With the Israeli elections just days away, Israeli voters are making their final decisions about the party and candidates they will support. Or maybe they are just deciding what to do with an unexpected mid-week day off (Election Day is a public holiday, after all). What is pretty certain is that very few Israeli voters will be consciously considering issues of Jewish Peoplehood as they enter the voting booth; there are plenty more pressing questions on the public agenda.
But issues of Jewish Peoplehood are central to the future of the State of Israel. There are big questions on the agenda about how Israel manages the tensions of being a Jewish and democratic State, and about the role that the Israeli government should play in the affairs of Jews outside Israel. Here are a just few relevant Peoplehood issues that will be impacted by the future government.
The next government may well pass a version of the Nation State Bill, which has been a controversial topic in recent months and which was shelved when elections were called. The Bill exists in various versions but essentially it is an attempt to define, in the absence of an Israeli constitution, some of the core principles of the State of Israel and its values. Many of the sections of the Bill (in all its forms) talk about the relationship of Israel and the Jewish People, and the Jews around the world could be impacted in various ways by the resulting law. See Haviv Rettig Gur’s explanation of the bill and the issues surrounding it.
The next government may choose to allocate significant funding to Jewish educational initiatives outside Israel. The Israel-World Jewry Initiative is a historic attempt to build a true partnership between Jewish leaders in and out of Israel, which will develop significant new programs designed to impact Jewish identity. With one third of the funding (some estimate in the hundreds of millions of shekels) coming from the Israeli government, this puts the question of who will be the next Prime Minister and Finance Minister right at the top of world Jewry’s agenda.
The next government may choose to continue (or cease funding to) initiatives supported by the recent Minister of Education, Shai Piron, who began to make significant government funding available for programs focused on Jewish Peoplehood and Jewish identity for Israelis. At the recent CJPE conference on Israelis and Jewish Peoplehood there was much debate about the role of the government in Jewish Peoplehood activities. Some argued that the time was ripe (and necessary) for a significant government role in educating about and promoting issues of Jewish Peoplehood. Others argued that it is the government’s role to get out of the way and just let the growing grass-roots organizations do their work. Either way, the next government could have a role to play and those of us watching (and casting our vote) can look at the parties through this prism. For more information see here.
These are just a few of the very specific issues that Israel’s future government/s will have to deal with. This is in addition, of course, to the “regular” issues on the agenda: how minorities and refugees are treated; the gap between rich and poor, and many others.
And, lastly, even if you are not voting in the Israeli elections, the results will impact you as a Diaspora Jew. Even if you didn’t vote for him, the next Prime Minister may see himself as your representative. After the terrorist attacks in February on Jewish and non-Jewish targets in France, Binyamin Netanyahu declared “I went to Paris not just as the prime minister of Israel but as a representative of the entire Jewish people”. Does the Israeli Prime Minister speak for all Jews? Does he (or she – whoever it may be) speak for you?
Let’s hope that Israelis, and Jews around the world, make choices that will strengthen the ties of Jewish Peoplehood and the State of Israel!
Thank you, Jeff. I think you’re partly corcret. That is to say, individual congregational initiative plays a very important role. There, on the ground, as it were, great clergy and lay leaders are formed. But are they really as independent as we imagine? Some are, but they remain isolates, with change a difficult prospect, unless larger institutional change supports them. Let us look at worship in the Reform movement as our example.The late Debbie Friedman did more to change the nature of worship music than any single other person. There were, of course, other composers and many cantors and rabbis too who sought musical reform. But it took the movement to grow that individual tendency into a continent-wide response. Our colleague at the URJ, for example, Danny Freelander, worked assiduously, year after year, to model different worship at biennials, board meetings, and other sites where large numbers of congregational representatives would observe it. Eric Yoffie devoted part of a biennial sermon to it. Eventually, the independent experiments here and there reached a tipping point and became the thing to aspire to.Some years back, I ran into a colleague who was having trouble in his congregation and surprised me by saying: It’s your fault. You are the one pushing all this worship change on the movement, but here I am out in the field never having been trained for the change. My laypeople attend biennials and board meetings and then return home fired up by what they have seen, expecting me to do what you do with the best worship talent in the country at these showcases that you organize. This colleague gave me far too much credit. But he had the process right. Change requires dissatisfaction and vision. Most people need to observe a vision of what might be possible at least in technical matters like worship, they rarely figure it out themselves. See, therefore, how the movement is what made this possible institutionally.1.The college had to support me; and to do so even when numerous stakeholders in the old system objected to everything I was saying;2.It took a far-seeing layperson to endow a Chair of Liturgy, Worship, and Ritual, at the New York school – – thereby further enhancing the opportunity for a new message of worship to develop.3.Give credit also to the School of Sacred Music which had begun supporting new cantorial faculty who stood for change (like Cantor Benjie Ellen Schiller and Merri Arian, to name but two).4.And again, it was a lay board leader who saw to it that Debbie Friedman’s music and name would persist through time.5.Also, it took a URJ (once the UAHC) to bring the best worship initiators from around the country to its conferences and show laypeople what was possible. The biennial showcased new young composers like Debbie Friedman herself and so many more – – too many for me even to begin to name.6.I haven’t even begun to talk about the prayerbook– – that too takes a movement. Many of our colleagues have written their own prayer books, some of them quite superb. But nationally speaking, the number remains relatively tiny. It took the CCAR with collaboration from the URJ, the ACC, and others, to create a new book that permits and even encourages the kind of worship we are talking about.7.And once again, it took the College to make sure that the leaders we are talking about were trained; and that they were able to form a cadre committed to a certain vision of Reform and a certain faith in a kind of worship that might best express Reform for a new era.You emphasize, properly, the role of innovation at the congregational level. I’m giving you the other side of the coin, the altogether necessary institutional role of a movement and a seminary, out of which institutional, not just privatized, vision is formed.