Jewish Connectedness – Why Be Jewish?

There is no more appropriate time to wrap up this series about Jewish connectedness than in the days before Pesach/Passover. After all, this is the holiday at which the greatest number of Jews, at least in America, participate in a Jewish ritual together (the Seder), and at which they connect with their Jewish families and friends.

Over these several postings, I have tried to make the case for seeing connectedness rather than membership as being the marker of success we need to be using in understanding Jewish learning and growth. To summarize, Jewish connectedness should be looked at as the sum of:

  • Connectedness to the Jewish people
  • Connectedness to Jewishness
  • Connectedness to Judaism
  • Connectedness to the Jewish historical experience
  • Connectedness to Jewish wisdom, values and texts

For many years, we measured the success of Jewish learning as being mastery of content. That could be measured in knowledge of Talmud, Hebrew fluency, biblical literacy and more. Today, mastery cannot be achieved. There is simply too much to know. As a result, no person can know everything. And even computer databases are unable to keep up with the flow of new knowledge, whether in Jewish subjects or in life as a whole.

By the same token, for hundreds of years, we understood ones ties to the Jewish people as a function of membership. That membership might be anything from synagogue dues to tzedaka for the upkeep of community institutions. In an era of increased individualism, those markers are no longer the be all and end all.

The concept that replaces both mastery of information and membership is that of connectedness. And the goal of all Jewish learning must be to build the capacity of all Jews to be able to connect. That connectivity requires social skills, technological skills, critical thinking and more. It also requires consensus around the terms we will set for the connectedness: a shared vocabulary (which includes basic Hebrew knowledge) and shared cultural expectations. The knowledge that does need to be mastered today is that which gives the Jewish people the ability to play in the same ballpark, including the shared stories that define us.

 

Now the big challenge: In today’s world, why bother being Jewish and Jewishly connected at all? I would answer the following:

  • Being Jewish provides a lens through which to see the world. Unlike the Jewishness of past generations, Jewish is not there to close us off to our neighbors (or to spouses or other family members who are not Jewish); it is a way of relating to them that is grounded in our experience, in the same way that any peoples are grounded in theirs.
  • Jewishness is a means to an end – the goal of a peaceful world, and one in which human needs are met.
  • Jewish peoplehood, as expressed in community, is a powerful model for other peoples of the world. One need only look at how the Exodus from Egypt that we celebrate in a few days has been used as a model by downtrodden peoples throughout history.
  • Being Jewish is a path towards the Godly, the holy. No more, but certainly no less, than the paths that other civilizations or religious communities follow.
  • As Jews, we contribute to the cumulative wisdom of the world in which we live. Our people’s wisdom and literature are a part of humanity’s wisdom.

I chose to create a consulting and coaching practice and name it “Jewish Connectivity” in the hopes that I can dedicate my Jewish career to building that capacity of Jews (and their significant others) to connect in order to journey together towards the shared aspirations that Jews throughout history have strived.

May the holiday of Pesach help us all to connect in powerful ways with one another, with our family and neighbors, with the past that has shaped us and with the future that we will shape together.

 

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2 responses

  1. Chag Pesach to you and yours, as well, Arnie. Thanks for the inspiration and teaching. I get why the measurement devices are ineffective. Nicely taught. I don’t get “why be Jewish.” Couldn’t Christians insert “Christian” where you write “Jewish” and make the same case for “why be Christian.” (Although the food wouldn’t be nearly as good…) Each religion can point to the “selling points” of their faith. I think the question itself is problematic There are unspoken words at the end of the question: “Why be Jewish…rather than something else.” I know how Judaism informs my life. I can’t make that case for others. (More material for our next visit.

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  2. It took me time to read all the tips, but I clearly loved the post. It proved to be very helpful to me and I’m certain to all of the commenters here!
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