[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 Alex Pomson
I was given a gift.
I was born to parents who were proud and thoughtful Jews; my mother – may she live to be 120 – still is. Others don’t receive this gift so readily or so generously. They receive something that seems like a poor thing; whose riches, to evoke Kafka, have dribbled away. Some courageously acquire this thing for themselves; they’re self-made, rather than inheritors. And there are those, of course, who must struggle – literally fight – to hold on to what they have been given. Sometimes, I wonder if I could do that.
I have been downright fortunate in my parents.
In these terms, Jewish peoplehood sounds like a biological category. Biology as destiny!
I had intended to convey something else. Talk of parents and gifts isn’t so compelling in an age when we are all Jews by choice, where we’re everything by choice. So, let me start again.
I am nothing. I am meaningless without defining myself in relation to collective or social categories. We all are. Denying the existence of those categories is pointless even ridiculous. Embracing them is a matter of choice. I am a son, husband, father, Israeli and an Arsenal supporter. And I am a Jew. These identities – and others I haven’t listed – give my life meaning, rich meaning. At times they cause pain.
In these terms, Jewish peoplehood provides me with a sense of being part of something larger than myself. It enlarges who I am. It allows me to grow. In turn, it is deepened through my own experiences, with family, in the Jewish state, working in Jewish institutions, serving the Jewish people. It is deepened too by reading about those Jews who came before me and lived as Jews (check out the remarkable The Chosen Few by Botticini and Eckstein), or by learning about those who live today, in such extraordinary diversity, as Jews.
Those vertical and horizontal axes that connect me with others un/like me, locate who I am. They give me a place to stand in the world. A firm place, when below there is often a void. What could be more important than that? I would be lost without it. Or – to put it less dramatically – I would have to work hard to find other sources of meaning.
How to nurture Peoplehood in practice? In the few words that remain I’ll say that it requires providing people with both windows and mirrors: opportunities to look to the horizon, to see what’s out there, to see what was and what is; to expand people’s experiences of what Jews have done, and what they do … as Jews. Nurturing Peoplehood also requires mirrors: giving people opportunities to ask themselves, is this me? Could this be me if I just adjust this or that? Do I like how I look?
Or you can hope they get lucky with their parents.
Alex Pomson is Director, Research and Evaluation, at Rosov Consulting. He lives in Jerusalem.
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.