Focus On What Unites Us

by Carolyn Bogush

When I compare the state of our community now to what it was like when I attended my first Limmud Conference, things are definitely looking brighter. Limmud was then the only place within our community that encouraged broad, open, inclusivist Jewish learning for people of all ages and backgrounds. A place where you could explore your Jewish identity in any way you chose – without anyone judging or trying to legitimatise or delegitimise any particular way of thinking or believing. In the context of what is often seen as a stridently conservative and formal British-Jewish community, this was a huge eye-opener to me, as it has been to thousands of others over the past three decades.

Thankfully, our community has changed in many ways. There are now far more diverse opportunities to engage in Jewish culture, music, history, activism and learning. The community has a more positive outlook in many ways. However, there is still a long way to go to ensure the continuing renaissance of a strong, knowledgeable and engaged Jewish community.

Whilst there are many projects, organisations or programmes that one might suggest are needed in order to “transform the British Jewish community”, I instead propose a shift in attitude. Too much time and energy is spent in British Jewry focusing on what divides us, questioning who has the right to wear the label “Jew”, who are the legitimate voices and leaders of our community. Whether the topic is Israel, school admissions, communal funding or anything else – such infighting and negativity can only ever result in a weakened community.

Does anyone really believe that the next generation are inspired by this? That this helps foster positive Jewish identification?

We learn in the Mishnah, Pirkei Avot 5:17 that “any dispute that is for the sake of Heaven will have a constructive outcome; but one that is not for the sake of Heaven will not have a constructive outcome”.

Let’s stop trying to convince each other why I’m right and you’re wrong. Let’s instead focus on what we can add to our ever-changing, dynamic community for all to benefit.

Maybe then we will have a community that will nurture and inspire the next generation to be proud, enthusiastic, committed and knowledgeable members of the Jewish people; active and creative in the Jewish dimension of their lives.

Carolyn Bogush is chair of Limmud. This post is from a series of articles on how to transform the British Jewish community.