The Israeli judaism - Jewish Renewal in Israel: Past, Present and Future | פנים

The Israeli judaism - Jewish Renewal in Israel: Past, Present and Future

ג, נובמבר 15, 2016
Hacohen Wolf, H.
Hacohen Wolf, H. (2012). Contact, the Journal of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life, Summer 2012, 14(3).

The Israeli judaism - Jewish Renewal in Israel: Past, Present and Future

Acommon premise in the Jewish world, at times implied by spiritual and political leaders and at times stated overtly, is that when it comes to Jewish identity, the main challenge concerns Diaspora Jews, and much less, if at all, Jews in Israel. Without detracting from the profound challenge of Jewish identity in the Diaspora, public leaders, educators and scholars have come to agree on the existence of an identity and values crisis within Israeli society as well. This crisis stems from a number of processes and transformations Israeli society has undergone since the founding of the State: transition from a collectivist, ideological society to a materialistic, individualistic one; increasing socioeconomic rifts; a growing sense of an unequal or unbalanced distribution of economic, defense and social burdens among different parts of society; and the return to public debate of supposedly entrenched and unquestioned values, such as recruitment into the army. The state founders’ vision of a melting pot and the creation of a “new Jew” were replaced by a multicultural trend that aspired to give as full an expression as possible to the variety of cultures comprising Israeli society. At the same time, attempts to reach consensus on the core values common to all Israeli citizens — such as democratic principles, individual rights and human rights — have been only partially successful. Certain sectors of Jewish-Israeli society (such as the ultra-Orthodox, immigrants from the former Soviet Union and others) act in relation to their narrow interests and distance themselves from the national ethos by which the State is the source of identity and the cohesive element for all. These trends have led to a sense that the general fortitude of Israeli society is not as strong as it was in former times. Furthermore, the classic secular Zionist position, based to a large extent on a revolt against tradition, has helped shape a society in which many Israeli Jews do not perceive themselves as partners and owners of Jewish culture. In parallel, the Orthodox sector has seized power over the country’s Jewish aspects, leaning on political and social arrangements that have granted them legitimacy and validity. As result of these trends, a breach emerged between the younger generation — the second and third generations after the state’s founders — and Jewish sources. This breach was not ideological, but rather the upshot of poor Jewish education that resulted in ignorance. Moreover, the political situation, the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict, and the continuing control of a Jewish majority over an Arab minority have often been perceived as a clash between Jewish values and the values of democracy and equality. The constant secular-religious conflict over issues of church and state has polarized Jewish discourse and prevented pluralistic positions from gaining any general acceptance in society. Consequently, a secular-religious dichotomy was formed within Jewish-Israeli society. This dichotomy is expressed, for example, in the structure of the Jewish educational system, which is split into streams representing the national, national-religious and ultra-Orthodox sectors. Thus, paradoxically, Jewish identity, which from the outset constituted the basis for the establishment and existence of the Jewish state, has become the cause of a schism within Jewish-Israeli society. The prevalent approach among Israeli Jews, which springs from this dichotomy, is that Judaism, with all the richness and depth it imparts, belongs to the religious and is irrelevant for those who do not define themselves as such. Accordingly, when preschoolers are asked to draw a picture of a Jew, they produce a prototypical ultra-Orthodox figure. Both youth and adults perceive a split between religious behavior, closely associated with Jewish life (such as prayer in the synagogue, separating meat and dairy), and social behavior, less associated with Jewish life (such as visiting the sick, protecting the environment). Against this crisis backdrop, in recent years a Israeli judaism phenomenon has emerged, energized by those who wish to retrieve a lost sense of ownership over Jewish culture and tradition for the enrichment of their actual lives. This sense has been the driving force for hundreds of initiatives that express developments in thought, mood and feeling concerning Israeli Jewish identity. In this context, Israeli judaism is defined as dealing with Judaism in the secular sphere among a public unaccustomed to Jewish studies and active preoccupation with Jewish identity. Among the main achievements of the Israeli judaism movement are the establishment and development of dozens of organizations and hundreds of programs and projects that share a pluralistic, Jewish-Israeli worldview. These initiatives are currently active both in the formal educational system as well as in a variety of informal educational frameworks. They serve varied target populations in terms of age, culture and level of religiosity. To name a few: places of Torah study (such as Elul, Bina, Kolot and Alma), educational programs for students (such as Tali, Morasha, Maarag and Shorshei Israel-Ort), pre-army institutions, campus Hillel houses, spiritual communities, publishing houses, and art and music shows centered on and inspired by Jewish culture. The main goal of these groups is to grant Jews in Israel opportunities to express their Judaism in a variety of ways and to strengthen their commitment to the revival of Jewish life on both a personal and a collective level. In 2009, the Ministry of Education embarked on the development and implementation of a new field of study, Jewish Heritage and Culture, as a mandatory subject for all students in the national stream between Grades 4 and 9. In so doing, the Ministry validated the programs which, for many years, had run on a voluntary basis in parts of the formal educational system by invitation of individual school principals. It gave them formal status and a comprehensive educational vision guided by the Ministry. This achievement is outstanding mostly in light of the severely limited government resources invested in pluralistic Jewish education in Israel. Until now, Israeli judaism activities have been supported mainly by philanthropic bodies from North America. The leaders of the Israeli judaism world in Israel face diverse and numerous challenges: to expand the circles and penetrate hitherto unengaged populations; influence legislation on issues of church and state; increase government support; imbue social and communal (in addition to religious) significance within perceptions of Judaism; develop and implement programs to instill and disseminate new, pluralistic forms of Judaism; identify specific needs for each sector along the continuum of Jewish identity in Israel (ultra-Orthodox, immigrants from the former Soviet Union, traditional, secular); reduce the rift between school education and familial and communal life; train agents of change, educated and skilled in pluralistic Jewish education; and deepen the cooperation between organizations. One should note that the sought-after change in the nature of Israeli society related to Israeli judaism can be defined according to theories of change pertaining to very long-term, broad, complex and systemic social issues known as “indivisible meta-problems,” or “messes.” In order to provide a suitable response to these values and identity crises, several levels of action have to be simultaneously addressed at the constitutional level, at the cultural-values level, and at educational, communal, familial and personal levels. Such issues cannot be resolved in a short time span and require the cooperation of many parties. It will take time and a great deal of effort for the Israeli judaism movement to become a lasting part of Israeli Jewish identity

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