By Shalom Orzach
In his celebrated work “On Repentance” Rabbi Soloveitchik goes to great pains to explain the concept of Knesset Yisrael, (The People of Israel) as a legal entity. He was particularly concerned to stress “I do not here refer to mystical or Kabbalist understandings.” The capacity to receive forgiveness rests on being an integral part of the metaphysical entity, known as Knesset Israel. He elaborates:
The Jew who believes in Knesset Israel is the Jew who lives with Knesset Israel where she may be and is prepared to die for her, who hurts with her pain and rejoices in her joy, who fights her wars, suffers in her defeats, and celebrates her victories. The Jew who believes in Knesset Israel is the Jew who joins himself as an indestructible link not only to the Jewish people of this generation hut to Knesset Israel of all generations.
Major halakhic phenomena are interpreted in terms of the over-arching integrity of the community. The climactic example of this is experienced through the emotionally charged gathering of the People at Yizkor on Yom Kippur, where we usher in present, past and future generations and by so doing have the capacity and authority to plea for atonement.
I was struck with these crucial ideas when reading the latest in the offerings of suggestions for how best to impart effective Israel Education. Alex Sinclair in his thoughtful piece “Toward an Israel Education of Direction, not Connection” suggests that we need to focus less on “Connecting” people to Israel and more on directing them on responding. I could not disagree more! Our approaches and pedagogies for Israel education must be firmly rooted within the methodologies employed for Jewish education. More specifically they must be in congruence with how we understand ourselves as Jews. We as a People are connected! This connection does not and cannot imply that we lose our ability to disagree or critique, on the contrary it is this very connection that enables frank and candid conversations. That is the nature of a relationship. Conceding this connection will only further encourage the ineffectual us and them discourse.
I applaud Alex’s examples citing value driven positions recently taken by the Jewish community in America. They too are crucial examples and expressions of connection. Being connected means I am in, it implies that I am intrinsically bound and obligated by the events, it means I care. That has been and must continue to be at the very core of our endeavours.
The iCenter is championing an Israel education that is relational, (for more on this see here) the bringing together and yes connecting Israelis and North Americans to study, train, and grow. This is not simply a milieu in which to provide programming; it is fundamentally the very essence and actualization of Knesset Yisrael without which Israel education may relinquish its very purpose.
Shalom Orzach is a senior educator and consultant for the iCenter.