by Rabbi Tzvi Graetz
I read with great interest Elan Ezrachi’s recent article on ‘Being a Global Jew’ and very much agree that Being Global Jews is far more than a slogan. But Ezrachi doesn’t acknowledge those who have already seized his opportunity and actually live as Global Jews.
As an Israeli, the Jewish education I received was focused around the firm Zionist belief that all Jews should live in Israel, and that there is no justification for their living anywhere else, apart from North America, because Jewish life outside of these two places is in danger. On family visits to the USA during my childhood, I saw a similar view of World Jewry, one that considered Israel-Diaspora relations to mean solely Israel and North America.
According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, the reality today is that approximately 17% of all Jews live outside of Israel and North America, with the remaining 83% almost equally split between them. Failing to understand the importance of this significant 17% is a failure to understand Jewish geography. Moreover, it is a tainted view of the current status of World Jewry. There are common myths that European Jews were all wiped out in the Holocaust, that all Soviet Jewry made aliyah, and that all Jews in Latin America are assimilating.
However, these myths are incorrect. There are in Europe, Latin America and the Former Soviet Union flourishing, viable Jewish communities with synagogues, Rabbis, schools, youth movements, and Jewish community centers. These Jewish communities are preserving and reviving both Jewish tradition and local Jewish culture and customs which developed over decades of Jewish life in these places. These communities have boards of lay-leaders, organizational structures, and long-term strategies for Jewish life.
Ezrachi in his article is correct in the assertion that in order to enrich one’s Jewish identity, one must have an appreciation of the miraculous map of World Jewry. Ezrachi is also correct when saying that Chabad as a sole solution is not enough. Chabad is an easy solution, and I have great respect for the good work they do. However, as a Conservative/Masorti Rabbi my problem is more with their approach; they come to a community with a ready-made recipe of how that community should look, and work to change the community until it matches that look.
Masorti Judaism by contrast takes a much more grass-roots approach; Masorti organizations do not go out and look to create kehillot, instead choosing to assist local activists to build their own. This is the needs-based approach in which we so strongly believe. Over the past four years in my role as Executive Director of Masorti Olami, I have been struck and inspired by the number of calls and letters I have received from all over the world asking for our help to start traditional, Jewish, Masorti communities in places as diverse as Ukraine, Sweden, Japan, Poland and France. Some of these communities take an Ashkenazi approach and others a more Sephardi direction, whichever is more relevant to the interested group. We are delighted to assist in the development of these communities.
Many Masorti communities have an awareness of being global Jews, and our work continues in the facilitation of connections between kehillot, between regional and national bodies of Masorti Jews, and between individual Jews from all over the world. It is through the building of these personal, social and spiritual connections between people that Jewish identity and passion of Jewish life are strengthened. This is especially important for young adults who are the future leaders of the Global Jewish people.
Examples of networks of connections between Jews include the MAROM (Masorti young adult) Europe network which builds connections between young adults involved in social and spiritual activities in cities throughout 10 European countries. At the same time, our NOAM Olami network brings young Jews involved in Masorti/Conservative youth organizations in North America, Latin America, Europe, the Former Soviet Union, Israel and Australia together for leadership development seminars and shared programing of all kinds. Both of these networks provide real-time, face to face encounters which create irreplaceable, inspiring and valuable global Jewish relationships.
We are not alone in being global Jews. Organizations in the Reform and Orthodox movements are also investing significant time and energy in the promotion of global Jewish identities. The World Zionist Organization is also a major supporter, promoting its mission of Zionism as a core value for Jews, wherever they are, in pursuit of an ever-deepening relationship with Israel.
The challenge to enrich one’s Jewish life with an appreciation of global Jewry that Elan Ezrachi proposes in his article is a worthy one, and is far more than a slogan. Masorti/Conservative communities throughout the world are already taking this challenge to heart, and continue to promote projects of all kinds that give their members the chance to be global Jews, and not just talk about it.
Rabbi Tzvi Graetz is a Jerusalem-based Masorti Rabbi and Executive Director of Masorti Olami – the worldwide organization for Masorti/Conservative Judaism.