The current, on-going crisis in Israel, has been making me reflect on lots of things lately, about Jewish values, the centrality of the State of Israel, the nature of violence and oppression. But mostly it makes me think of my family. My immediate family (some of whom live in Israel and some of whom live in London and the US), and my extended family, the Jewish People. I am reminded constantly of the wisdom of my teacher, Avraham Infeld, who teaches us that the core of Jewish Peoplehood is that we are family. A large, extended, constantly bickering Jewish family, who are the “children of Israel”, descended from one core family many generations ago. And, like the best of families, we are not always in touch on a regular basis (we tend to meet up at funerals), we don’t always like each other, although deep down we love each other, and ultimately we are connected by deep bonds of history, care and shared responsibility. How else can we explain the bonds of solidarity that are being exposed during these difficult days? How to explain that 30,000 people showed up for the funeral of Max Steinberg, an American volunteer in the IDF who was killed last week and whom they had never even heard of before the news of his death? How to explain that Jews around the world and Israelis are sending cards, food and toiletries to soldiers on the front line who they don’t know? How to understand why Jews outside Israel have downloaded the Red Alert app onto their smartphones so that they can know when rockets are landing on cities thousands of miles away? All of these things, and the numerous other instances of solidarity that we are seeing, are the result of family feelings.
The strength of the family metaphor, I believe, is that it does two things simultaneously. On one hand it connects us as individuals to something much greater than ourselves. We are not alone in the world, rather we are connected by strong bonds to people who came before us, to others with whom we share history and values, and a common language and memory. Each of us is a small part of something much bigger. And at the same time, no matter how big the family, how many generations come before us, or how many cousins and uncles and aunts we have, families are actually quite intimate structures. Inside the family someone knows my name, my history and my connections to this cousin and that one. Inside the family I feel safe and cared for, in the embrace of the people to whom I never have to explain myself. And this intimacy, combined with the sense of something bigger, is incredibly powerful. I believe that it offers us the core of Jewish Peoplehood, and at times like these I feel enormously privileged to be a part of the family of the Jewish People.
For more about the Jewish People as family, see Avraham Infeld’s videos on his website, the 5 Legged Table.
Clare Goldwater is a Jerusalem-based educational consultant and coach, where she works with Jewish organizations and leaders to help them become more effective. She is the Education Director for the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education.