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The Importance of Jewish Peoplehood

According to Jewish scholar Avraham Infeld, a good friend of JCC Association, “peoplehood” is the knowledge-based sense of belonging and commitment to the Jewish people, its values, its big ideas, its potential, and to Israel, the expression of its national sovereignty.

The term “Jewish peoplehood” in its contemporary sense originated with Mordechai Kaplan (1881-1983). After the establishment of Israel in 1948, Kaplan concluded that Jewish nationalism needed to be reformulated in the light of political statehood. Now, the term is the subject of a growing number of articles and talks, and is part of JCC Association’s work.

In a few days, the Jewish world will celebrate Purim, one of the happiest Jewish holidays. Although Purim is associated mostly with children, it is in my opinion one of the most serious holidays, with a message that is more relevant than ever.

“There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among all the other peoples and in all the provinces of your empire. Their folkways are different from those of any other people, and they do not obey the laws of the king. It is not becoming to the king to tolerate them.” (Haman, Esther 3:8)

This quote resonates throughout all of Jewish history. Why was Haman so bothered that among the 127 nations occupied by ancient Persia, one kept its own heritage, tradition, language and dress? Is it because Haman knew the same thing other enemies of the Jews have understood, that the survival and triumph of Jews and Jewish peoplhood is our persistence in keeping our traditions and heritage, so that our Jewish identity won’t disappear? If so, this is the essence of Purim: Jewish peoplehood won a glorious victory, and Queen Esther risked her own life for the sake of her Jewish brother and sisters, whose only sin was holding on to their folkways and laws.

Exactly one month after Purim, the Jewish world will celebrate Pesach. Through the 400 years of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites retained their national identity so that they would not assimilate. They were successful by doing the following three primary things: they spoke their own language, they wore distinctively Jewish clothing, and they gave their children only Jewish names.

Today, two and a half thousand years later, the Jewish people is still scattered, and although we have our own Jewish state, more than half of the Jews are dispersed among other nations. Jewish peoplehood today is as imperative to our survival as it was in the days of the Israelites in Egypt and the Jews of Persia.

Tomorrow, JCC Association’s Israel office, along with other partnering organizations in Israel, will be leading a conference in Israel focusing primarily on Jewish peoplehood. We invited Israeli matnasim (community centers) and P2K directors to spend a day with us to discuss the importance of peoplehood. This special conference is aiming to implement the recent JCC Association Israel Task Force, by inviting more and more JCCs to connect with Israeli matnasim and worldwide JCCs. Our goal is to enhance existing partnerships and develop new partnerships, all on the level of direct, meaningful, equal relationships, where both partners benefit from the partnership and contribute to its strength. We believe that by connecting JCCs to Israeli matnasim and worldwide JCCs, we pursue Jewish peoplehood and assist in maintaining a vibrant Jewish world.

Happy Purim!

Leah Garber, JCC Association, Israel Office Director

[email protected]

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