Monthly Archives: December 2006

Getting to the bottom of the universal/particular issue of our time

Daniel Septimus has thankfully capped the debate I was having with Douglas Rushkoff on Mixed Multitudes, one in which a lot of time was unfortunately spent on positioning and “you don’t practice what you preach” redress, and in capping that debate has re-opened a conversation on the heart of the matter which I hope will be productive. Here are the main points: Daniel writes,

I also lean toward the universalist approach — though I’d prefer to call it the messianic approach, i.e. the dream of redemption for all of humanity; I don’t really understand what’s good about community for the sake of community — without any higher mission

Whereas I write,

[O]ne’s dreams of messianic redemption often become another’s nightmares of cultural imposition; recognizing and encouraging strong communities which provide a safety net for community members, and respect the right of others from outside the community to determine their own destiny within their own dream of their future, creates a world in which each of God’s children can live up to their unique potential.

Please feel free to jump in either here or there–and let’s work out this problem of our time.


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Building a Ken for our times in New York

The Jewish Week published its annual Directions issue–and this year it was focused on the “next big thing.” My contribution focused on the need for an activist’s bayit:

Taking into account the growing demand for innovative Jewish programming, recognizing the vast potential in Jewish creativity nestled among the hundreds of thousands of young Jews in New York City and taking advantage of the need of Jewish communal activists to find affordable housing, the New York Jewish community could deal a masterstroke by matching supply with demand in the greatest collective shidduch ever made this side of the Atlantic: the creation of a Jewish creative community cooperative, or, as some might call it, The Ken —Hebrew for “nest.”
Much like a nest, The Ken would shelter young Jewish communal activists as they develop new ideas and help those ideas take off. Like the most successful of Internet applications, The Ken would not be run in a top-down fashion, but would rather provide the resources and the creative freedom for those end users involved to make of it what they will based upon discretely set parameters. This open-source, do-it-together strategy would enable The Ken to tap into the great creative potential of my generation. But before it can do so, The Ken must provide offline those three main underlying factors that permit creativity online: hosting, social connectivity and empowering functionality.

The best thing about the project is that it could be a win-win: all we need is a sponsor to make the initial down payment, and those activists in the house could cover the mortgage with their rent. With time, either the initial investor could sell to the Ken for market value–or the investor could profit from the resale of the house.
So, who wants to invest in the Jewish future? Contact me at arielbeery -at- gmail -dot- com if you’re interested.

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Getting down to the core of being Jewish

Douglas Ruskoff and I are engaged in a rather heated discussion over on Daniel Septimus’s MyJewishLearning blog, Mixed Multitudes.
At the core of my argument is the following:

For me, defining Judaism is crucial only insofar as it is a value set that keeps the Jewish People one piece. It is the people, not the religion or its values, that are the core we should seek to preserve: the living blood is God’s, the rest is only a plaything for good times, dynamic depending on the season. Being loyal to an idea over a fellow comrade is one of the greatest regressions thinking humans have undergone: it causes violence and oppression all in the name of an abstract philosophical concept that’s relative to frame, anyway.
Thus, Zionism is the understanding that Jewish people can generate their own interdependent community, governed by their particular set of values, only in the land of our birth as a People.
How was that people born as a particular entity? Sure, it had a bit to do with amalgamation. Historically, if we take hints in the early books of the Torah to be telling some truth about our ancestry, we come from Iraq. But more than that we don’t know, and it does not matter much. What seems to have happened was that a community developed naturally, as many communities do, through oaths and pacts and intermarriage. Then, once formed into a confederation–or a nation–they viewed themselves as one People, thereby birthing Israel.

Rushkoff, in opposition, seems to be more interested in Torah as an intellectual exercise:

I, personally, see the nation state as a social construction. (I believe “nation” means something entirely differnet in Torah than what we now think of as nationalism.) And I believe that accepting the contemporary definition of nation state, as well as all that goes with it, may have been a necessary compromise of Jewish ideals for the sake of survival.
I don’t think it’s easy. Many people and nations, throughout history, have sought nothing but the destruction of the Jews. It’s sheer luck that I’m not living in Kishnev with my grandfather in 1904, or at pretty much any other time or place in diasporic(sp?) history.
But what are *they* really so pissed about? Our existence as a people? I think not. I think it’s what we bring with us: iconoclasm, true abstract montheism, and social justice. It’s that we have embodied the stiff-necked resistance to tyranny – whether in Egypt or Europe.
I think that resistance to tyranny *is* life itself. Yes, we need people to do that. And yes – so far, Judaism may have been the best medium yet for preserving and expanding on this human ability to remain conscious in the face of death (Pharaoh, Crusades, Hitler, terrorism…take your pick).
But by confusing the practicalities and necessities of state warfare with the more important job of maintaining our dedication to LIFE, we can end up becoming the thing we were born to resist.

Follow the debate and feel free to weigh in.

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Hannuka Moment: Let the Light Shine In

The Jewish People has come upon another “Hannuka Moment,” and the time has once again come to rededicate the character and purpose of Jewish community. As I write in the Forward this week,

Much like the events that led up to Hanukkah more than 2,000 years ago, a new empire has arisen in our time, stamping the known world with its particular brand of world-encompassing universal philosophy. Unlike the Greeks and the Hellenistic age, America’s brand of humanist universalism is truly a global phenomenon — spreading through nongovernmental organizations to the deepest reaches of the East, and through McDonald’s and Starbucks to create consumers in the farthest regions of the South.
And the Jewish people, one of the few peoples to maintain their cultural identity while witnessing the rise and inevitable fall of empires past, are in search of the next “big idea” to illuminate the path ahead and maintain communal cohesion in this new era. We have come upon our own Hanukkah moment, and yearn to light the menorah, but have yet to find the oil with which to do so.

I think that we’re simply looking in the wrong places. At the CAJE conference–that same conference that prompted Gary Rosenblatt’s editorial, Douglas Rushkoff’s reaction, and my exchange with Rushkoff–all of the brilliant panelists happened to be over the age of 50, Ashkenazi, and from the upper-middle class. Not the paragon of diversity–or a representative sample of the Jewish People, for that matter.
Instead, as I write,

Today, as we search for an organizing principle for our times, it could be a good idea to remember that the next “big idea” usually comes from the periphery — from the son of an idol-worshipping Aramean, from an Egyptian-raised Hebrew emigrant, from a family in Modi’in, from an assimilated journalist in Vienna.
Today, there are myriad Jewish communities on the outskirts — the Bukharans in Queens, the Ethiopians in Afula, the Persians in Los Angeles — each with their own insights to Jewish life. Allowing these ideas in is up to us.
It is openness to innovation from the outside that gives us strength as a united people. Those ideas that are the biggest of all provide an integrative way to live together, as one people: a single candelabra holding many individual flames, all lights shining as one light unto the nations.

Hag Urim Sameah.

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