Jewish Peoplehood

A Fresh View of "Let My People Go..." 

By Dr. Zohar Raviv MA'00

Dr. Zohar Raviv MA'00There is one element concerning the reciprocal relationship between Israeli and World Jewry that calls out for discourse. It is, namely, the profound ignorance that exists on both sides regarding the richness, vitality, diversity and the splendid contribution each community potentially has to offer the other as part of a global Jewish world, its discourse and quest for a sense of collectivity.

As an Israeli educator of Judaism who has been fortunate enough to be himself educated in multiple settings worldwide, I can attest to the great need to thoughtfully standardize and systemize infrastructures that may allow each community better exposure to the other(s). While there are surely multiple venues to explore this paradigm, I’d like to offer as a tangible example the role of the shaliach/shlichah (emissary).

On two occasions I served as an education shaliach (some two decades ago, in North America and South Africa respectively). Each time, I was at first eager to “show Israel and Judaism in their fuller colors and enchanting complexity,” only to be much humbled later upon discovering how much I still had to observe and learn in order to even remotely appreciate the intricate Jewish communal landscapes in which I was immersed, let alone fully contextualize their different approaches to questions that plagued us both as Jews.

I was indeed successful as a shaliach from Israel — or so, at least, told me my gracious hosts. But that success only highlighted for me the need, as an Israeli, to have such experiences on the receiving end: to envision a reality wherein shlichut is not synonymous with a one-sided trajectory of educational or communal edification, but rather becomes a reciprocal institution wherein communities truly learn about and from each other.

I dream of a day wherein reciprocal shlichut initiatives would become a natural meridian in our quest for true intercommunal Jewish dialogue, and a major forerunner in establishing a deeper understanding and appreciation for each other.

I dream of the day wherein Israel continues to send its best men and women to shlichut, only to be met by an equally powerful cadre of committed Jews from around the world who are similarly sent as shlichim to Israel.

I dream of a day where our best and brightest from the world over are now employed on behalf of their respective Jewish communities and become immersed for 2-3 years in Israeli society, its educational institutions — both formal and informal — its youth movements (which, incidentally, have seen a staggering membership rise of 100% in the past five years!), the IDF, universities, social activism organizations, NGOs, etc.

How much can we all benefit should we courageously harness the possibility of dialogue in the truer sense of the word? How much can we gain should we realize that the fuller scope and richness of over 4,000 years of Jewish evolution cannot be found within a single domain, no matter how splendidly diverse and intricate it may be?

I wrote it once, in an essay while a student at Hornstein (also, almost two decades past), and I say it again now: Judaism doesn’t talk. Jews do!

If we wish to allow the buzzword "Peoplehood" any serious potential to blossom, let us create infrastructures that may incubate and nurture such possibilities.

Perhaps it's not a dream.

Dr. Raviv is International Vice President of Education for Taglit-Birthright Israel and an internationally recognized educator. His professional experience spans Israel, North America, South America, Europe, South Africa,and Australia.

In 2015, the Hornstein Program awarded Dr. Raviv with the Bernard Reisman Professional Excellence Award.

Page date: March 18, 2016