By Rachel Ain for The Jerusalem Post
Over the past several months there has been an analysis of the Pew Research Center study in the United States which focused on the feelings, actions and considerations of American Jews. In many ways, there were no big surprises. As Andres Spokoiny, the CEO of the Jewish Funders Networks wrote, “No bombshells, no surprises, no Jewish leaders pulling their hair and crying ‘gevalt.’ The Jewish population is growing at the same pace as the general population, and levels of affiliation are fairly stable. Dull. But dull is good!”
Yet at the same time, the question of Jewish peoplehood seems to be back on the table. Not necessarily in the terms that it was used when the 1990 NJPS study was released with regard to “Jewish continuity” but rather, do Jews feel connected to one another across time and space? Is there an understanding of interconnectedness to one another if we don’t necessarily share the same language and experiences? We certainly saw this in May of 2021, as there wasn’t a uniform voice of support by the American Jewish community while Israel was engaged in a military conflict with Hamas. This indicated for some, a withering of the seams in the strong fabric between US Jewry and Israeli Jewry. And the notion that Jews of different streams don’t feel as connected to each other as they might have in the past was concerning as well.
As a congregational rabbi at a Conservative synagogue in the United States, I am certainly aware that my experience and upbringing and therefore my expression of Judaism might be varied from people who grew up elsewhere. And yet I believe there are ties that continue to bind us and what I have witnessed over the decades, even if in small ways, is that there can and should be attempts to strengthen those ties. In the past, it has been through shared moments of expression of a Jewish community striving for a shared goal. For me, the most profound moment was in December of 1987 when as a 10-year-old, I marched, with my family and many others to free Soviet Jews.
A further way of creating bonds of peoplehood was through the use of Israel trips. In many ways, American Jews went to Israel to yes, learn about Israel, but also, in order to strengthen their own Judaism. Synagogue trips, Federations missions, teen tours were all crafted as a way of creating a bond between participants while using Israel as a campus to learn more about this sacred and shared history. Eventually, American Jews went to Israel to meet with Israelis to learn about their experience. The explosion of Birthright over the past two decades has been an attempt to solidify a connection between young Jews and the land, state, and people of Israel. However, for many years, this was “one-directional.”
But what I am seeing now, on a small scale, is Israeli Jews coming to America to learn about our experiences and to be in dialogue. This is the most important step. The “shared responsibility” of crossing the Atlantic to engage in dialogue to truly learn and understand who one another is.
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