[This essay is from The Peoplehood Papers, volume 17 – Engaging Millennials with Jewish Peoplehood What Does It Take? – published by the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education.]
By Zohar Raviv
The continuous infusion of the term “Peoplehood” within Jewish discourse, alongside the desire to harness it within the particular socio-cultural context of millennials, requires greater thought in order to unpack its future treatment, application and ramifications. Assuming that one of the objectives of this term is the creation of a strongly-felt sense of collectiveness among Jews worldwide, “Peoplehood” can become a central concept to rethink and restructure old paradigms that have informed our intercommunal associations for decades. This involves the combination of creative conceptual work with the willingness to reconstruct institutional agents whose current implementation does not bring to light the fuller potential of such an objective.
One chief challenge facing any introduction of the term “Jewish Peoplehood” is the profound ignorance that still exists within both Israeli and world Jewry regarding the richness, vitality, diversity and the splendid contribution each community potentially has to offer the other(s). As an Israeli educator who has been professionally immersed and educated in multiple settings worldwide, I can attest firsthand to the great advantages in thoughtfully standardizing infrastructures that may allow each community better exposure to, and influence on the others. While there are surely multiple venues to explore this paradigm, I’d like to offer as a tangible example the longstanding institution of shlichut (emissary).
Shlichut, in its various forms, is a long practice in the Jewish world, reflecting the view of Israel as a central and essential player in maintaining Jewish cohesion and ongoing vitality. From this vantage point, Israel is not only the historical source of the complex Jewish narrative, but also an indispensable resource to edify, sustain and perpetuate such narratives on behalf of world Jewry. Notwithstanding the simplification of this concept here – and the considerable modifications made in past decades to the shlichut institution – the platform that perceives shlichim as a one-sided (and obviously self- gratifying) service of Israel to world Jewry has not changed.
In the two occasions where I served as an Education Shaliach (in North America and South Africa), I was at first eager to “show Israel and Judaism in their fuller colors and enchanting complexity,” only to be much humbled later by discovering the no less intricate, diverse and vital Jewish landscapes in which I was immersed – and of which I had no prior grasp. This insight has convincingly highlighted for me the need to offer such opportunities in a reciprocal fashion, as part of a broad intercommunal Jewish network.
The socio-cultural climate of millennials, which is arguably informed by a heightened sense of self-worth and belief in its ability to affect positive change, offers a platform wherein reciprocal shlichut initiatives can become a persuasive meridian in our quest for deeper intercommunal Jewish dialogue, and a major forerunner in fostering a deeper sense of collectiveness through mutual exposure, understanding and appreciation. The reality wherein Israel continues to send its best representatives on shlichut can only benefit from opening its gates to an equally willful cadre of committed Jews from various communities worldwide who become immersed for 1-2 years in different settings of Israeli society.
The potential benefits of such a paradigm shift are arguably considerable, and only serve as one example of the needed rethinking toward a broader vision for Jewish Peoplehood – for millennials and beyond.
Dr. Zohar Raviv is the International VP of Education for Taglit-Birthright Israel.