Are We in Danger of the Disappearance of Klal Yisrael?
By Ruth Schapira
Clearly, we are not paying attention or taking advantage of obvious opportunities.
One would think that the pandemic would have caused us to do some deep thinking about our communal future as Jews.
No matter what theological differences there are among us (and no doubt there are many), what we can all agree on is that Judaism will be forever changed. Our isolation from each other, more acute now, exacerbates the reality that there is not even a faint desire to come together to discuss this from the vantage point of Klal Yisrael, the entire Jewish people.
Yet, for the first time in history, the worldwide Jewish community is facing similar struggles:
When and how will we gather? What will the ‘new normal’ look like? What will take the place of large communal gatherings? What will become of the large-scale conferences that brought many different constituencies together? How will the leadership of Jewish organizations change?
Has there been any communication between the major movements to work towards a sense of unity and purpose? How can we even engage in this process when we communicate by megaphone?
Megaphones blast one-way messages. No dialogue, no discussion, and certainly no enlightenment. As a Jewish people, we are missing the message that we were clearly given thousands of years ago.
Tisha B’Av was observed recently. What we learn from this designated day of communal mourning is that the Second Temple fell due to ‘baseless hatred’ (sinat chinam) between Jews. Although we do not actually say “I hate you” to their faces, we act that way against groups of Jews who hold different opinions and behave differently than we do.At first we shake our heads in disbelief, making snide jokes. We judge. We criticize. We hate in our hearts.
This creates even more distance from each other than before. The irony is that most who actually observe Tisha B’Av seem numb to its message. Often there is more hatred and non-acceptance from that side toward fellow Jews who don’t observe in their accepted manner.
But we are all guilty of accepting the status quo with each other. With no immediate threat we have resorted to functioning this way.
I question how much we feel connected with each other as fellow Jews, as part of the same people. Is there such a thing that we recognize today as Am Yisrael – the people of Israel, i.e. peoplehood? Is there meaning when we utter B’nai Yisrael (Children of Israel) in prayers and blessings?
For sure, there are many pressing and urgent needs that have to be tended to in each separate Jewish community that take time and energy to resolve. We cannot solely exist in our enclave-like comfort zones, resigned to seeing ourselves as separate.
And even though we might be connecting with fellow Jews from areas far and wide on our little screens, the conversations and issues are not centered around our overall unity.
So much of our regular lives have been on pause which gives us the unique opportunity to think deeply about some larger questions.
Is there a way to get back the feeling that we all belong to the larger Jewish community – Klal Yisrael? How do we begin to reconstruct the feelings if oneness that have been absent for a long time? Is there any way that Jews of different religious leanings can come together? Can we even agree that this is a core value?
We are living links in a chain. That’s how we are described in our Torah and by others who are not Jewish at all. We will need to give up our megaphones in favor of dialogue. We need to be vulnerable and expose our deep need for each other, as a step toward fulfilling a dream that is part of our history, culture, and liturgy.
If our participation in Jewish communal life is limited to only seeing to short-term problems, we are abandoning the hope of unity that is core to our existence as a people.
Just as we need to reconfigure Judaism in new ways, may we all be able to be open to each other and create new paths of peace.
P’tach Libi b’toratechcha. Open my heart to Your teachings.
Ruth Schapira is a Jewish educator who facilitates educational experiences of personal impact. She writes curricula and a blog called “Reclaiming Judaism,” listed among the top 50 Jewish blogs on Feedspot. She is currently completing research for her doctorate in Jewish education.