Areyvut – Fact or Fiction?

by Robert Lichtman

If Amazon was selling a book based on the premise that Jews care unconditionally for and about each other – what we are calling Jewish Mutual Responsibility or Areyvut in short-hand Hebrew – how would they classify it? Non-fiction or fiction?

Areyvut has sustained our global Jewish people for millennia. Jewish communities in the diaspora have always supported the Jewish community in Israel; Jewish educators and learners traveled the world to engage with each other; Jews from one country surrendered fortunes to ransom Jews in another country. And today, yes, it is still a fact that Jews in New Jersey provide funds to feed a Jew in Minsk whom they will probably never meet; they also sustain a Jewish child in Ethiopia while she waits to leave for Israel.

But this tightly woven, interdependent communal fabric is coming undone. Here is one example – a study comparing attitudes of generally older Jews with generally younger ones:

Agree with the statement: I feel Generally Older Generally Younger
…a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish People 88% 66%
…a part of the Jewish community 81% 56%
…responsible to take care of Jews in need around the world 65% 39%

 

And who are the Jews in this study? They are professionals who build and sustain our Jewish communal organizations, the very infrastructure that serves as the interconnecting network among Jews and Jewish communities. The modern iteration of an infrastructure through whose arteries the pulse of Areyvut beat for thousands of years.

Much has been written about the decline of Areyvut on these virtual pages. The Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life has decided that more needs to be written, but not by us.

In our first public-private endeavor we have engaged with JewishStoryWriting.com to produce an attractive and engaging illustrated children’s book on the theme of Areyvut. Offering cash prizes of up to $2,500, we seek the insightful imaginations of English-language writers around the world to tell a story that brings the concept of kol Yisrael areyvim zeh la’zeh* to life in a meaningful, relevant way for a child and his or her parents.

Every thoughtful Jew seeks to find a balance between helping the world and helping other Jews; it is not easy. It’s never been easy. Hillel taught us long ago that we should be neither self-absorbed nor selfless. Having acknowledged the struggle, though, he admonishes us to find the right balance and get to work, “Eem lo achshav, eymatai? If not now, when?”

We can balance and even blend the two values of helping others and helping ourselves – if we hold both values. But with Areyvut disappearing as quickly and as surely as the polar ice caps, our grandchildren may not know that there once was a profound pride and a sacred obligation of Jewish interdependence; if they read about Areyvut one day, they may wonder if it ever really was true.

That is why we seek a new story now for a new generation of children and parents, a story that is based on our tradition of Areyvut and embeds inspiring ideas that may affect our destiny. We invite novice and experienced writers to contribute their words to create a future where the impulse of Jews helping Jews remains fact, not fiction.

*Don’t know what this means? Ask around and start a conversation.

Robert Lichtman is the Executive Director of The Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life, the Jewish identity-building organization in Greater MetroWest NJ.