Center Field: Zionist teen titans champion Jewish autonomy

Taken together, the three articulated three dimensions to Jewish identity and human fulfillment.

By
June 11, 2019 22:03
AMERICANS TAKE part in the annual Salute to Israel parade in New York City

AMERICANS TAKE part in the annual Salute to Israel parade in New York City. (photo credit: EDUARDO MUNOZ / REUTERS)

 
X

Dear Reader,
As you can imagine, more people are reading The Jerusalem Post than ever before. Nevertheless, traditional business models are no longer sustainable and high-quality publications, like ours, are being forced to look for new ways to keep going. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. We want to keep our journalism open and accessible and be able to keep providing you with news and analysis from the frontlines of Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World.

As one of our loyal readers, we ask you to be our partner.

For $5 a month you will receive access to the following:

  • A user experience almost completely free of ads
  • Access to our Premium Section
  • Content from the award-winning Jerusalem Report and our monthly magazine to learn Hebrew - Ivrit
  • A brand new ePaper featuring the daily newspaper as it appears in print in Israel

Help us grow and continue telling Israel’s story to the world.

Thank you,

Ronit Hasin-Hochman, CEO, Jerusalem Post Group
Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief

UPGRADE YOUR JPOST EXPERIENCE FOR 5$ PER MONTH Show me later

 Older Jews spend too much time debating what younger Jews need – and not enough time asking what they think. I recently concluded my class on American Jewish identity at Hevruta, the Shalom Hartman Institute’s gap year-mechina, by inviting those of the 30 Israelis and 30 Americans who wished, to write Zionist manifestos.

Remarkably, the first three vision-statements presented offered three interlocking solutions to overlapping problems. One manifesto emphasized culture to confront hyper-individualism and disengagement. The second championed Jewish nationalism to bridge Israel-Diaspora tensions. The third trusted Jewish text and tradition to integrate fragmenting Jewish visions.
 
Taken together, the three articulated three dimensions to Jewish identity and human fulfillment. They echoed the University of Chicago cultural anthropologist Richard Shweder’s three ethics of autonomy, community, divinity. This means that humans flourish by juggling individual dignity, group responsibility and some sense of sanctity, of soul.
 
Sam Russo, Eitan Aisenthal Berkovitz, Caleb Smith-Salzberg and Max Abramovitz suggested that rather than fruitlessly trying to woo so many disengaged Americans Jews into synagogues, “meet them where they are and allow the Judaism that has added so much to our lives to enrich theirs in a way that fits them.”
 
These students appreciate Israel’s “fulfilling Jewish culture that can be disconnected from religious practice and affiliation to a religious community. Shabbat, though often not kept traditionally, is a family and community day.... In the United States, families, both secular and religious, should gather together with friends to celebrate, as Israelis do.” These students “wish to bring back to the United States this strength of Israel’s Jewish culture,” by shifting “the center of secular Judaism from the synagogue to the family.”
 
Emphasizing the personal touch, the meaning dimension, they believe, builds a culture that goes beyond “religious observance.... Personal connection makes practice relevant without necessitating religious beliefs. Israeli Judaism fosters a sense of connection between almost all engaged Jews.... It’s time to reclaim Jewish peoplehood in the United States.”
ADDRESSING ISRAEL-DIASPORA tensions, Liana Slomka, Adar Naftali, Noa Pitkowsky and Noam Niv suggested: “Israelis need to open their minds to American criticism, understanding that Diaspora Jews feel a right to be represented by the world’s only Jewish state. And Americans need to recognize that they lack the experiences that Israelis possess, acknowledging that they are not sending their children to the army to defend the rights of Jews everywhere.”
 
Such humility reflects that shared sense of destiny or peoplehood, the first group discussed.
 
Motivated by that mutuality, that nationalism, they add, “Americans must learn to see through the dreamy haze of a perfect Promised Land and teach their children to love Israel as a modern-day state, with faults that need to be acknowledged, if there is ever a chance to fix them. And Israelis should meet American Jews as individuals, forming personal connections and learning to love them as people, before they judge the whole American community as nothing but a wallet with unreasonable demands.”
 
