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.