Peoplehood Papers: Building the Jewish People One Community at a Time
Updated in Light of Covid-19
[This essay is from The Peoplehood Papers, volume 26a – “Building the Jewish People – One Community at a Time”- published by the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education.]
Preface to the Updated Version
By Aharon Ariel Lavi
Second only to the nuclear family, the Jewish community has been what binds Jews to our identity, fortifies our commitment to Jewish peoplehood and constantly improves our moral behavior. However, even before COVID-19, it appeared that a paradigm shift was evolving in Jewish society, as a growing proportion of young adults did not identify with the traditional structures of Jewish communities, not to be confused with Judaism itself.
The post-modern revolution, along with tectonic changes in the economy, have resulted in a dissolving sense of community and belongingness in the Western world. More people live alone today than ever before, even though more people live in crowded cities with more people per square kilometer than ever before. Previously solid social networks – like synagogues, neighborhoods, and offices – are disintegrating, leaving people unconnected to the world around them, and their moral behavior more fragile and vulnerable.
This issue of the Peoplehood Papers focuses on the topic of the evolving, emerging, metamorphosing Jewish communal life around the globe. As we speak, young Jewish entrepreneurs are paving new paths for Jewish communal life and this issue wishes to explore some of the ideas and voices out there.
We started working on this issue in 2019, towards what was supposed to be the largest international gathering of Hakhel, the Jewish Intentional Communities Incubator at Hazon (in partnership with the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs), in March 2020, in Israel. Alas, three weeks before the conference, and when the booklet was already about to be printed, Israel – like many other countries – closed its borders due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 and we had to cancel everything.
However, we believe the idea of community is even more relevant in the age of social distancing, and while the entire world is going through an unprecedented social, economic and political cataclysm, we believe communities will continue to play an even more vital role in human life in general, and Jewish life in particular. In that respect we offered our writers the opportunity to add a short addendum reflecting on their original piece in light of COVID-19. As you will see in the following text, some of them opted to respond, while others chose to leave their articles in their original form. We hope you will find the final product as deep and meaningful as we have, and that it will contribute to the discussion on the future of Jewish communal life.
Before we dive in I would like to thank from the depth of my heart to Dr. Shlomi Ravid, who orchestrated the creation of this issue; all of our writers and contributors; All of Hakhel’s staff and community leaders; Hazon’s leadership and last but not least, our leading partner, the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs.
Aharon Ariel Lavi is Founder & General Director Hakhel: The Jewish Intentional Communities Incubator.
From the Editor
By Shlomi Ravid
Nearly two decades ago, I had an exchange of ideas with Robert Putnam the author of Bowling Alone (Putnam, 2000), most famous for introducing the concept of social capital to the social science and communal world. I challenged Putnam, who developed the concept through the study of Italian history, and more specifically a comparison between Northern and Southern Italy, that the ultimate story of community and social capital was written by the Jews. I even went as far as to suggest exploring the concept of Peoplehood capital as an expansion of the concept to mega-communities. Putnam agreed that the above deserves further research and exploration.
The Jewish people is definitely the people of the community. The communal structure sustained it throughout its history and in it developed its unique collective approach – its social DNA. This approach embraced a holistic sense of responsibility for both the physical and spiritual well-being of the community’s members, and for the community itself. One can easily paraphrase what we say about Shabbat to the community: More than the Jews protected the community – the community protected the Jews.
It is important to understand that the Jewish people is a bottom up social creation. Being the core unit of the Jewish social fabric, the approach to community also framed the core values of Jewish Peoplehood. The notion of Kol Israel Arievim Ze Baze, for example, is a case in point. That relationship between the global people and its communal components highlights the communities’ role in re-invigorating, re-energizing and revitalizing the overall collective. By addressing both the challenges and needs of Jews today, communal innovation advances the overall Jewish cause. Be it as a social lab or through communal modeling, intentional communities lead the way to the Jewish future.
This issue of the Peoplehood Papers focuses on current developments in the Jewish communal landscape. We wanted to explore new expressions of Jewish communal life and what Jewish communal innovation looks like. To explore the current challenge of people building from the bottom up.
Some key questions we tried to address were:
- What can Jewish tradition and wisdom teach us about sustainable communal living?
- How can community offer a response to the current global epidemic of loneliness, and enable the growth of meaningful human relations?
- What challenges can communal innovation address, and how?
- What kind of communal models are more likely to succeed in the 21st century?
- What are some of the best practices for community building we have?
- What is our vision for Jewish communal living in the 21st century?
- How can a Jewish communal renaissance revitalize the Jewish people and Jewish Peoplehood? By no means does this publication assume to cover fully the emerging field of Jewish communal innovation. Our aim was to highlight some initiatives in order to shed some light on this important field and inspire a conversation on Jewish communal innovation in the context of the challenges the Jewish people is facing today. What all contributors to this conversation share is a belief that the process of people building goes through communal innovation.
If there is one lesson this horrible pandemic has taught us, it is that community is important if not crucial, to the livelihood and wellbeing of people in times of trouble. Communities in general and Jewish ones in particular, rose to the challenge of providing physical and spiritual resources to their members. Anywhere from providing the core basics, to supplying emotional support and care to creatively re-designing modes of communication, content and convening – communities responded to the calling.
As we move forward and prepare to address the future, communities will need to further explore their role and purpose in these challenging days. Their added value may require new framings in accordance with the healing and restoration process from the pandemic and its economic and social ramifications. In that respect the questions and responses addressed in the original publication are as relevant today. The epidemic confirmed the centrality, vitality and resourcefulness of the community in crisis time. Learning the right lessons from this period can enhance the communal power and help society dig its way out of the crisis and towards a better future.
We want to thank our partners in this publication. Hakhel: The Jewish Intentional Communities Incubator in the Diaspora, and the Jewish Emergent Network, and all our articles contributors.
We welcome your thoughts and responses at firstname.lastname@example.org
eJewish Philanthropy is the exclusive digital publisher of the individual Peoplehood Papers essays.