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  • Jewish Peoplehood: The World Union of Progressive Judaism

    Posted on February 16th, 2011 Ruth Abusch-Magder No comments

    English, Russian, German, Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Hungarian and Hebrew.

    This past Shabbat I prayed with the international community that is the World Union of Progressive Judaism. The t’fillot were spirited following the familiar rubric. The passion and commitment of the congregation came through in the level of participation. But it was the language –the diversity of it- that really stood out.

    It is easy to dismiss “Jewish Peoplehood” as just the latest of trends in organized Jewish communal life. But behind the slogans lies a complex reality of global Jewish diversity. There were no quotes around those praying together, we are Jewish peoplehood. The diversity of our languages of prayer spoke to the complexity and beauty of the reality of Jewish peoplehood, a reality that moves beyond slogans and embraces the challenges and possibilities of seeing ourselves as a global community.

    Sitting with my young daughter, I reveled in the many different languages spoken from the bimah. As each reader came forward, we discussed the language and considered the fact that there are Jews not only that can speak these languages but that live in so many different countries. On this most simple level it is indeed cool to remember that there Jews everywhere and to recognize that this is not just an abstract concept but an embodied reality. Our world is as Thomas Friedman has pointed out, increasingly flat, we communicate and connect with people around the world all the time. Our Jewish world must mirror that reality. Global Judaism provides the means by which we can help make these connections. If Americans who increasingly see themselves as global don’t see their Judaism as global, then they are likely to see Jewishness as a marginal or parochial element of their identity. If however, we embrace the global Jewish reality, not only for ourselves but our communities, then Judaism will be a passport that they take with them as they enter into global connection.

    At the same time as I was inspired by the diversity in the t’fillah, as I listened to various readings in languages which I do not understand at all, I was aware of my own discomfort at literally not being able to comprehend what was going on. My literal inability to understand, while a minor perturbation in scheme of things, points to the larger challenge of engaging with global community. People from other places, even when they share a commitment to liberal Judaism, have different ways expressing and experiencing Judaism. Embracing peoplehood means that we will inevitably experience some disconnect. Acknowledging the places where we differ is essential if we are to truly embrace global diversity and not simply impose our own vision of self on others. Anticipating and accepting that some of these differences may make us uncomfortable is critical for building a sense of Jewish peoplehood that goes beyond slogans.

    Our ability to come together as a people across our differences resonated loudly during the group aliyot which called to the Torah individuals whose native languages mirrored the diversity of the congregation. Chanting the brachot in Hebrew, the differences in inflection and intonation were notable but the unified meaning came through loud and clear.


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