Reinventing the Community:
The Jewish Community in the Open Society

Predictably and logically, it was not only the individual Jew who was called on to redefine his/her position vis-a-vis the Jewish community: the opposite process also occurred. The Jewish community needed to redefine its position vis-a-vis the individual Jew.

The reason is clear. Once the Jew was defined as an individual member of society or the state rather than as a member of a sub-group of that state, membership in the community became voluntary. Only Jews who desired it had any meaningful relationship with the Jewish community. Since many of the functions of the traditional community were now provided by the state, the community had to re-adjust. It had to be attractive to Jews and to play a role that reflected the real needs of the Jew in the modern world. If it failed to do this, it would lose its raison d’être and become totally superfluous.

For communities that served Jews of the ‘two-feet-in-the-Jewish-community’ variety, this involved very little change. They continued to do almost all the things that they had done before, since the Jews inside the community elected to define their needs from their community in the almost the same ways as previously. Even here, however, there were some changes. Few of these Jews would rely on their community structures for physical security in the same ways as previously. The state would be responsible for this just as it was responsible for the safety of all other citizens. On the other hand, the community would continue almost exclusively to serve, for example, the Jews’ religious, educational and emotional needs.

For Jews in category two, however, those of the ‘one-foot-in-the-Jewish-community’ variety, the situation was totally different. In this case, it was up to the community to try to answer the Jews’ new needs and make itself indispensable in order to attract as many people as possible. In a sense, to use the language of the market-place, it had to be as user-friendly as possible, and plan its strategies on the basis of the best market surveys and public relations strategies, in order to attract the maximum numbers of consumers for its product. This was the lesson for Jewish communities in open societies and those who learned the lesson endured.

Thus we come to the modern Jewish community, which will include synagogues, religious and educational institutions, and welfare institutions just like the traditional communities (albeit in modern form). However, it is also likely that it will have to include a community center that offers cultural and leisure activities, many of which will have very little - if anything - to do with a traditional Jewish agenda. If sports clubs and gyms reflect the needs of modern Jews in many communities, then these are things that the Jewish communities are likely to try and provide for their members. If dating services (a little nearer the traditional Jewish agenda, although a long way from the traditional shadchan) are needed, then the community may well provide them. These are just two examples of many possibilities.

We have now surveyed some key aspects of Jewish community development in the pre-modern and modern eras. It is time to turn our attention to the students’ communities and their relationship with them.



Activities

The Isolated Jew?

The aim of this activity is to focus attention on the individual Jew’s dependence on the Jewish community and examine whether this relationship has changed over time.

The Community and Me

The aim of this activity is to examine the student’s attitude towards his/her participation in the local Jewish community.

Community Needs

The aim of this activity is to examine the needs of the current Jewish community and compare them with the needs of the traditional Jewish community.

Community Mapping

The aim of this activity is to survey the specific community in which the students live, learn about it and assess it critically.

 


 

 

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29 Nov 2006 / 8 Kislev 5767 0