In honor of their 35th anniversary, Moment Magazine asked 70 American Jews to answer two big questions: What do Jews bring to the world, and what does it mean to be Jewish today? The names range from comedian Mel Brooks to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, from artist Daniel Libeskind to Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance founder Blu Greenberg. The answers vary as much as the names, but in this diversity an inclusive theme begins to emerge.
Population geneticist Michael Hammer puts it nicely, writing, “When I look at the Jews, I see continuity among people of different communities.” In other words, being Jewish today means welcoming in and respecting all of the different paths that lead people into our community. This is particularly applicable to the growing number of intermarried Jews, children of intermarriage, as well as all those who find themselves on the periphery. Whether someone was born Jewish, chose Judaism, or married into the Jewish community, we have a duty to embrace the “stranger” and all those who choose to walk through our doors.
Professor Jonathan Sarna ties it all together when he writes that “the value that is distinctly ours is the idea of klal yisrael, the remarkable notion that ‘all Jews are responsible for one another.’” We agree, having written before that regardless of the differences that might separate us, we are inextricably bound to one another through a shared history. The strength of the Jewish community depends on our ability to celebrate that common ground. Maybe that’s what it means to be Jewish today – to recognize and honor the diversity that has defined our past and made us who we are. Doing so will help us promote a more welcoming and inclusive Jewish community
Being Jewish today has to also mean helping those who aren’t involved in the Jewish community answer the question, “Why be Jewish?” The question has to be answered for any of us before we can engage in Jewish life. This is a critical step if we are going to connect with those on the periphery, especially into the next generation.
What do you think? What does it mean to be Jewish today?
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