[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 Shauna Waltman
Helen Keller famously said: “the best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” Within that statement lies the essence of Jewish Peoplehood. It is that overwhelming sense of belonging to something bigger, something greater than yourself. Human beings crave that feeling. We search for it desperately. I have found it while staring into the vast starry sky of the Negev desert while contemplating the existence of thousands of years of Jewish history. I have found it amidst Shabbat dinner with complete strangers from four different continents half way around the world. I have found it in the moment of silence as a congregation holds its breath waiting for the shofar to blow ending Yom Kippur. Peoplehood is feeling a part of something – for me that something is a collective history, a shared tradition and culture, a nation held together by timeless values.
In my line of work, Peoplehood has been the key for so many to unlock the door to discovering their Jewish identity. In many ways, Peoplehood is the great equalizer – it does not require a certain amount of knowledge, or religious practice, or minimum financial contribution to feel a part of the Jewish legacy. You just need to feel it and believe it for yourself. That sense of ownership launches people on a journey of self- discovery that can lead to endless expressions of Jewish identity, whether that comes in the form of learning, culture, spiritual practice, volunteering or leadership. Jewish Peoplehood is the catalyst – that spark – from which action, can, and needs, to grow.
My role as an engagement professional, therefore, lies in nurturing people to translate their sense of Jewish Peoplehood into meaningful action based on their personal passions. Everyone has the capacity to contribute in his or her own unique way – my mission is to find and nurture that capacity. I impart this agency to young adults through three central values:
Community/Kehillah – bringing people together to celebrate our common history, heritage and tradition as well as take care of each other in times of need.
Responsibility/Achrayut – not waiting for other people to create something for us, but rather taking the initiative to build it for ourselves.
Authenticity/Amitut – being true to ourselves in order to contribute meaningfully to the community we build.
The Jewish story is the greatest story ever told. It is a story that stretches across time and space – over millennia and across the earth. In being part of the Jewish people we not only have the opportunity to be a part of that story, but to author it as well. That is what Jewish Peoplehood is all about: that boundless sense of pride and possibility that comes from the idea that you belong to something great…. and the courage to stand up and make it even greater. How will you enhance the story of the Jewish people?
Shauna Waltman is the Executive Director of UJA’s Community Connect, an organization dedicated to building Jewish community with and for young adults in Toronto, Canada and a graduate of both Yeshiva University’s Certificate Program in Experiential Jewish Education as well as Spertus Institute for Jewish Life and Learning Masters in Jewish Professional Studies.
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.