Ken, Kenes, Knesset

by David Brown

So it doesn’t have the same rhythm as Na Nach Nachman Meuman but perhaps these three Hebrew words also have something redemptive to inspire us with when it comes to who we say Yes to Entering our Gathering – communal, social and national.

Thanks to an ROI Micro Grant, after organising and then attending the second Siach global conference, I was able to extend my stay in Israel and attend the World Council of Jewish Communal Service’s 12th Quadrennial on Jewish Peoplehood: Energizing the Present, Envisioning the Future.

There were many interesting sessions, people and discussions throughout the three days, as well as a few laughs and tears – the laughs mainly when forcing myself to speak in an American accent for my English to be understood, the tears when sneaking off to see England lose on penalties … again!

I have written some longer reflections on what my two weeks in Israel provoked me to consider about who we seek to include within our Jewish communities and Jewish state. For now, I’ll share just a few highlights:

One of the themes that was swirling around my head was that of who’s in and who’s out when it comes to our Jewish communities and this larger concept of Jewish Peoplehood that Siach and WCJCS were both grappling with.

Probably the part of the WCJCS conference that would resonate most with ROI Community members was Jay Michaelson’s talk on special Pinterest Judaism, highlighting the decentralised, innovative and open source ways individual Jews and grassroots community are shaping and defining Judaism and Jewish peoplehood for themselves. I used to be uncomfortable with this, not because I don’t find it exciting and valuable that people are taking a DIY approach to Jewish identity, but to use Jay’s analogy of how we’ve moved from buying large plastic discs that someone else has loaded songs onto in a set order to organising our own playlist on iTunes – what if none of us share the same songs? What connects us then?

Given my feelings about how some parts of our people exclude me for being Queer, or some sections of Israeli society wish to exclude non-Jews and women from public life and public space, maybe it’s not terrible if we’re not striving to house us all in one big tent. So what for Jewish peoplehood then?

It seems I’ve caught the ROI bug or watched Seth Cohen’s JDOV talk too many times, but I’m really starting to love the idea of a networks approach to Jewish peoplehood.

My encounter with one of the Siach participants illustrates a dual powerful dynamic of networks and how they can support Jewish Peoplehood. Aharon Ariel Lavi is a member of the National Council of Intentional Communities steering committee. He also founded and serves as the director of Nettiot Intentional Communities, a collection of 11 communities of Ba’alei Teshuva activists, linked to a national network of 130 intentional communities from a range of backgrounds. Nettiot groups live across Israel seeking to support and develop the local communities in which they live whilst building orthodox communities for themselves after feeling somewhat rejected from the Haredi communities they sought to join after becoming returnees to Torah. Aharon arranged for us to meet the Gan Torani in the Hadar neighbourhood of Haifa, one of the groups that belong to the Nettiot network. This group of orthodox men confounded many of my assumptions, and I suspect many of the the assumptions of others in the group.

Aharon, Nettiot and Gan Torani demonstrate the power of networks in supporting grassroots Jews to build community and mobilise social change. This network also playing a role within the broader Siach network proves how Jewish peoplehood can really work – real connections between passionate people that may vehemently disagree on some issues, but can stand on some common ground for certain periods of time. By connecting these people and networks to one another, and fostering a spirit of machlochet l’shem shel mayim, perhaps we may also find ways to build a camp of many tents where all can find their place.

As MK Ilan Gil’on said in reference to changing how we think about inclusion, access and equality of opportunity – “Imagine if everyone was to look at how we can make everything more comfortable for everyone else”

David Brown is Social Action Coordinator at JHub in London.

Connected by the ROI Community of Jewish Leaders.