Offering wise advice for individuals, not just groups, they conclude: “When the communities can reevaluate the way they see each other, understand that their expectations don’t line up, and start working to realign them, there can be hope for a stable relationship.”
 
Finally, Akiva Groener, Julia Levy, Liana Lapp, Nerya Bokovza and Saul Goldstein characterized most American Jews as “tikkun olam Jews,” seeking to repair the world: “outward looking, identified and energized by what they do and how they live among others (for the change they can make within the community).” Israeli Jews, they believe, tend to be “lachrymose narrative Jews... inward looking, feeling most empowered by their small communities and events and narratives that highlight victimhood.”
 
“Lachrymose,” or “tear-stained,” evokes the historian Salo Baron’s critique that too many reduce Jewish history to a flood of tears, cascades of traumas.


NOBLY RESISTING the worldwide trend to only think one big thought, these synthesizers wrote: “In this new generation, being Jewish has to be about” seeking a “balance between the inward and the outward manner. To source this equilibrium, we must take the intellectual approach – our roots are in the Torah. Recently, we’ve lost the backbone of our religion, which lies in this text.... Stability will come,” they teach, from “paying close attention to the needs of our own people around the world, while also constantly looking outside our bubble and asking what we can do for others.”
 
The presentations triggered some passionate debates. Most Israeli students disagreed that their worldview is “lachrymose” or “inward-looking” – “look how often we march – and dance – shoulder to shoulder,” one exclaimed.
 
The key here is the word “passion.” Defying the stereotypes, these 19-year-olds are caring, visionary, creative – and truly countercultural. Rather than being hypercritical, they offer solutions. Rejecting single-bullet problem-solving, they seek balance, integration. Fleeing social media simplicity and superficiality, they embrace complexity, depth, dimensionality.
 
Together, these students recognize that Judaism flourishes when it’s integrated, textured, with each Jew juggling Judaism’s different, self-reinforcing, individual, communal and spiritual components, rather than artificially choosing just one dimension.
Clearly, that old-new Israel magic inspired the students, shaping each manifesto. Israel showcases 3-D Judaism. Israel’s Judaism offers multiple portals. There, secular, religious and the muddled majority can enter and live in 3-D on two planes: as we try to define Judaism perfectly, ideologically, we can also just live it fully, practically.
 
The Zionist thinkers dreamed of this naturalness; Hartman’s Zionist teen titans absorbed it, identified it, and now seek to share it.
May their university years not ruin them!
 
The writer is the author of The Zionist Ideas, an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology, The Zionist Idea, published by the Jewish Publication Society. A distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University, he is the author of 10 books on American history, including The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s.Older Jews spend too much time debating what younger Jews need – and not enough time asking what they think. I recently concluded my class on American Jewish identity at Hevruta, the Shalom Hartman Institute’s gap year-mechina, by inviting those of the 30 Israelis and 30 Americans who wished, to write Zionist manifestos.
 
Remarkably, the first three vision-statements presented offered three interlocking solutions to overlapping problems. One manifesto emphasized culture to confront hyper-individualism and disengagement. The second championed Jewish nationalism to bridge Israel-Diaspora tensions. The third trusted Jewish text and tradition to integrate fragmenting Jewish visions.
 
Taken together, the three articulated three dimensions to Jewish identity and human fulfillment. They echoed the University of Chicago cultural anthropologist Richard Shweder’s three ethics of autonomy, community, divinity. This means that humans flourish by juggling individual dignity, group responsibility and some sense of sanctity, of soul.
 
Sam Russo, Eitan Aisenthal Berkovitz, Caleb Smith-Salzberg and Max Abramovitz suggested that rather than fruitlessly trying to woo so many disengaged Americans Jews into synagogues, “meet them where they are and allow the Judaism that has added so much to our lives to enrich theirs in a way that fits them.”
 
These students appreciate Israel’s “fulfilling Jewish culture that can be disconnected from religious practice and affiliation to a religious community. Shabbat, though often not kept traditionally, is a family and community day.... In the United States, families, both secular and religious, should gather together with friends to celebrate, as Israelis do.” These students “wish to bring back to the United States this strength of Israel’s Jewish culture,” by shifting “the center of secular Judaism from the synagogue to the family.”
 
