content and conviction? I’m not sure. Why bother investing in a robust distribution mechanism when you have no confidence in your content? As a counter-example, take a look at Orthodox kiruv institutions. Chabad and Aish have invested themselves into building extraordinary distribution systems, from world-class websites with rich offerings across the full range of Jewish life and learning, to a world-spanning network of actual schools, synagogues and centers staffed by caring pastors and educators who serve their communities with tremendous dedication. The success of that system is predicated on the deeply-held convictions about how to be a Jew, how to live a Jewish life, and the nature and purpose of Jewish community.
There is no doubt that we need to build a better distribution system for Jewish education. But the only way we’re going to do that effectively is if we find our own commitments to Jewish life. I don’t think we all need to believe the same thing to build a good distribution system. FedEx doesn’t care what you put in your box, email is agnostic to the words you’re sending, and Google will find any webpage. Content-neutral networks can be enormously powerful. But paradoxically, they only exist because consumers of content are highly discriminant, and value some kinds of content much more than others.
Sina’at Hinam, baseless hatred, the Sages tell us, was the sin for which the Second Temple was destroyed, and only Ahavat Hinam, baseless, boundless love, can restore it. I believe that there is no better expression of boundless love than helping someone teach something to others, even if you disagree with it. Our love for the diversity of Judaism must be expressed by building a distribution network that helps share all those passionate and vibrant approaches to Jewish life with Jewish children and families – including those not attending school or synagogue – and all those interested in being enriched by Judaism. That’s the kind of Temple I pray we will merit to build, speedily and in our day. Amen.
As proud, patriotic Americans, we celebrate our country’s birth with friends, and fireworks. But as Jews, do we observe the Fourth of July? As a religious matter, many of us do observe Israel’s independence for a variety of theological and practical reasons, and even recite special prayers on that day. But we don’t typically do the same for the Fourth. Why not?
Whether looked at through the lens of “is it good for the Jews?” or the broader lens of does this bring us to a more perfect, more just, more Godly world, the founding of the United States is an unequivocally momentous happening. And while it’s true that the American Revolution was largely not a story about Jews, or even with significant Jewish involvement, it is nevertheless true that it ended up being among the most important events to impact Jewish history. Perhaps it’s time we embraced it as a Jewish holiday, not just an American holiday. It’s time to thank our Creator for the great experiment in freedom and responsibility that is the United States. God bless America!
Kudos to the UJA-Federation of New York for completing a Jewish population study. I was sorely disappointed by the failure of the Jewish Federations of North America to complete a nation Jewish population study in 2010, and I’m delighted that the NY Federation has done its own regional study. The findings, on the other hand, are grim.
Most of the press around the study has focused on the significant increase in Orthodox population and poverty, and the continuing decline of Conservative and Reform Jews. All the usual reactions: The Orthodox are sad and smug at the same time, the Conservative and Reform are concerned and bewildered, and the Just Jewish continue to think nothing is wrong – whether because they’ve found a wonderful Judaism outside the bounds of the Big 3 denominations, or because they are indifferent to Jewish life.
But here’s what we should be paying attention to: Non-Orthodox Jews are marrying later or not at all, and they are having fewer or no children. Folks, that’s the ball game. Would non-Orthodox synagogues be fading if families had three or four children instead of one or two? Each additional child adds a few more years of synagogue membership, and a few more years of living a synagogue lifestyle – the kind that might end up lasting a lifetime. And that’s just synagogues.
Young Jews joke about it all the time – that the Jewish community is only interested in them getting married and having babies. And yet, I’d argue that our message has been much more ambivalent. We’ve encouraged our children to get married later and later, after education, after career, after multiple lovers and after living with a significant other. And I fear we’ve made a terrible mistake.
Too many Jewish young adults spend their 20s in an extended adolescence simply because they can. It’s time we remembered that taking on the responsibilities of marriage and family is part of what it means to grow up, not what comes after you’ve grown up.
PM Benjamin Netanyahu (Likkud) and opposition leader Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) announced a last-minute coalition agreement that will push off Israel’s elections for as much as another 18 months. The new coalition, with over 90 seats, more than 75% of the total seats in Knesset, is Israel’s largest coalition in decades.
Immediate reactions have focused on Mofaz’s 180-degree turnaround on joining a Netanyahu-led government, what this might mean for Israel’s stand on Iran, and on the reality that the upcoming election, now delayed, was going to cost Kadima as many as 14 of their 28 seats. The coalition agreement puts Kadima in charge of reforming the Tal law that has long exempted Hareidi Jews from military service, and in charge of renewed engagement with the peace process. That Kadima was charged with both of these quagmires is also a topic of interest.
Yet it is another aspect of the agreement that caught my attention. Mofaz explained that Likud and Kadima have agreed to reform the electoral system, and that this was his “dayenu” condition – that just this agreement would have been sufficient to lure him into the governing coalition.
The details of the proposed reform are not yet clear, but indications are that they will include regional representation for half of the Knesset seats. Parties will also have to win at least 3% of the popular vote to gain seats in Knesset, up from the previous threshold of 2%.
How will those reforms actually play out? Raising the threshold means that the smallest party that can sit the Knesset will be four seats. Three parties in the current Knesset are smaller than that. But how will regional representation actually work? How will parties choose which candidates should compete in local races and which should be placed on the national list? Will voters now vote twice, once for their local representative and once for a party? Geographical representation tends to favor concentrated populations who can guarantee the election of a candidate from their district. This seems to benefit settlers, Hareidim and Arab parties, whose populations are concentrated in relatively few areas. The emerging logic of Israel’s representational map and districting will unfold in unpredictable ways. Nevertheless, the idea of electing MKs to the Knesset in two vastly different ways reminds me of a joke: One day, the British decide to change over and drive on the right side of the road. After a period of study, a committee of bureaucrats and experts agree that the change should be phased in, starting with only the trucks.
The last time Israel engaged in major electoral reform it was to provide for direct elections of the Prime Minister, starting with the election of 1996. That ill-conceived reform shattered the power of the major parties, as ticket-splitters voted for a mainstream candidate for Prime Minister and a special-interest party for Knesset. Even after the reversal of that reform, the large parties have not fully recovered, and no party in Israel command as much as 25% of the total seats. Will this new reform bring greater stability, or a new set of unexpected consequences? Will there even be any reform at all?
eJewishPhilanthropy has an op-ed from Rabbi Benjamin Berger,senior educator at the Ohio State University Hillel who used the Hagadah and seder format to teach about the Holocaust.
The activation of memory rather than the telling of history is the next component of the seder that make it a unique educational experience. Memory is personal and like the exodus, the Holocaust demands that we personally live as if we were there, even if for a moment.