[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 Larry S. Moses
Classical Jewish texts acknowledge the multiple and distinctive generations of Jewish life. We readily understand the differences between the generations – that of Noah, the slaves in Egypt, the wanderers in the desert, the inhabitants of Canaan, and the exiles from the Temples, to name a few. We note the powerful metaphor of those “who knew not Joseph,“ signifying that ruptures and new beginnings have characterized our story. We recall the pain of Moses in relinquishing leadership to Joshua, when one visionary leader’s story ends in the wilderness, while a new military/political leader rises to the tasks of state-building. In our story, as in all stories, chapters begin and end. Each chapter is connected, but each is also separate. So it is with Jewish Peoplehood.
We are all products of a specific generation. I am the son of a survivor of Auschwitz. The State of Israel and I are roughly the same age. We grew up together. I am a Jewish educator and, on good days, a Jewish leader. My generation’s understanding of Jewish Peoplehood is seared deeply into my being. It is an allegiance that is nothing less than self-evident.
In my life, Jewish Peoplehood is pervasive. It is living with a well-defined moral compass, a commitment to healing the brokenness of the world, and a sense of kinship that situates me inside my generation – morally, spiritually, existentially, and communally. Belonging to the Jewish people defines me. To many of my contemporaries this sense of belonging is altogether escapable. I find it altogether inescapable, and ennobling.
There are now newer generations who “knew not Joseph“ – whose lives are outside of the Holocaust – Israel spectrum. A recent Israel Democracy Institute study claimed that most Jews of Israel and the Diaspora no longer believe they share a common identity. But most believe Jews share a common destiny.
The overwhelming diversity and secularization of Jewish life as we transition away from the Holocaust and Israel master stories make Jewish Peoplehood harder to define. A different chapter has begun but the plot is unclear. The new chapter will be different than the current chapter, no matter how hard we struggle to steer it. It will be built upon our shoulders, but also beyond our reach.
And the millenniums remind us that one generation’s wilderness ultimately blends into the next generation’s Promised Land – the miracle of adaptation is our miracle.
A hundred times in my mind, I wrote a different essay, the one you were expecting: about passing on precious values to the next generations, assuring their Jewish loyalty and literacy, preserving the legacy of the Shoah, fighting for the survival of the State of Israel. These songs remain in my heart and my work. But in the final analysis, they are the watchwords of my generation, our signature contributions. The next generation will claim them, blame them, and otherwise build upon or around them. I fully trust that the next generation’s strength will carry us, once again, to the other side of the Jordan.
Larry S. Moses is the Senior Philanthropic Advisor and President Emeritus of The Wexner Foundation.
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.