Emphasizing the personal touch, the meaning dimension, they believe, builds a culture that goes beyond “religious observance.... Personal connection makes practice relevant without necessitating religious beliefs. Israeli Judaism fosters a sense of connection between almost all engaged Jews.... It’s time to reclaim Jewish peoplehood in the United States.”


ADDRESSING ISRAEL-DIASPORA tensions, Liana Slomka, Adar Naftali, Noa Pitkowsky and Noam Niv suggested: “Israelis need to open their minds to American criticism, understanding that Diaspora Jews feel a right to be represented by the world’s only Jewish state. And Americans need to recognize that they lack the experiences that Israelis possess, acknowledging that they are not sending their children to the army to defend the rights of Jews everywhere.”
 
Such humility reflects that shared sense of destiny or peoplehood, the first group discussed.
 
Motivated by that mutuality, that nationalism, they add, “Americans must learn to see through the dreamy haze of a perfect Promised Land and teach their children to love Israel as a modern-day state, with faults that need to be acknowledged, if there is ever a chance to fix them. And Israelis should meet American Jews as individuals, forming personal connections and learning to love them as people, before they judge the whole American community as nothing but a wallet with unreasonable demands.”
 
Offering wise advice for individuals, not just groups, they conclude: “When the communities can reevaluate the way they see each other, understand that their expectations don’t line up, and start working to realign them, there can be hope for a stable relationship.”
 
Finally, Akiva Groener, Julia Levy, Liana Lapp, Nerya Bokovza and Saul Goldstein characterized most American Jews as “tikkun olam Jews,” seeking to repair the world: “outward looking, identified and energized by what they do and how they live among others (for the change they can make within the community).” Israeli Jews, they believe, tend to be “lachrymose narrative Jews... inward looking, feeling most empowered by their small communities and events and narratives that highlight victimhood.”
 
“Lachrymose,” or “tear-stained,” evokes the historian Salo Baron’s critique that too many reduce Jewish history to a flood of tears, cascades of traumas.


NOBLY RESISTING the worldwide trend to only think one big thought, these synthesizers wrote: “In this new generation, being Jewish has to be about” seeking a “balance between the inward and the outward manner. To source this equilibrium, we must take the intellectual approach – our roots are in the Torah. Recently, we’ve lost the backbone of our religion, which lies in this text.... Stability will come,” they teach, from “paying close attention to the needs of our own people around the world, while also constantly looking outside our bubble and asking what we can do for others.”
 
The presentations triggered some passionate debates. Most Israeli students disagreed that their worldview is “lachrymose” or “inward-looking” – “look how often we march – and dance – shoulder to shoulder,” one exclaimed.
 
The key here is the word “passion.” Defying the stereotypes, these 19-year-olds are caring, visionary, creative – and truly countercultural. Rather than being hypercritical, they offer solutions. Rejecting single-bullet problem-solving, they seek balance, integration. Fleeing social media simplicity and superficiality, they embrace complexity, depth, dimensionality.
 
Together, these students recognize that Judaism flourishes when it’s integrated, textured, with each Jew juggling Judaism’s different, self-reinforcing, individual, communal and spiritual components, rather than artificially choosing just one dimension.
Clearly, that old-new Israel magic inspired the students, shaping each manifesto. Israel showcases 3-D Judaism. Israel’s Judaism offers multiple portals. There, secular, religious and the muddled majority can enter and live in 3-D on two planes: as we try to define Judaism perfectly, ideologically, we can also just live it fully, practically.
 
The Zionist thinkers dreamed of this naturalness; Hartman’s Zionist teen titans absorbed it, identified it, and now seek to share it.
May their university years not ruin them!

The writer is the author of The Zionist Ideas, an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology, The Zionist Idea, published by the Jewish Publication Society. A distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University, he is the author of 10 books on American history, including The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s.

Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>

Related Content

June 25, 2019
Armenia’s Jewish problem

By JESSE BOGNER

Cookie Settings