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Saturday, December 2, 2006

Members of the Tribe / A buzzword called 'peoplehood'

Members of the Tribe / A buzzword called 'peoplehood'

By Amiram Barkat
Last week at Beth Hatefutsoth, the Nahum Goldmann Museum of the Jewish People
in Tel Aviv, the International School for Jewish Peoplehood Studies was
inaugurated, an institution that aims to develop ties between Jews in Israel
and Jews in the . There is a great deal of symbolism in the operation of an
institution that is a school at the Diaspora Museum. The museum opened in May,
1978, as a museum of Jewish history and the establishment of the state. Until
recently the place was identified with a decidedly Zionist worldview that sees
diaspora Jewry as a museum exhibit that belongs to the past. In the meantime,
the Jews of the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia have immigrated to Israel. At
least 20 percent of diaspora Jews are now living out of choice in countries
where the standard of living is identical to that in Israel, or higher.

The director of the School for Jewish Peoplehood Studies, Shlomi Ravid, agrees
that the view of Israel as a guarantee of the security of the Jewish people is
no longer as relevant as it once was. According to him, "The problem is that
no new view has been born in Israel to replace the old view of Israel-diaspora
relations. If you ask a young Israeli today what the meaning of concept of the
state of the Jewish people is, in rare cases you will get the answer that 'we
are here to serve as a refuge for Jews in distress.' In most cases you won't
get any answer at all."

To Ravid's credit it must be said that he knows the other side of the divide
very well. For six years he directed the center for Israeli culture at the
Jewish Federation in San Francisco. In retrospect, says Ravid, the commitment
that Jews feel towards other members of their people has also weakened in the
United States.

"I discovered that non-Orthodox Jewry in the United States has succeeded in
transforming Judaism into an enjoyable experience. Judaism is fun. But this
approach, which has made the individual's spirituality central, has very much
weakened the collective and Jewish solidarity."

As the director of the first school in the world for the study of the Jewish
people, Ravid will try to manage on an annual budget of $1 million, half of
the cultural budget for the Israel Center in San Francisco. He might be able
to take comfort in the fact that recently other bodies in the Jewish world
have emerged that aspire to change the face of the Jewish people on quite a
limited budget. The Global Jewish Forum that was initiated by President Moshe
Katsav and the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute are outstanding

It is interesting to note that precisely at a time when the concept "the
Jewish people" is no longer taken for granted, dealing with Jewish peoplehood
has become a more central area in than in the past among Jewish communities
and organizations. "'Jewish peoplehood' is now the buzzword in the Jewish
world," says Ravid, "the way 'outreach' and 'Jewish continuity' were buzzwords
at a a time when everyone was upset by intermarriage."

Ravid is interested in making the school a central stage for dialogue between
Israel and world Jewry: Organizations like KolDor, birthright and the
successful student exchange program between Tel Aviv and the Los Angeles
Federation. The Israeli Ministry of Education, however, is not showing any
interest as of now in the school and its activity.

To date the Education Ministry has succeeded in repressing any attempt to
devote study hours to the topic of Jewish identity and belonging to the Jewish
people. Beyond a number of study hours in the framework of history lessons for
the matriculation exam, students in Israel do not learn anything about other
Jews living in the world today. Two additional study programs have been frozen
or remain in the pilot stage. To this day there has been no implementation of
the 1994 Shenhar report that recommended a new educational outlook with
respect to diaspora Jewry. For years now the Posen Foundation has been making
efforts to introduce the study of Jewish civilization into the education
system but its success has been quite limited. The School for Jewish
Peoplehood Studies can succeed only with help from the non-governmental
system. Insofar as it depends on the Education Ministry, it seems that Jewish
identity is the last thing that needs to be taught in the Jewish state.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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