[This essay is from The Peoplehood Papers, volume 13 – Jewish Peoplehood: What does it mean? Why is it important? How do we nurture it? – published by the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education.]
By Morris Panitz
Jewish Peoplehood is an internal sense, a feeling of connectedness and shared destiny with other Jews. An individual’s consciousness of his or her own Jewishness is bound to an ever-evolving collective identity that stems from the covenantal commitment between God and the Jewish people. Jewish Peoplehood entwines the individual with the history, culture, traditions, and ultimately future of the entire Jewish people. As a committed Jew, I recognize that the canvas on which my life unfolds is neither blank nor finished. It is primed with the stories of others, inherited expectations, personal and collective obligations, which I, through my historically unprecedented degree of free will, may choose to embrace or reject. The decision, while entirely my own, belongs to a communal gallery, impacting and influencing its visitors and fellow artists.
Rav Abraham Isaac Kook writes that through the course of our lives, there are different songs we may sing: the song of one’s own life, the song of one’s people, the song of humanity, and the song of Creation. The move from the song of one’s own life to the song of one’s people represents the shift in one’s realm of concern. My voice and its uniqueness still matters; it simply joins the chorus of other voices, strengthening them, at times through harmony and at times through dissonance. A collective voice has the power to heal a fractured world, lift up the needy in one’s community, and grant a voice for the voiceless. A collective voice merges the wisdom of the past with the urgency of the present, and if used righteously, echoes resoundingly in the future.
Nurturing a sense of Jewish Peoplehood starts with a commitment to finding and developing my own Jewish identity, singing the song of my own life. I seek and find this voice through text study and Jewish learning, a commitment to mark Jewish time through the observance of Shabbat and holidays, and an ongoing exploration and experimentation with ritual and halakhic observance. I believe that Jewish Peoplehood is most easily understood and cultivated by participating in a localized spiritual and intentional Jewish community. While I identify as a Conservative Jew, I seek out pluralistic settings and opportunities for meaningful encounter with Jews of all backgrounds.
The perpetuation of Jewish Peoplehood is dependent on the Jewish community embracing the similarities and differences amongst us. Furthermore, singing the songs of humanity and Creation entails seeking out the “other“ with an openness to learn from them and bring together our voices to enact greater change. Other peoples and cultures are the necessary mirror for a sense of Jewish Peoplehood that desires dynamic growth and improvement. Nurturing my own sense of Jewish Peoplehood thus depends on learning to truly sing the fourfold song.
Morris Panitz is a rabbinical student at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University.
 Rav Abraham Isaac Kook, The Lights of Holiness Volume II, 458-459, “The fourfold song”
This essay is from The Peoplehood Papers, volume 13 – Jewish Peoplehood: What does it mean? Why is it important? How do we nurture it? – published by the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education.