What Does Jewish Peoplehood Mean to Me?

PP13[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 Roberta Bell-Kligler

For me, Jewish Peoplehood is an ongoing process of ingathering, creating, and then of moving outward. It is a dynamic endeavor characterized by individual Jews studying, generating new ideas, sharing experiences, and then together engaging in something grander than themselves.

The creative tension between the individual and the collective is not new to Judaism. Never has Judaism been based on fixed dogma or unbending ritual; rather it is driven by interpretation and adaptation, and community is its vehicle. Jews read age-old texts handed down from their ancestors and suggest meaningful new ways of understanding them. Jews speak many languages, but Hebrew is a special tongue for them. Jews remodel inherited rituals, related to the Jewish calendar and to lifecycle events. While it is possible to be Jewish anywhere, Jews everywhere are invited to call Israel home. They create Jewish communities (large and small) in which to celebrate, to mourn and to pray. In short, as Mordecai Kaplan taught, Judaism is an evolving civilization created by Jewish people.

Ultimately Jewish people (individuals) and the Jewish People (the collective) are charged with making the world a better place. For me, Jewish Peoplehood embodies the hope that we Jews will actually succeed in embracing diverse, vibrant, maybe even contradictory approaches with roots in Judaism as we create ways to work together for improving the world.

Why is Jewish Peoplehood important?

Jewish Peoplehood is important because it is a paradigm that addresses the challenges inherent in our times. It makes space for Jews regardless of where they are on the scale of religious practice. It respects Jews no matter where they live. It views Judaism as an evolving civilization and invites all to contribute their unique ways of thinking, talking, and doing. Jewish Peoplehood is cognizant of the fact that there is much that needs fixing in the world, and it pulls in those willing to lend a hand. Jewish Peoplehood honors the individual while emphasizing the collective.

How to nurture Jewish Peoplehood in practice?

In order to nurture Jewish Peoplehood in practice we must construct an inviting model that incorporates intellectual study, actual experience, and communal commitment. Each individual must feel welcome, engaged, and important. For the model to succeed there must be collaboration and synergy on many levels between different Jewish institutions and communities. In order to nurture Jewish Peoplehood, we need good people. Abraham Heschel taught that “textpeople“ may be more important even than textbooks.

Dr. Roberta Bell-Kligler is a lecturer at Oranim Academic College of Education where she teaches courses about identity, Jewish Peoplehood, and education. She has recently been appointed Acting Director of the International School of Oranim College which will receive its first group of students from overseas in November. Roberta lives on Moshav Zippori in the beautiful Galilee with her rapidly expanding family.

JPeoplehood newThis 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.