Looking to 2048 –
The 21st Century Imperative for the Jewish People

[This essay is from The Peoplehood Papers, volume 25 – “Towards a Peoplehood Based  21st Century Zionism” – published by the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education.]

By Sanford Antignas

Looking back to 1948 …

To ensure the future of the Jewish People, the 20th Century imperative for the Jewish People was the Zionist project: to create and build a strong, secure and thriving Jewish and democratic sovereign state in the land of Israel. Israel emerged as “the project of the Jewish people.” As the events of the first half of the 20th Century unfolded, a broad consensus formed among Jews everywhere – across the spectrum – of the existentialneedfor a state for the Jewish People.

In 1948 our forebearers could not have dreamed that in the early 21st century the Jewish People would have two strong, secure and thriving centers of Jewish life in Israel and North America. Jews in both places played important roles in making both a reality.

Looking ahead to 2048 …

Success brings its own challenges: By 2048 Israel’s population could double to more than 15 million, making Israel one of the most densely populated countries in the world. This portends new challenges for Israel and the Jewish People as a whole. Ironically this could challenge the once unimaginable: that Israel may not, in theory, be able to be the physical home of the entire Jewish people (if all desired). An increasing number of Israelis – for reasons having to do with quality of life, economic and other reasons – may seek to temporarily or permanently live outside of Israel (just as other peoples do – French, Koreans, Poles, Swedes, etc.). At the same time, Jews outside of Israel are likely to continue to increasingly migrate and concentrate in major cities, particularly those in North America. Jews are on the move, as they have been throughout history.

What does increased migration, mobility of Israeli and World Jewry mean for the Jewish People?

To ensure the future of Jews as a people, the 21st century imperative for the Jewish People is the Jewish Peoplehood project: To ensure (i) a non-geographically contingent sense of Jewish identity and belonging to the Jewish People and (ii) there are strong, thriving, diverse and connected centers of Jewish life around the world that Jews will want to be an active part of, in some measure. Adapting our communities (in and outside of Israel) and the Jewish People – Jewish Peoplehood – to the 21st century is the existentialneedof the Jewish People today.

Israeli and World Jewry have a collective interest and responsibility in this Jewish Peoplehood endeavor. They need to ensure that (i) Israel and North America continue to develop as strong, thriving and diverse large centers of Jewish life (along with multiple smaller centers around the world), that (ii) they are in a positive relationship with each other, as distant cousins who support each other in ideas, projects, exchanges, time of need, etc. and that (iii) there is a basis that brings us all together, connects us on some level as a collective across communities. This is a necessity for the future of each community and for the Jewish People as a global collective.

The two largest pillars of the Jewish People, Israeli and North American Jewry, have a special responsibility to not only continue to evolve and adapt in their own context, but to do so in a manner that strengthens and furthers the notion of being part of the Jewish People more broadly.

Meeting these challenges gives focus to the work that must take place by Israelis in Israel, World Jewry in their communities and by all of us together:

Israeli Jewry needs to continue to come to grips with and accommodate their reality and future trends, as well as those of World Jewry. This requires (i) striving to fulfill the aspirations of Israel’s founding as a Jewish and democratic state and (ii) evolving Zionism so it reflects and accommodates the world and Jewish life in the 21st century based on the principles articulated by the Z21/Z3 December 2018 Palo Alto Conference[1]. Israelis must develop their sense of the Jewish People and their part in it, as well as their own sense of Jewish identity in this context. It is important for Israeli Jews to enhance their own sense of identity and capacity to be in an authentic relationship with World Jewry, and to ensure that Israelis who might migrate temporarily or permanently (and their children) have the identity foundation and tools to be part of Jewish life and remain part of the Jewish People should they live outside of Israel.

World Jewry… (albeit primarily North American Jewry) needs to continue to come to grips with and accommodate their reality and future trends, as well as those of Israel. This includes positively adapting the nature and raison d’etre of Jewish identity, Jewish life, and community to the environments in which they live. They must confidently accommodate the inevitably continuing growing numbers of inter-faith relationships and their families into their communities, as well as contextualizing in present-day terms being in an authentic relationship with Israel and Israeli Jewy. All this while simultaneously actualizing their identity as citizens of the countries in which they live, along with facing the challenges and threats affecting their Jewish and broader community.

Together…Kol yisrael arevim zeh lazeh” – “All Jews are responsible for each other” remains as relevant as ever. As Jews in Israel and North America played important roles in making each other’s success a reality since 1948, they need to do the same going forward and work together to ensure our joint future as a People. This needs to be grounded in Jews having authentic, realistic understandings of and connections with Jews in other communities. All must recognize and respect the equality and legitimacy of Jewish communities, however defined, in their diversity and wherever they may be (in and outside of Israel). There is no central authority of the Jewish People. Accordingly, whenever possible, communities should avoid taking actions that may have detrimental effects on the other, on the Jewish People as a whole, or on large portions of it – such as on matters relating to defining who is a Jew and legitimate Jewish practice.

Israeli and World Jewry have a collective interest in and responsibility for the success of the 21st century Jewish Peoplehood project. This will ensure that Jews wherever they are, whether they move to Israel, from Israel or across world communities, will want to be and can be part of the Jewish People.

We are a people of ongoing adaptation. Looking to 2048, adapting our communities (in and outside of Israel) and the nature of the Jewish People to the 21st century is the adaptation of our time. We are all in this together.

[1] 1a) Peoplehood is the binding formative ideal of World Jewry and Israel, b) Israel is the state where the entire Jewish People exercises its right to self-determination, c) Israel and World Jewry are two centers equal in their significance for Jewish destiny, d) A vibrant World Jewry is a Zionist imperative, e) Zionism reflects cross-partisan ideas and movements, encompassing the full diversity of Jewish life and expression.

Sanford Antignas is a lay leader at UJA-Federation of New York. For more than 20 years he has focused on issues related to Israel, World Jewry, Jewish Peoplehood and the relationship between Israeli and North American Jewry.

The complete set of essays comprising this edition is in the process of being published individually on eJP.