Between Defining Peoplehood and Exploring Its Meaning

PP13[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 Shlomi Ravid

I have been following the Peoplehood conversation closely for the best part of the last fifteen years. It may be worthwhile, before we get to the answers, to briefly reflect on what questions we are really asking. When we try to define we seek an objective, general and short articulation that will capture the essence of the concept. We seek to describe, clarify and understand. When we explore the meaning of something we explore its significance to ourselves and others. We are by no means objective. We interpret rather than describe. We unpack rather than pack. We expand and explore additional layers and dimensions rather than summarize. The two are two sides of the same coin. But exploring meaning represents growth, engagement and creative reflection. It also assumes getting passed the initial stage of defining the concept.

What does peoplehood mean?

I understand Peoplehood to be the collective consciousness of the Jewish People. The consciousness that constitutes our collective being, our ever evolving civilization, our aspiration to improve the world and our sense of solidarity and mutual responsibility. The concept of consciousness appeals to me because it integrates the intellectual with the emotional and also includes a prescriptive dimension. Your sense of integrity obligates you to act upon it.

But Peoplehood means to me personally much more than what the above quasi definition reflects. It means being curious and passionate about everything Jewish. It means feeling that the treasures of Judaism are my private inheritance, making me both a shareholder, a guardian and a contributor to their growth. It means sensing solidarity and feeling responsibility for every Jew, every Jewish community and Israel as the venture of the Jewish collective. It means being committed to the Jewish sense of justice, “hesed“, peace and active Tikun Olam. It means aspiring to be a “mentch“.

Why is it Important?

If Peoplehood consciousness constitutes the Jewish collective enterprise, it is crucial to the continuation of the Jewish people. In times where we are all “Jews by choice,” Peoplehood can provide the rationale, justification, purpose and motivation for our collective being and enterprise. Without a vibrant sense of Peoplehood we risk disintegration of our communal, national and global institutions and networks and with it the whole sense of the Jewish collective. A great gift we have received from past generations, of being members, carriers and contributors to an old yet forever evolving civilization, may be lost to future generations.

How do we nurture it?

We can nurture Peoplehood only by assuming the autonomy of our students to interpret it as they understand it, and respecting their choices. What this means is trying to engage the next generation in dialogue about the meaning, importance and challenges of Jewish Peoplehood. We can bring our own beliefs and passions to the table but need to understand that they are but raw materials for interpretation. It is through the acts of exploration, interpretation and articulation of meaning, that Peoplehood will be nurtured.

Dr. Shlomi Ravid is the founding director of the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education and the editor of the Peoplehood Papers.

JPeoplehood newThis 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.